When Wendy Cannella learned she had Type 2 diabetes at the beginning of 2021, she wasted no time fighting the disease.
"I wasn't going to let it define my life," she said. "I decided to do whatever was necessary to overcome my diabetes."
Wendy had recently switched to a BayCare Medical Group doctor, who diagnosed the disease, prescribed medication and advised Wendy to sign up for a diabetes management program at St. Joseph’s Hospital and BayCare's free Diabetes Education Empowerment Program (DEEP).
Wendy enrolled right away.
DEEP is a free six-week class that teaches people to take charge of their diabetes. Attendees meet in small groups once a week for two hours and have the option to meet one-on-one with a BayCare diabetes educator. First developed by the University of Illinois, Chicago, the DEEP curriculum is designed to educate and empower students to manage their blood sugar better, avoid complications and enjoy their life to the fullest. St. Anthony’s Hospital brought DEEP to BayCare in 2016. BayCare has since expanded its program offering to serve people in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties.
"They break it down and explain the whole disease to you," Wendy said. After learning about the science of diabetes treatment, students are given practical advice on ways they can address their condition through diet and exercise. The result is a comprehensive understanding of diabetes—from causes to treatments.
By spring, Wendy, who recently retired, began going to the gym almost every day. Now, she's usually found peddling on an exercise bike, swimming in a lap pool or sweating in workout classes. Wendy jokes that DEEP put her back in school again and going to the gym has become her new job.
Wendy's knowledge about diabetes gave her the power to turn her health around. She joined a walking club and kayak club. She ditched chips as a nighttime snack and turned to healthier options like hummus and vegetables. This summer, Wendy fulfilled a longtime dream of visiting Yellowstone National Park. By October, she lost 45 pounds following lessons learned in her DEEP courses.
"I feel fabulous, I’ve lost 46 pounds since Feb. 1,” she said. “I don't even recognize myself. I look in the mirror and think, who is this person?"
Wendy’s positive response to the program is shared by others. According to Quincey Thoeni, a BayCare health educator and DEEP instructor, many participants leave the course feeling empowered and make dramatic improvements in the way they manage their diabetes.
“It’s so rewarding to join people like Wendy on their journey and help them make a few leaps ahead in their health,” she said.
While many DEEP participants are diabetic, some people enroll in the course because they have a diabetic loved one. The education gives them insight into how to help their loved one as well as improve their own health habits.
"I've had family members take the course to better understand how to help their loved one who has diabetes,” Quincey said. “When a person who cares about a person with diabetes takes the class, they’re going to learn things that will help their loved one and help themselves.”
Quincey adds that DEEP’s online format has allowed diabetes education to reach more people and have greater impact than if it was limited to an in-person format. The ability to log on from home or work comes with a host of benefits, she said, including convenience and flexibility for people who have additional obligations.
Wendy hopes her success overcoming diabetes will inspire others to seize control of their disease. It's possible, she said, and she knows because she's been there.
"I was upset at the beginning of my diagnosis, but I worked through the anger and denial, and was determined to fix it," she said. "My dad always preached PMA: positive mental attitude. I now have a good mental attitude toward accepting my condition."
And it's not just Wendy who's benefited from her PMA and fitness routine. Callie, her two-year-old chocolate Lab, enjoys the brisk, daily walks as well.
"We weren't doing a whole lot of walking outside before my diagnosis," Wendy said. "But now she's able to walk while I get my steps in. I can keep up with Callie and everybody now. I'm like an Energizer Bunny."