When Pat Celek of Oconomowoc, Wis., was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she had her whole life ahead of her. Then 17, she was getting a routine physical before starting college when the doctor delivered the news—and tried to reassure her that she could expect to live another 25 years.
“That was only age 42—it was kind of discouraging!” says Pat, now 57. “Plus, my vision of diabetes was my grandmother, who was in a nursing home and bedridden. That’s what I thought my future was. I went home and laid on the sofa and cried.”
Pat eventually picked herself up, and armed with all the resources she could find, was able to manage her diabetes while attending college.
“At the time, blood sugar control was so primitive. You checked your blood sugar with a urine dipstick,” she says. “It wasn’t until 8 years later that the meters came out.”
Things got even easier when she started seeing an endocrinologist in her 20s, at the suggestion of her then-husband, a physician. “That really got the ball rolling and got me into the best care,” she says. “I’ve been seeing that endocrinologist for 30 years now.”
Pat initially worked as a speech therapist, but when her husband died of cancer when she was 40, she decided to regroup.
“He had these amazing hospice nurses, and nursing seemed like something I might like to do, so I went back to school,” she says. “Then after I got my nursing degree, my diabetes educator said, ‘We’re always short on educators—why don’t you apply?”
Now Pat spends her days counseling newly diagnosed diabetics as well as those who need a little extra support. Her patients appreciate the perspective of someone who knows firsthand the challenges of living with a chronic disease.
“I tell them, there is no linear progression for diabetes management—it’s hills and valleys,” she says. “If they are saying, ‘I can’t get this right,’ I may show them my books and say, ‘I don’t have perfect sugars either.’ I don’t have any patients that have achieved diabetes perfection yet.”
Pat remarried in 1998, and she and her husband John own a property in Wisconsin with more than 500 acres of land, where they love to hike, bike, clear brush and plant trees. “That’s where I plan on retiring,” she says.
She’s come a long way from the teenager who wondered if she’d live past her 40s. Now she has a new goal in mind.
“I read a profile of a man who has lived for 90 years with diabetes,” Pat says. “Now the way I think about it is, I’m going to make the decisions that will get me to my 90s.”