Diabetes diagnosis was a physical, psychological battle: Mulroney
Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 10:00PM EST
Brian Mulroney says his life was turned upside down when diagnosed with a rare blend of diabetes more than two years ago. But today, the former prime minister is using his stature as a political figure to become an advocate for the disease, which affects millions across the country.
Mulroney was diagnosed in 2010 while undergoing blood tests for an unrelated illness. His doctors believe the illness -- a rare blend of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes -- was caused by a combination of factors: an infection in 2004 caused pancreatitis and weakened the insulin-producing organ, consistent with Type 1 diabetes. However, onset of the disease later in life points to Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to diet and lifestyle.
And though Mulroney was accustomed to the daily stresses that accompany the life of a high-profile politician, he says the onset of the disease brought with it a slew of new, unnerving challenges -- both physical and mental.
“I had a hell of a time for the first year, it was very tough,” Mulroney told CTV’s Avis Favaro. “And there’s a psychological problem. I couldn’t get it through my head that this had happened to me.”
Immediately after the diagnosis, Mulroney began a routine of medication, injections and strictly monitoring his diet and blood sugar.
At first, he found the stringent schedule of five injections a day -- accompanied by numerous diet constraints -- overwhelming.
But with the help of his wife Mila, he says he learned to cope.
“(She said) ‘Look, what you've got to remember is that there are children six and seven years of age who have to do this all their lives and they're doing it now and you’re very lucky to make it to 70 without anything like that. So just get to it and stop complaining,’” Mulroney recalls.
Doctors eventually streamlined Mulroney’s treatment of insulin and medication to twice a day -- a routine that the 73-year-old says accommodates his busy work and travel schedule.
Not that he struggles anymore. Mulroney says he’s become so adept at performing the necessary injections today that he can quietly do them almost anywhere -- describing how he has delivered a dose at a restaurant while his dinner-mates sat unaware, reading their menus.
“I learned that if I didn’t make a big deal about it, nobody noticed,” he says. “It’s not a sin, it’s not a weakness. It’s a fact of life.”
What’s more, the former prime minister has since become a diabetes advocate.
For example, he donated the nearly $500,000 raised at a political speaking event last fall to the Canadian Diabetes Association, which will be used to fund research. And he says he plans to speak at more fundraising events.
His title of former prime minister makes him the perfect ambassador, his doctor says, noting that Mulroney naturally captures people’s attention.
“He’s well-known; his face, people know him,” says Dr. Remi Rabasa-Lhoret. “He’s telling (patients) ‘I’m diabetic, I’m using injectable treatments…I can do it, so can you.’ ”
By going public with his condition and his road to recovery, Mulroney says he hopes to inspire others struggling with the diabetes to seek help.
He says through proper diet and exercise many can avoid the disease.
“Those who have it, the answer is to be rigorous, be careful and be honest with yourself and your doctors,” he says. “It’s now not a burden for me now, it’s now an inconvenience. But apart from the inconvenience you can have a fabulous life.”
If you want to email Mulroney questions about his diabetes diagnosis, you can reach him via his assistant at: email@example.com or by mailing: Brian Mulroney, via Norton Rose Canada, 1 Place Ville Marie, Bureau 2500, Montreal, QC, H3B 1R1.
With a report by CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip