One woman’s health journey rooted in strength, positive attitude and determination
In September of 2011, 62-year-old Rada Podgorica knew that something wasn’t right. Her left breast began to bruise. She had a feeling - a bad feeling.
Intuition, or the Bosnian pragmatism that she speaks of, led her to an inevitable conclusion: she had breast cancer. However, Rada’s intuition led her not to the doctor, but to an airport where she boarded a plane to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina and her birthplace. She wanted to visit her family. She wanted to take the time to reconnect with her spirit and “recharge” her batteries. When she returned to Canada her intuition was proven correct, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“On the plane,” Rada explains through an interpreter, “I absolutely wasn’t burdened at all because in my heart I was convinced I’d conquer cancer. I never thought I would die. I would see it through.”
However, what Rada could not predict nor sense was that near the end of her cancer treatments, just as she finished chemotherapy and recovered from reconstructive breast surgery, her blood sugar spiked to life-threatening levels. She was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, which is extremely rare for a woman of Rada’s age. “My doctor was very scared at the state I was in,” she explains, “but I wasn’t. Many doctors came to look at me. I looked dehydrated, and they were shocked that I wasn’t in a coma. I am a strong woman. I had optimism to overcome my cancer, and I was sure I would do away with the diabetes.”
With tears of gratitude in her eyes, Rada explains how difficult these ordeals have been on her husband. How he cried, worrying about her health and their future. “There’s not a woman in the world whose husband takes better care of them than me,” she says. “We’ve been married for 27 years.”
Rada does not look back and dwell on her health issues. She is focused squarely on the future – a future that she faces with help from Certified Diabetes Educator, Evelyn Agyem who works on the dedicated team at the London InterCommunity Health Centre (Health Centre). Evelyn works closely with Rada to make changes to her food, activities and to adjust her insulin doses to prevent high and low sugars. She also teaches Rada how to treat her low sugars, if it occurs, so that she will not need to seek services from urgent or emergency care.
Treating Type 1 Diabetes is a team effort.
Evelyn and Rada share a special bond and a mutual admiration. “Rada has this amazing optimism,” explains Evelyn. “And she wants others to see her success as something they can follow.” Rada is quick to agree. She jokingly offers that she is, indeed, “an exemplary patient,” to which Evelyn smilingly agrees. “She is a perfect example of someone taking control of their illness,” says Evelyn. “I’m amazed about her strength, positive attitude and the determination to learn all she needs to know to manage and stay healthy despite all odds. She has made enormous lifestyle changes.”
Rada controls her diabetes with a hybrid approach. On one hand, she works diligently with Evelyn, plotting and planning a strategic diet along with regular exercise and daily monitoring of her blood sugar. She believes that a mixture of natural and medical remedies are the key to living a healthy life with diabetes. “My message,” she says, “is to trust the people who help you. To trust doctors. If you have the desire to get better there are many special people who can help, like Evelyn.”
One of the more influential and special groups in Rada’s life has been the Health Centre’s Women of the World (WOW) Program, which Rada joined in 2002 one year after she immigrated to Canada. Wow provides intensive training to bilingual immigrant women wishing to volunteer to help other newcomer women in their own communities. They are given the tools, knowledge and skills needed to develop and lead women’s groups in their own communities and provide group and one-on-one support to newcomer women to reduce different barriers and increase a sense of belonging in their new community. “I was able to socialize with women from other backgrounds. It was so important for me,” Rada explains. “I don’t categorize people on where they’re from, only if they are good people or not. My connections in this group began my journey to Evelyn.”
Before her breast cancer diagnosis, Rada says she was the picture of health. “Never before in my life did I even have a file in a doctor’s office,” she says. However, now, after years of serious health scares, treatments and setbacks, she remains a picture of health. “I draw my strength from the huge amount of optimism I have. I am a strong woman.”