A Type 2 Makeover by the Freestyle Libre 14 Day System
Allan Avendaño is a FreeStyle Libre Ambassador and this content was made possible with support from Abbott Diabetes Care.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Allan Avendaño, 43, is a makeup artist from the Los Angeles area. Having worked with brands such as MAC Cosmetics, with a number of celebrities, and networks like TV Guide, E!, and Bravo, Allan’s work is featured throughout the beauty and entertainment industries. The Quezon City, Philippines native also lives with Type 2 diabetes and is a user of the FreeStyle Libre 14 day continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system. Before using CGM, Allan’s journey with Type 2 diabetes wasn’t the easiest. Read our interview with Allan below on how the Freestyle Libre changed his life and gave him a Type 2 diabetes makeover.
BT2: Hi Allan, thanks for taking the time to speak with us! When were you diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes? Did you experience any symptoms?
I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at age 16. I was hospitalized with pneumonia, and my sugar was in the 600s (mg/dL). My doctors were worried and thought I should’ve been in a coma, but I was functioning pretty fine, which means I guess I was running that way for a while and wasn’t having any symptoms. I just thought I was always a little tired, but I was pretty active in high school, so I just figured, maybe that could have been a symptom. It’s always been hard for me to keep weight off, but my weight in high school was pretty stable because I was pretty active, so I just really didn’t feel like I had any sort of reason to think that I would be diabetic that early.
I was dealing with psoriasis and knew that diabetes ran in my family because both of my parents and my both sets of my grandparents had it, but I had no idea that I would get it so early. As I got older, there were times when I didn’t take care of it, because I was too lazy or too just busy to test my blood sugar.
Prior to your own diagnosis, what did you know about Type 2 diabetes from your parents’ and grandparents’ experiences?
I knew my dad and mom were both injecting insulin, and it was just part of everyday life. I actually didn’t know too much about the disease until, unless it was mentioned that mom and dad had to avoid sugar. I never really knew my grandparents. My mom and dad had me really late. My mom was 43 when she had me, and my dad was 53. My grandparents had passed either before I was born or shortly after. I was told they were also diabetic and had problems with the disease. My paternal grandmother went into a diabetic coma after eating a lot of mangoes. When I was young and eating whatever I wanted, my mom was adamant about me not eating too much sugar.
I don’t think she was actually prepared to know that I would be getting it at that age too, but she always tried to kind of teach me how to eat less. She really tried to help me stay away from sugar, or, don’t eat too many carbohydrates. I think it was just probably because she knew that eventually, I might have issues with it, but again, we were not prepared. I didn’t really have this fear of Type 2 diabetes or anything like that. I just knew that it was their life, and because of my psoriasis, I’ve been through so many different treatments. I’m not afraid of needles, because my parents would inject themselves with insulin. I figured that there would be a chance I wouldn’t get it, but if I did get it, I would be like, “Oh, whatever, I can figure that out,” because back then, my father was still around and my mom seemed to be pretty healthy, even with diabetes, so that’s why I wasn’t too afraid of it.
How were you introduced to the FreeStyle Libre?
Through my mom’s doctor, who’s been helping her with dialysis and is also my endocrinologist. She’s done a great job helping my mom and helped her stay off dialysis as long as possible until it was necessary.
What do you like about wearing a CGM?
Finger-Prick testing can be really rough and the biggest inconvenience; drawing blood can be pretty traumatizing to do. When I’m around close friends and family, it’s not a big deal, but at work? Having to go leave wherever you are to go find a place to be private to check my blood sugar is not going to happen most of the time on set. I know that people are aware and some don’t care [I have diabetes], but also, people don’t want to see that. It becomes a little bit embarrassing because you just don’t want someone to feel awkward around you.
Before you started FreeStyle Libre, how often were you pricking your fingers, and because you were pricking your fingers as often as you were, did that have an impact on whether you wanted to take care of your diabetes?
I stopped pricking my fingers. I gave up and was blindly injecting insulin. My routine was injecting a bunch of insulin if I had a lot of food that day. My body is insulin resistant and I would inject, let’s say 60 units of insulin. But it wasn’t until I started wearing the FreeStyle Libre I saw my glucose still be in the 200 and 300s. Then there would be times when I’d inject but not eat as much as I’d planned and start to feel shaky and start to binge on candy, but wouldn’t take insulin after that.
I was feeling sick all of the time but the FreeStyle Libre helped me break out of this pattern. I started watching what I eat and was able to see right away what affects my blood sugar. Right now, it’s basically no rice, no fries, no carbs, in general, unless it’s in small amounts. I can’t have a full burger with both parts of the bun anymore.
How has Type 2 diabetes impacted your work as a makeup artist?
I’ve dealt with psoriasis my whole life, and have had it pretty bad on my hands, so getting through that insecurity was tough enough. Growing up with psoriasis, becoming a makeup artist was the last thing I thought I’d ever become. Pricking my fingers to check my blood sugar added to those insecurities.
An actress once asked about the calluses on my fingers while I was applying makeup. In regards to that incident, I’m still friends with that actress and didn’t take it in any kind of weird way. If someone were putting a pinky finger that’s calloused and swiping it on my face, I’d ask a similar question. She didn’t know I was diabetic so I told her that’s where I prick my fingers to manage my diabetes.
That’s when I started overthinking the situation, wondering if she thought I’d gotten blood on her. I’m sure she didn’t think twice about it. It’s just one of those things that added to the traumatizing impact of finger pricks, especially when you work with your fingers so much. It’s not like I can prick my stomach. After getting FreeStyle Libre, the change was like night and day. I have the confidence I’m taking care of myself without those embarrassing moments.
Do you get questions from your family or colleagues who see the FreeStyle Libre on your arm?
My husband is awesome because he’s really been helpful since I got it. He likes to see what numbers I have, just to make sure that I’m on track and stuff. It’s really, really funny, because when people see me do it, they’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ They think I’m itching my armpit with my phone. I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m testing my blood sugar,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cool’ It’s super fun because they’re curious.
I was with [actress] Joey [King] recently and she has never really seen me do it; I guess I just do it randomly, and she knows I’m diabetic, but she never really asked a lot of questions about it. I’ve known her for 10 years, so it was really funny because she was like, in the make-up chair and I turned around, and she was kind of like, holding my arm and asked lovingly if I had ringworm on my arm. When I told her no and what my FreeStyle Libre does, she’s said, ‘That’s so cool, you’re like a robot.’ It was so funny. We’re so silly with each other that it was definitely not any way offensive, or whatever.
Part of the reason why CGMs like FreeStyle Libre are recommended is to help people with Type 2 reach their A1C goals without experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Did it help you learn more about low blood sugar and how to identify it?
For sure. When I started using this device, I was starting to take it seriously. I had all the tools I needed to try to really maintain good glucose levels, including insulin. I would inject too much insulin and still do sometimes by accident. Sometimes my body feels more resistant than other times, and so I would inject insulin and not eat that much, and so my glucose would be pretty even, but it wouldn’t go totally low. Then, there are times when I would do the same exact thing or not inject as much insulin and would feel a low happening. Recently, I had a salad, and then I went to go run errands and when I was coming back from the store, I was like, “Oh God, I’m starting to feel it, I’m starting to feel it.” Then I tested my blood sugar and sure enough, I was going down to like 50 mg/dL.
If I didn’t have this device, I wouldn’t have checked my blood sugar and things would’ve gotten worse. Sometimes I don’t even feel the low blood sugar coming. FreeStyle Libre has completely helped me manage that because I understand that low blood sugar can be so dangerous.
How else has the FreeStyle Libre improved your overall health?
I don’t exercise very often anymore. I have arthritis so it’s been kind of tough to be active. I can’t even go for a jog because my leg starts to hurt, so the way that I manage is, I do take walks. Also, my relationship with food is a lot different. I’ve learned a lot of things through using this device. What will raise my blood sugar, even though I never thought it would, even with fruits and other kinds of carbohydrates. It helps me know what carbohydrates I can eat and the impact that it has on my glucose levels.
The way I administer insulin I give myself now is more effective. For example, I can say ‘Okay, I ate a salad, and I know the dressing had sugar,’ but at the end of the day, it still wasn’t enough sugar, or it wasn’t enough sugar to raise my blood sugar that high, so I don’t need to take as much insulin. If I test it again in an hour and it’s still high, then I can correct it. I think before, I was always under the impression that if it goes too high, you’re going to die. I would try to beat it and take a lot of insulin at once, and it doesn’t obviously work that way. You have to see if it’s raising high and you fix it.
Do you have any advice for people with T2D who are considering using a CGM?
Well, the first thing that I would say is that it is a literal lifesaver. My life would not be the same without it. I would not probably be in the health that I am in right now. I certainly think that my life and my physical capabilities would start to spiral downward if I was not keeping an eye on my sugars, so the gratification and the instant notice of being able to see where your blood glucose levels are right away is the biggest blessing. The FreeStyle Libre makes everything so convenient, speedy, and non-intrusive.