Blood Sugar Issues? Doc Says “Go Vegan!”

How I test my blood sugar level at home.

I swear I’m not making this up.

Those of you familiar with my story know that since around 1999 I’ve had blood sugar issues — hypoglycemia to be exact. Normal blood sugar should fall somewhere between 70 and 120 mg/dl, but mine has been known to drop down into the 50s. When it happens I feel light-headed, shaky, cranky, disoriented, and hungry, and as soon as I drink some OJ I start feeling better.

Before they found the tumor on my pancreas, my doctors all sort of pooh-poohed my complaints and said that I should just take in more protein. (For reference, I was a meat-eater back then.) After they found the tumor they were convinced that it was an insulinoma — a neuroendocrine tumor that secretes insulin and thereby causes hypoglycemia.

Functional tumors like insulinomas cannot be confirmed from a biopsy — they have to be confirmed through testing. The test for insulinoma? A 72-hour fast. Ooh doody doody! In October 2007 I spent three bizarre and not-so-fun days in Georgetown University Hospital not eating and having my blood drawn and/or fingers poked every two-hours — even throughout the night.

During that time my blood sugar never dropped, so the docs said I did not have an insulinoma.

My blood sugars leveled out for the first couple of years following my pancreas surgery, so when the hypoglycemia returned in 2009 we all, oncologist included, believed that it was related in some way to my cancer. He still didn’t believe that I had an insulinoma, but he was concerned by the fact that the symptom disappeared right after surgery and then reappeared around the time he believed my tumors would begin growing again.

I sought out a second opinion at Johns Hopkins when my oncologist started listing different forms of chemotherapy, and the Hopkins doc basically said that the hypoglycemia was a red-herring — he didn’t think it was related to my cancer. He ordered periodic scans over a one-year time period to take a good look at the tumors and see whether they were growing or not. And at the end of that year he said, “Congratulations, Tracy,” when he determined that those little suckers were just hanging out all fat and lazy and not growing. (Well, not so “fat” actually. They’re really tiny.)

But what about the hypoglycemia, you ask? Lately I’ve been having more attacks than I’d like, and I’m tired of doctors telling me what I don’t have instead of telling me what I do. I need someone to explain to me why my blood sugar drops 20 points lower than normal and make me believe that when it happens it has nothing to do with my cancer. Feeling good is my main barometer for whether the tumors are staying quiet, so a part of me still gets jittery about them when my blood sugar drops.

Tom and I were so impressed by his new endocrinologist at the University of Virginia, that we decided to contact him to see if he could help me figure this out. He said he would, and he’d have his assistant contact me to schedule an appointment in the Insulin Resistance Clinic. Always the curious cat, I googled “insulin resistance clinic UVA” and found their website. When I clicked on the “patient information” tab I started laughing.

First heading: “Check out these links for helpful information on vegetarian diets.”

Second heading: “Reading List.” One of the books? The China Study.

Third heading: “Cookbooks,” which are all vegan.

Fourth heading: “Movies.” Which ones? Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me, and Food, Inc.

Guess Tom and I found the right medical team. Clearly they understand that our diets can dictate our health. I’m looking forward to meeting with the doctor and getting his take on my hypoglycemia. Maybe it is unrelated to my cancer and just happened to start around the same time as my pancreatitis.

Regardless, it will be helpful to know the cause so that I can better evaluate my health. Except for my periodic scans I only have the way I feel to let us know if the cancer is growing again. I need to understand what my “healthy” really feels like so that I can evaluate properly.

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