Aida Turturro, stage and screen actress best known for her kick-ass role on The Sopranos, has diabetes. We know that because she’s been very vocal about it, and even graced the cover of Diabetes Health magazine last Spring. Currently on the road with a Sanofi-Aventis-sponsored Awareness Campaign, she joins the growing ranks of celebrity spokes-folks reaching out to the millions of Americans affected. So far, she’s addressed patients at diabetes centers/support groups in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa, Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia.
Last week, dLife sent out a heads-up on an exclusive video spot (not yet aired on TV?) with Aida to the D-blogging community. Definitely worth checking out. Aida is a bundle of energy, and completely down to Earth — a gal after my own heart.
And lucky for me, I got the exclusive chance to interview her via phone last week. So you really can say you read it here first …
DM) Aida, you talked at length about your diagnosis and approach to diabetes in your DH interview last year. What’s new since then?
AT) I got a wonderful new puppy, and he’s getting me out to exercise a lot more. He’s a black lab named Buddy. We go walking and running on the beach. It just makes you happy when you’re walking with an animal like that. You gotta push yourself! I’m 44 now, and I have a lot of energy because I take care of myself.
DM) Why this campaign backed by Sanofi-Aventis’ Lantus? What are you hoping to accomplish?
AT) I want to urge people not taking care of themselves to go to their doctor, go to their nutritionist, learn the basics, and start taking care of themselves. You need to be not just managing the disease, but taking charge.
After I was diagnosed (in 2001), I was in denial and I really didn’t understand it. Now I’ve been on Lantus and Novolog insulin for almost 4 years, doing the exercise, eating the veggies, doing all carb calculations and all the work. I’ve learned a lot of things, and I’m feeling really good and energetic.
I want people to know this is a serious disease. If managed, you can live a very happy and healthy life. It’s hard enough to stay healthy, you know… I don’t want to be hurting myself anymore … and I want others to learn to stop doing that.
DM) What would you consider a measure of the campaign’s success?
AT) For me, there are two levels: I’m so happy to be part of it. Doing this outreach has helped teach me more and more. And if I’ve helped one person, then I’ve done a lot. Hopefully that one person will tell someone else, and they’ll pass on the motivation. I’m sure there are a lot of people whom I’ve helped. I look forward to it. I love doing it!
And beyond motivation, it’s about knowing what you’re up against. When I first got diagnosed, I didn’t know what it meant, even though it was rampant in my family.
You would be surprised how many people have it and don’t manage it. Tweny-million Americans, and half of them don’t manage it! So many people don’t get it… if can reach them with the simple facts, it really helps…
I know it’s hard. It’s complicated. You have to know your carbs and do the calculations, take your meds, do the exercise, watch everything you eat… I’m not a perfect person. I still do find it hard every day, and it still can be scary.
DM) Tell us about working on the set of the Sopranos. Any there any special arrangements for you with your diabetes?
AT) Well, it’s one thing to have an eight-hour work day, but another to have a 16-hour day. We start shooting at 5am, so I have to schedule my snacks. At times I can get very tired. But I’m taken care of on the set because I’m very clear about what I need. You have to speak up!
But sometimes it’s still hard. Traveling’s hard. When we’re shooting a day out of town I bring my blender, my protein shake, my special bread … It helps if you stay organized. I make my food in advance and take it along in Tupperware or ziplocked. Of course it’s a lot of work doing the shopping, freezing things, looking for good recipes to make you love your zucchini …
Now I’m able to have a pretty normal life because I’ve been doing it a while. But we all have those days when your blood sugar drops too low and you just feel like wilting…
Again, I’m not perfect. I still have bad days and I beat myself up for dropping off the bandwagon. But you have to get up again and try harder the next day. And it never stopped me a day at work. Never. I don’t let it.
DM) Who do you lean on?
AT) My friends have helped a lot. And I also make sure I have a nutritionist, diabetes educator, I make my workout appointments, I have a team … I’m lucky since I know a lot about it. My goal this year is going from eating healthy for diabetes to eating healthy for life…
You don’t have to be perfect, but it’s really about portions. OK, take the dark chocolate, take the small piece. Then figure out how many carbs are in it before you eat it.
DM) As a Type 2 who was reluctant to start yourself, can you share your thoughts on taking insulin?
AT) If you need to, take that step of taking insulin! If you don’t deal with it, you’ll pay the consequences. I know it’s hard to take that step, but if that’s what your body needs, it’s an OK step to take… In my case, oral medication wasn’t enough. Now I’m using rapid-acting insulin in a NovoFlex pen, and Lantus long-acting insulin in the Opticlick pen. The pens sure make it easier to travel, which is great, since I try to go to the country every week with my new dog.
Starting on insulin was a big step for me at first. You take the needle, and it’s scary for a minute or two, but you get over it quickly. What I say is, please don’t be afraid of it. If your body needs it, you’re going to be better off taking it. And it’s not like you’re even taking a drug, but rather supplementing a natural thing that the human body produces. And now that I’ve been taking injections for a few years? Please… I do it in my sleep! I say, Get over it! Take care of yourself!
DM) What’s your final word of the wise to other people with diabetes?
AT) Do what you need to do! Find out what your body needs and how you can control your blood sugar. You can’t walk around with high blood glucose levels!
Yeah, you might feel fine now… it’s easy to explain it away… but lots of people don’t understand that heart disease, blindness, kidney failure — all these terrible damages to your body come from ignoring your diabetes. Somehow there has to be more education…
We’re doing our best here, Aida, with the Know Your Numbers approach. Thank you for sharing your infectous energy with so many fellow PWDs.