Aida Turturro Tips for Diabetes Management
Aida Turturro

Best known for her role as Tony Soprano’s big sister Janice on HBO’s hit TV series The Sopranos, Aida Turturro is a woman of admirable strength and versatility both on-screen and off.

While Janice Soprano can be characterized as an eccentric wanderer who finally returns home after a 20-year hiatus, Turturro is anything but. A hardworking, down-to-earth New York City native, she has stayed close to her roots. Turturro comes from a family of talented actors that includes famous cousins John and Nicholas Turturro. She began acting at an early age, appearing in her first film, True Love, in 1989. A series of parts in movies and TV shows followed before she landed her role on The Sopranos in 1999 with long-time friend James Gandolfini.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 12, Turturro is no stranger to the world of serious medical conditions. But when she discovered in 2001 that she also had type 2 diabetes, she says she lived “in denial” for a couple of years, not realizing the serious medical complications she was exposing herself to. These days she is fully embracing management of her diabetes and has embarked on a nationwide public education campaign, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, maker of the long-acting insulin Lantus. Recently, Turturro stopped along the campaign trail to chat with ABILITY Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chet Cooper, discussing her life, her career and her journey in learning to live with diabetes.

Chet Cooper: How did you discover you had diabetes?

Aida Turturro: About five years ago it came up in a checkup that I had high sugar in my blood. My doctor put me on an oral medication, but I was basically in denial. So I found out I had diabetes and I got really upset, and then I basically forgot about it. I didn’t read about diabetes or study it—I guess I just didn’t realize what it meant or what risks it brought.

It was a difficult time for me. Some of my family members were ill and I just wasn’t focused on taking care of myself. I wish I’d gone right away to the Internet, read a bunch of books, gotten on a diet and lost 30 pounds, but I didn’t. I’ve found there are many people with diabetes who do not take care of themselves.

CC: So now you’re trying to educate people—give them the benefit of your experience?

AT: Yes. I am trying to get the word out to people before they get too sick. You can definitely live with this disease. It’s a lot of work, but it’s possible.

CC: When did you finally decide to take control of your diabetes?

AT: A couple of years ago my doctor said, “Listen, your blood sugars have been out of control. Do you understand that if you don’t take care of this you’re putting yourself at risk for problems like kidney disease, heart failure, blindness, neuropathy, possibly even death?” And it finally hit me.

She told me I wasn’t controlling my diabetes with diet and oral medications and I really needed to start insulin. So I did, and that was really the first time I took charge of my disease. I was scared about taking insulin, but if someone said, “You have cancer and you really need to start chemo,” would you say no? Of course not.

I went to see an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes, I bought a pedometer and started walking, I began taking a long-acting insulin called Lantus, and I started working with a nutritionist to better educate myself about carbohydrate intake. There is so much to learn—I’m still learning.

CC: I’ve heard that one reason people don’t take their diabetes seriously is it doesn’t always cause symptoms at first. Prior to beginning to take control of your illness, were you experiencing any diabetic symptoms?

AT: In hindsight I realized I had started to get really cranky and tired and snappy at times, or I’d cry at the drop of a hat. And I’m not that kind of person. Later I understood the moodiness came from uncontrolled blood sugars—times my sugars would go very high or very low. It’s very common with diabetes.

CC: My last four wives must have had diabetes.

AT: (laughs) I think they did! Really, you had four wives?

CC: No, it’s just a diabetes joke.

AT: It’s a good one. I’m going to write that one down for when I give my next talk…“My last four husbands”…But seriously, it’s horrible to feel that way, emotionally and physically. I’d start wondering, Who is this person?

CC: How often do you check your blood sugar now?

AT: I have a pretty bad case of diabetes, so I monitor myself throughout the day, at every meal and at bedtime. At bedtime I use the Lantus, which apparently works a lot better than the old insulins to keep your blood sugar even throughout the day, but depending on what I’m eating I may need to take an additional short-acting insulin with meals—I use a Novolog insulin pen then. So for about two-and-a-half years I have been working hard to control my diabetes. I’m much better, much healthier. I go to fewer doctors.

Sometimes I hear people say, “I just don’t like pricking my finger.” I tell them, “You know what, if you continue living with uncontrolled diabetes you’re going to have a lot more pain than pricking a finger. You’re going to be in the hospital and they’re going to be pricking you all over your body. You can see a little blood now or a lot of blood later.” With diabetes, you have to know what’s going on and you have to write it down.

CC: You mentioned you see a nutritionist as well?

AT: Nutrition is everything—we could talk about food for hours. Eating healthily is different for a diabetic than for someone without diabetes—for instance, someone who’s just trying to losing weight. If you’re diabetic, you really have to understand what your body does with the foods you eat. Some people think of sugar as just the table sugar you put in your coffee. They don’t understand sugar means all the carbs, even if you’re eating a healthy carb. Brown rice shoots my blood sugar right up—it’s rice, after all. A glass of milk has 12 carbs.

I work with a diabetic educator, who helps me with nutrition. It’s all about the portions—what you eat and how much you eat. It is scary how many people with diabetes don’t understand the role of food and this disease. Of the 20 million Americans who have diabetes right now, over half are not in control of their diet.

CC: Do you think everyone with diabetes should work with a nutritionist or diabetic educator in addition to their doctor?

AT: Absolutely. Sometimes people tell me their insurance doesn’t cover nutrition sessions, or the education is expensive. So I tell them, “Ask for it for your birthday. Tell your family and friends to save up and give you six training sessions for Christmas. Or don’t go out to dinner for a few nights and go to the nutritionist instead.” Because this is your life—this is how you’re going to stay healthy.

CC: What is the toughest aspect of your diet?
.…Continued in ABILITY Magazine

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Other articles in the Paul Sorvino issue include Letter from the Editor — Alternative Medicine; Senator Grassley — A Good Deal for Seniors; Headlines — AFB, IBM and Technology Innovators; Humor — Why I’m Still Single; Media Access Awards Disability in the Media; Employment — Your Boss is Not Your Mother; Asthma — What Everyone Should Know; Raisin’ the Roof! — ABILITY Build in Hawaii; Alternative Medicine — Laserpuncture; Recipes — Tasty Salads; The First Cut is the Deepest — Self-Injury; Events and Conferences... subscribe

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