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Cancer Patient Makes the Best of Diabetes

CancerWise - January 2007

By Dawn Dorsey

John Carriere savors the good things in life – delicious meals with friends and family, sunny mornings on the porch, watching the birds in his quiet neighborhood – and he’s not going to let diabetes get in his way.

Enjoying life, laissez les bons temps rouler, is in his genes. Although Carriere moved to Texas more than 60 years ago, his voice is still rich with a Louisiana Cajun lilt.

The journey begins

John Carriere

Carriere remembers well the day cancer began to change his life. It was just a normal Saturday, and he had been doing some work around his house. When he saw blood in his urine, he went to the emergency room. Later, after an MRI found his kidney was enlarged, Carriere had it surgically removed.

“It was intense surgery because of so many adhesions,” Carriere, a retired anesthesiologist, says. “It lasted seven hours, and I lost about 35 pints of blood.”

But he made a smooth recovery, and his life began to get back to normal. A few months later, however, doctors found more tumors in other parts of his body. This time, he had chemotherapy at M. D. Anderson.

“It was pretty rough,” Carriere says. “I lost 72 pounds, but I did keep my hair.”

Waking up with diabetes

Nine months later, an exploratory surgery found more tumors. This time, Carriere lost part of his pancreas, which made him diabetic.

“I came out of my surgery an insulin-dependent diabetic,” he says. “I tried treating it with oral medication and did fairly well for a while. But I still didn’t feel very strong, and it was hard to keep up with all the details.”

Now Carriere takes insulin injections, which have brought his diabetes under control.

Taking it day by day

“I give myself a shot every morning, and usually I have two to three shots a day,” Carriere says. He tests his glucose level four to five times each day.

“If it’s elevated, I get up off my lazy bottom and take a walk,” he says. “Or I drink a few glasses of water. But if it’s low, I’ll have some fruit – maybe a ripe banana – and sometimes a no-sugar cookie.”

Watching his diet

Carriere pays attention to what he eats and has plenty of help from Mary, his wife of 51 years, who was a registered nurse before retirement.

“She’s been a great help through all of this,” he says. “She’s been on practically every trip I’ve made to M. D. Anderson and has been by my side during the whole thing. She really helps by preparing food I can eat.”

He says that includes a lot of broiled chicken, with some occasional seafood. He admits he gets a little tired of it, but vegetables help diversify the fare.

“We eat several vegetables a day,” he says. “Practically any vegetable on the market I can eat, and we really enjoy fresh produce.”

Sacrifices are required

But don’t get the impression Carriere doesn’t make sacrifices or tough choices.

“What I miss the most is ice cream,” he says. “I’ve tried the no-sugar-added kind, but I don’t like it. I’ve tried sugar-free pies and other things too, but, I’m sorry, I just don’t like them. Why bother?”

Despite his best intentions, Carriere admits to an occasional lapse.

“I sometimes cheat…who doesn’t?” he says. “When you go out to eat and look at the menu, sometimes you ask yourself, ‘What the heck can I eat?’”

Carriere knows he should bring down his weight a little and exercise more, and he’s working on both of those. He does a lot of gardening in his showpiece yard, and that is his main source of exercise.

Living for the moment

Carriere’s cancer has returned – this time to his liver, pelvis and kidney. As you might expect, he’s fighting it and is in treatment at M. D. Anderson. He’s in a clinical trial for an experimental oral medication, RTA-402.

He and his wife live in a quiet waterfront area north of Houston. They designed their house with eastern exposure, and the cozy morning sun is perfect for reading the newspaper and spending quiet moments together. Carriere enjoys watching the birds that migrate through the area and recently spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet, rare in this part of the country.

“I’ve had a complete life,” he says. “And we’ve certainly had a lot of good food.”

M. D. Anderson resources:

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center