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Beyond the Diagnosis: Air Force Veteran continues to serve

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shelby Rapert
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Ten years ago, Cheryl Saunders and her husband took off on the open road, bound for a vacation in Maryland. Nothing could stop them – except the constant
bathroom breaks every two hours.

As a registered nurse, Saunders recognized this as less of an inconvenience, but more as a

After convincing her husband to take a glycated hemoglobin test, Saunders decided to be safe
and check her levels as well. Surprisingly, her score was greater than 10. For a glycated hemoglobin test, or an A1C test, a standard level is less than 5.7.

It was that day that the Saunders' lives were changed forever.

“Having diabetes is something you deal with day in, day out,” said Saunders. “It affects your whole life from exercise, nutrition and medication schedules to constant blood sugar testing.”

Saunders enlisted in the Air Force in 1984 as a medical specialist and served for 16 years. In 2014, she took a Government Civilian job at the 375th Medical Group on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, as a pediatric nurse and has since become a disease manager.

In 2009, diabetes was recognized as a disability since it substantially limits the function of the endocrine system. This internal limitation is enough for diabetes to be considered an "invisible" disability. An estimated 37 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes and 1.4 million people will be diagnosed this year.

Saunders uses her history with her disability and her prior service to connect with her patients on a higher level.

“I’m not just giving [my patients] book knowledge, I'm giving life experience and relating to them,” explained Saunders. “I build trust with them and try to act as an example that people living with diabetes can live life to the fullest without long-term complications.”

For her patients, Saunders encourages them to keep an eye out for the signs of illness and to speak up when you need help.

“You know the saying ‘it takes a village,’” said Saunders. “Well, at the medical group, we are here to be your village. We have behavioral health, nutrition, the pharmacy, nurses and physicians that help me with not only diabetes but other chronic conditions. We are here to help."

If you have questions or think you may have diabetes, contact your Primary Care Manager or the 375th MDG at 618-256-WELL (9355) for information on available resources.