With her razor-sharp mind and a deft hand at baking, Freda Sutherland is the archetypal great-grandmother.
She is also diabetic. She injects insulin daily, and has for some time. Her 97 years stand as living proof that people like her can live long and rewarding lives.
“I carried on,” said Sutherland, matter of factly. “I’ve cheated once in a while.”
"Cheating" for the Upper Brookfield resident means having the odd treat. But Sutherland usually avoids cookies, cakes and other sweets, although she often enjoys baking for others.
Diabetes also means pricking her finger several times a day to monitor blood sugar levels and, of course, the insulin injections. Sutherland can still administer her own injections, but needs help from loved ones or care-givers to fill the syringes.
“I’ve not gone to any of the new features,” said Sutherland This includes insulin pumps. “I still want to stick with my same old routine.”
The routine has paid off; even at 97, the only medication Sutherland needs is her insulin and aspirin to thin her blood.
After 61 years with Type-1 diabetes, Sutherland’s advice for young people with diabetes is simple.
“Exercise, for one thing. Hard work never hurt anyone.”
Living on a farm without electricity or a telephone just after she was married, Sutherland had plenty of chances to practice what she preaches.
Her "exercise routine" included milking cows, hauling 100-lb. bags at a feed store where she worked for a time and plucking her geese to get down for pillows.
As a mother of four young children, she used a candle to heat up their milk at feeding time.
Sometimes, Sutherland herded her lambs into Brookfield to show school children, outfitting the flock with diapers first.
With all the physical activity of running a farm, Sutherland’s body burned up any excess energy. It helped keep her blood sugar at a healthy level.
Meantime, her husband, Allen, and a neighbour walked into Brookfield once a month and carried supplies back to their farms.
“I wonder how many people today could handle that, going into a marriage with no electricity or telephone,” said Sutherland. “The way young people are now, they want everything when they get married and that’s not the way it was for us.”
Allen passed away in 2002 and Sutherland left the farm. Today, she's in an assisted living facility not far away, in Upper Brookfield.
There, Sutherland receives visits from nurses and family members. She enjoys spending time with her three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
In her spare time, Sutherland plays cards with friends and attends church whenever she can.
Of course, there is always baking.
“Last week, I got up the courage and baked a carrot cake. I said it’s the last one, but I’ve said that 14 times.”
Anything is possible
While diabetes can be dangerous without proper treatment, those who follow their doctor’s instructions can lead normal lives.
Even if people with diabetes enjoy the occasional sugared treat, proper insulin management and an overall healthy lifestyle are the keys to success.
“You can live a long, healthy life if you follow the rules like mom did,” said Freda Sutherland’s son, Alton.
Lisa Matte, regional director for Diabetes Canada’s Atlantic branch said the disease can be managed quite easily by most people. The basics are exercise and healthy eating, as well as regular monitoring and following treatment plans.
“It’s not uncommon but it’s still a really positive testimony for people living with diabetes, particularly Type-1,” said Matte of Sutherland’s story. “It’s quite a feat and should be celebrated.”
She said some insulin companies even present awards to people who enjoy such longevity, thanks to their diabetes medication.
The Sun Life Walk to Cure Diabetes for JDRFwill be in Truro on Sept. 28.
Registration is at 9 a.m. in Victoria Park. The walk leaves at 10 a.m.
For more details, call Tanya Poulton at 902-453-1009.
To register online or make a donation, visit https://jdrf.akaraisin.com/ui/jdrfwalk19/g/19487.