Managing My Diabetes One Day at a Time

Christina Herrera shares her story

This article is part of Health Divide: Type 2 Diabetes in People of Color, a destination in our Health Divide series.

Christina Herrera

Photo courtesy of Christina Herrera / Owner Zoe Hansen

Meet the Author

Christina Herrera has been managing her type 2 diabetes since a triple bypass in May 2018. Christina realized that both high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes diagnosis are generational, and with #slowandsteady habits and choices, balancing type 2 diabetes daily.

I never had to guess what life with type 2 diabetes could look like; I saw living testimony in my mother, who passed from diabetes over a decade ago, and my father, who was a double amputee due to his diabetes diagnosis. But losing my sister in 2016 ultimately led to my health awakening. 

In 2016, Jessica, my sister, passed due to cardiac arrest. The connection between heart disease and diabetes is well-noted and researched. It was easy then to take my sister’s health journey as a forewarning of what I could have to contend with if I didn’t start taking my health seriously. 

Today I’m a newlywed, a mother to a wonderful teenager, an educator, and an advocate—for myself and others in my community looking to lessen diabetes and heart disease’s impact on their day-to-day lives. 

Navigating Family History and Impending Diagnosis

I grew up with deep-seated fears of becoming a statistic. Even though I have a strong family history of diabetes and heart disease, I was reluctant to acknowledge the impact that could have on me. 

I took the initiative to speak to my healthcare provider about my family’s history when I was an adult, and my sister had passed. Her loss shifted something in me that made me want to advocate for myself and take my family’s history as a foundation for what I could do differently instead of feeling held back by the fear it could cause.

It was a hard perspective shift because I was taught to distrust (or withhold information from) healthcare providers. Growing up in a Latinx household, I knew that to cultivate a healthier lifestyle, I needed to find a way to let go of my mistrust of the medical community. 

For me, it started with asking for help during that first appointment. I advocated for blood work and to have a deeper understanding of how healthy I was. My cholesterol levels were high, and it was something I needed to work on. 

To my surprise, my healthcare providers left the legwork of figuring out how to best lower my cholesterol up to me. 

Gaining Agency Over My Health

Even though I am an educator and a self-starter, I knew I was in over my head on how to manage my health. I turned to exercise, some variations to my diet, and left the rest to chance. Two years after that first red flag, my healthcare providers realized that the high cholesterol was the tip of the iceberg and that I needed more direct intervention. The cholesterol levels turned out to be a more significant problem that led me to an emergency hospital visit and heart surgery. 

I remember asking my healthcare provider, “Are you sure I need surgery right now?” 

And they told me that if I didn’t get it, then I would end up back in the hospital within a year because I have two arteries that were 75% clogged.

And that was the turning point for my health and my well-being. 

After recovering from my heart surgery, I knew I wanted to work to get my health to a place where my son didn’t have to worry that I could pass from diabetes or heart disease. 

I found the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association and often turned to their local chapters for research, guidance, and community support. I started using apps on my phone to understand food labels and how they were collectively molding my diet. The steps I took were small but intentional. Even now, I’ll hashtag my social media health updates with #slowandsteady because, over time, those small changes add to a lifestyle change. 

Christina Herrera

I worked hard to find the combination of things that made it possible for me to manage my type 2 diabetes—part of this meant readjusting or letting go of my most beloved cultural traditions so that I could fully embrace a new diet and lifestyle.

— Christina Herrera

In my role as an ambassador for our American Heart Association’s Know Diabetes by Heart (KDBH) initiative, it’s the message I work to pass along. 

Navigating the Cultural Shifts

The small steps and patience helped me model healthier behavior for my son and our whole family. I worked hard to find the combination of things that made it possible for me to manage my type 2 diabetes—part of this meant readjusting or letting go of my most beloved cultural traditions so that I could fully embrace a new diet and lifestyle.

I was pleasantly surprised along the way by learning how to manage my levels. Knowing what I’m up against and how to manage it means I have room to plan for family meals that I want to participate in or create a variation of a beloved dish that embraces my dietary needs.

My mantra is “One choice at a time.” It’s a lesson that I’m proud to pass along to my son because it turns out it’s the best shield against the fear of our family’s medical history.

By Christina Herrera
Christina Herrera is an ambassador for the American Heart Association.