Hanli Steyn: Taking charge of her diagnosis

After a wake-up call in the form of a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, Hanli Steyn decided to take charge and today is reaping the rewards.

Hanli Steyn (40) lives in Germiston, Gauteng with her husband of 18 years. They have two sons.

Wake-up call

I have been a pharmacist assistant at a hospital for 17 years and the hospital hosts Wellness Days on a regular basis. In 2018, my glucose was tested at a Wellness Day and it was very high. I ignored it, making it out to be a bad day with lots of stress.

Then in Feb 2019, I went to my GP as I was experiencing bad leg cramps at night. The first thing she did was test my blood glucose, and she nearly fainted. My blood glucose level was 20 and HbA1c was 9,9%.

In that moment, I cringed with embarrassment because I council people living with diabetes every day when I give them their medication but I don’t practice what I preach. To make things worse, I had my uniform on as I had to go back to work. This added to my embarrassment.

Immediate mind-shift

As it sunk in that I had just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, while I drove back to work, my head was spinning. My thoughts consisted of: My kids are small. I am still young. This is bad.

However, I immediately made the mind-shift that I will start eating correctly. From lunchtime that day, I started to eat healthy as all I was worried about was getting my glucose levels down. I was so ashamed, I didn’t even want to tell people at work.

The prescribed medication was Glucophage XR 1000mg twice per day for a month. However, my blood glucose level didn’t come down enough (10 in the morning and afternoon). So, Jalra 50mg twice per day was added; my level came down to about 7/8 in the morning and 5,2 in the afternoon. My HbA1c came down to 5,2%. The GP said there is a chance in the future that my medication doses will be lowered or cut. But for now, I am still using both drugs.

Diet equals choices

My diet is all about choices; the choice I make will determine the outcome of my blood glucose reading. I started eating whole wheat brown bread, lots of salad and fresh fruit. I went cold turkey on sugar; no sugar what so ever. Reading all labels on products became a must: the sugar content must be below 5g per 100g.  My husband is also well-educated on what to buy when he goes shopping.

For breakfast, I have All Bran flakes with grapefruit. Then, at 10:00, I will snack on an apple and some Gero/Fabulite yoghurt. Lunch usually consists of a salad with ham or boiled egg then at 16:00 I have three Provitas with cheese and an apple again. For supper, I have lots of veggies.

Cutting my portions was a benefit: having one slice of bread instead of two; small potatoes instead of one large potato. Before, I used to finish two plates of food in the evening. That was because I would only eat breakfast and nothing rest of the day but then finish a packet of crisps while cooking supper.

I never followed a 100% diabetic diet because I have the knowledge on how to eat healthy and follow a healthier lifestyle by eating small six meals instead of only breakfast.

Great results, great motivation

I also started doing the parkrun. I would push myself a little harder every Saturday to improve my goals.

When I made this mind-shift, losing weight was never my goal. Bringing my glucose level down was. Though, six months later, around July, I realised my clothes are very big. Some outfits I could not even wear anymore. So, I got on the scale and saw I was about 17kg down at that time. Of course, this motivated me just to keep going.

I could now finally buy clothes at stores like Ackermans and Mr Price which I never could as they only sold small sizes. In total, I lost 26kg! This was fabulous and I had to change almost my whole wardrobe. Through all this, my weight loss was a big bonus.

Facing the reality

I made peace with my diabetes by not allowing it to get me down. The reality is Type 2 diabetes can be managed well. From day one my mind was so strong and I had so much to work for. It was a case of mind over matter. Though, I must say if I have a bad night, not sleeping well or if it was a stressful day, my glucose does spike to about 10 or 11 in the morning. The GP explained that was normal but that I really need to try hard to keep the stress down. But, that is not always possible.

I also use my experience now to motivate others and help staff and patients at the hospital. My advice for a newly diagnosed patient is: You can do it. You can manage your diabetes by eating healthier and making healthy choices.

Curbing the festive eating

I avoided festive eating in 2019 and I did it well. On Christmas Day, we ate cold meat and salads, with a lot of fresh fruit and veggies that we could nibble on all day.

I still stuck to my six small meals that day and drank a lot of water. When it’s so hot in December I add cucumber, mint and lemon to my water. It is very refreshing.

This year, I will curb the festive eating again, looking back at this year it was not difficult at all. I can never go back to what it was like.