When Monica Slonaker was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she was shocked.
For 10 years, she had been proactive about getting her A1c levels checked, but after they came back normal every time, she stopped.
Four years later, she was diagnosed with diabetes, and it had progressed so much that she now lives with constant neuropathy and other complications.
“I was shocked because I had been tested for 10 years, and I quit testing for about four years. I started having these symptoms, so I was shocked,” she said.
Slonaker’s symptoms started with the common early warnings signs, like dry mouth and increased thirst. She said she was craving sugar and would drink a gallon of orange juice a day. Her symptoms progressed to numbness in her foot, which moved up her leg, and sores developed on her body.
By the time she was diagnosed, her major organs had been affected, causing long-term complications. Because of this, Slonaker now is a big advocate for diabetes prevention since, if diagnosed early, type 2 diabetes can be managed with lifestyle changes, like weight loss, healthy eating, regular exercise, and blood sugar monitoring.
“When you’re diagnosed as late as me, there’s already damage done. We really want to stress prevention instead of being reactionary,” said Slonaker. “If we can prevent people from getting diabetes in the first place, that’s what we need to be doing.”
Slonaker works as the executive assistant as Project Access, a nonprofit that provides access to healthcare for underprivileged residents of Howard County, and she is working to help promote the nonprofit’s upcoming Diabetes Awareness Walk.
Now in its sixth year, the event supports Project Access’ medication assistance fund, as well as its diabetes and chronic illness counseling services.
This year, a focus is being put on encouraging youth to participate. With the rates of childhood diabetes on the rise, the event is aiming to make more school-aged children aware of the disease and its warning signs.
“How many kids are going to school with diabetes who don’t know? How many kids have friends who have it who don’t know? Do they know what those symptoms look like so they can help a friend who’s in crisis?” she said.
Currently, Howard County’s diabetes rate is approximately 14 percent, Slonaker said, which is above the state average of around 11 percent, according to America’s Health Rankings by the United Health Foundation.
Last year, Project Access received 18 new clients for diabetic counseling services and provided $35,806 in free diabetic medication and supplies. For newly-diagnosed patients, the counselors help clients navigate adjusting to a diabetic-friendly lifestyle. Project Access also has free glucose meters, cookbooks, and syringes available.
The Diabetes Awareness Walk takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 28 at Jackson Morrow Park. Pre-registration is $25 up until the day of the event. Registration forms can be found online at projectacesshoco.com. Forms can be dropped off at Project Access, 829 N. Dixon Road, Suite 100, Monday through Thursdays from 9 to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Forms also can be brought to the event. For more information, call 854-0544.