Diabetes has been particularly cruel to the Vandross family. When famed R&B singer Luther Vandross died last year at age 54 after a stroke brought on by diabetes, he became the last of Mary Ida Vandross' four children to fall to the disease. Mary Ida has also lost her husband -- who died at 39 -- and her only grandson to diabetes.
"Don't suffer like I'm suffering. It's devastating to have to live with this emptiness," she says. Currently, some 24 million people in the United States have diabetes, and that number is expected to roughly triple by 2025, according to the Yale School of Public Health and Medicine.
Vandross, 82, has made it her mission to see that no other family has to endure the same losses. She has teamed up with the national Diabetes Aware campaign (www.diabetesaware.com), sponsored by Novo Nordisk, to educate families about preventing and managing diabetes. "If you come together with your family and talk about it, you can control it."
Atlanta-based diabetes life coach Stanley E. Hibbs, PhD, offers these practical tips.
- Make a payoff list. Controlling your weight, monitoring your blood sugar, taking medication -- if you make a specific list of why such actions are important (such as, "I want to play with my grandkids when I'm 70"), you'll be more likely to do them.
- Find a partner. Identify a family member or friend with whom you can check in. "Have family meetings to talk about how you're changing your lifestyle," suggests Vandross.
- Set reasonable goals. If you need to lose 100 pounds, start small: Plan to walk around the block with your family every night after dinner.
"I'm not just talking, I'm pleading with people. If diabetes is in any part of your family, please have the rest of your family checked," says Vandross. "I believe that had I known more about diabetes, I could have been more helpful to my family. Take care of yourself -- that's all I'm asking."