Automobile Magazine President Jean Jennings confronts diabetes head-on
Janet Miller | For AnnArbor.com
Still, she was shocked 17 years ago when her doctor said she had diabetes, even though she had watched her father struggle with Type 1 diabetes as she was growing up and her uncle had died of the disease.
“I’m a denial person,” said Jennings, president and editor-in-chief of Ann Arbor-based Automobile Magazine.
It took time, false starts and tough talk from her physician, but today Jennings is facing the disease head-on. She sits on the board of directors of the Metro Detroit and Southeast Michigan chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and was the emcee of Friday's Promise Ball Gala, an annual event that raises close to $700,000 each year.
Before the diabetes diagnosis, Jennings had been able to explain most of her symptoms away: She figured she’d lost 70 pounds by cutting out a number of fatty foods, including her favorite onion rings, when she quit smoking to try and avoid weight gain.
“I thought it was a late-in-life gift from God,” she said. And explaining away the fatigue was easy: As editor and chief of a national magazine, she traveled 100,000 miles a year. She rarely rested.
But when she needed a physical to renew her car-racing license, she had to face the truth.
But even with the diagnosis in hand, Jennings found other ways to fool herself: She was convinced that an impeccable diet and exercise would make the diabetes disappear.
“If my blood sugar was normal in the morning, I figured I didn’t have diabetes that day,” she said.
It took her six months to return to the beer and burger diet she loved. Her weight ballooned - she gained the 70 pounds she had lost plus 20 more. And the medicine Jennings had been taking to help control the disease was pulled from the market place as unsafe.
Jennings' blood sugar skyrocketed, and there was even a short period where she lost much of her vision.
Still, she resisted insulin. Shots, she said, would prove that she had the disease. And she would view herself as a failure. But when her aunt went into a diabetic coma, it was a wakeup call.
It was time for her to change. “For 10 years, I was in denial,” she said.
With a new endocrinologist, Jennings began giving herself insulin shots in the stomach. In the beginning, that meant up to six shots a day.
“It was 180 shots a month with a long needle,” she said. Now it’s down to twice a day.
She began controlling her diet without giving up everything she liked. “I was totally into carbs, but it’s all about counting carbs. I learned that fruit are carbs. You learn never to drink juice again: One apple equals a quarter-cup of juice,” she said.
Diabetes is a chronic disease and the battle to control it is endless, Jennings said.
It’s a daily fight: When she travels to Italy soon, she’ll face four temptations she should avoid: Pasta, wine, desserts and bread.
“I decided I’d pick two - pasta and wine - and exercise portion control,” she said. And then there are gumdrops. “They are my personal Waterloo,” Jennings said.
But she’s joined a gym, keeps a food diary and has maintained a healthy weight.
A friend convinced Jennings to become active with JDRF and the Promise Ball. She figured Jennings’ connections with the automobile industry would help with fundraising. And other businesses followed with support.
“Before the diabetes, I was having a great time living life, but I really hadn’t done anything for anybody,” Jennings said. As the emcee of the ball, Jennings said she keeps the speech-making brief, leaving more time for fun and fundraising.
“I tell them everyone who has diabetes hates it,” Jennings said. “And that we don’t need to talk about how we hate it.”
The 28th annual Promise Ball Gala, held May 3 in Detroit, has raised more than $4 million since 2005.