S. Epatha Merkerson: ‘When I learned I had Type 2 diabetes, I decided to get serious about my health’

S. Epatha Merkerson: ‘When I learned I had Type 2 diabetes, I decided to get serious about my health’

Originally published on The Industry Cosign December 29, 2014

The Law and Order franchise wouldn’t be the same without Anita Van Buren. The face is so familiar, she’s lasted longer than every other main character on the series — that staying power has to be acknowledged. But her staying power in her personal life is even more important, especially knowing that S. Epatha Merkerson, the actor playing Van Buren, is diabetic. After learning 11 years ago that she had the disease, she spent time learning about diabetes. She wants you to be just as aware.

She has teamed up with the drug company Merck to encourage others to be more aware of their A1C levels and to avoid the problems that can accompany the condition. Merkerson took time to talk to The Industry Cosign about the program, America’s Diabetes Challenge, and why she is stressing the importance of people knowing their A1C levels.

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What made you decide to get involved with Merck’s diabetes campaign?

I teamed up with Merck on America’s Diabetes Challenge because I am passionate about encouraging people who have Type 2 diabetes, who are going through the same thing as me, including the 4.9 million African American adults living with Type 2 diabetes, to know the importance of their A1C and to talk to their doctor about setting and attaining their own A1C goal. A1C is an estimate of average blood sugar over the past two to three months, and it is recommended that many people with diabetes have an A1C of less than 7% to help reduce the risk of complications. Nearly half the people with diabetes are not at an A1C that is less than 7%.

Could you explain the America’s Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals program?

America’s Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals is a program from Merck to urge people who have Type 2 diabetes to know their A1C number and to talk to their doctor about setting and attaining their own blood sugar goals. The program encourages friends and caregivers to challenge their loved ones to get to their A1C goal and to help support the 29 million Americans living with this condition. Type 2 diabetes is also a significant health concern in the African American community. Nearly 20% of the adult African American population has diabetes, and I will be traveling next to Atlanta in October for an event aimed at helping the African American community there to understand their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and how they can better manage the disease.

How has your health been since you discovered you had diabetes?

When I learned I had Type 2 diabetes, I decided to get serious about my health. I worked with my doctor to come up with a diabetes management plan that was right for me, including the right diet, exercise, and medication to help me meet my A1C goal. I stick with my plan by checking my blood sugar twice a day and by tracking my A1C number every three months when I see my doctor to make sure my plan is still working for me. I keep a log of my weekly progress and make regular appointments with my doctor to keep on top of my eating habits, exercise routine, and medications. I’ve also learned that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may not reach your blood sugar goals, and your doctor may need to change your treatment plan.

After 17 seasons of playing her, do you feel that you are Anita Van Buren?

No, Anita Van Buren is actually me because after a while they started writing to my sensibility.

What other projects are you working on?

I will be performing in While I Yet Live, an off-Broadway  play by Billy Porter directed by Sheryl Kaller about coming of age in Pittsburgh amongst a bevy of fascinating and strong-willed women.

From your past what would you do differently if you could?

I have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, yet I was oblivious to my own symptoms. I know firsthand how it changes your life because I lost my father and grandmother to complications of diabetes, and I’ve seen the consequences of not knowing your A1C. If your A1C is high, you are at risk for all kinds of other health problems. If I could have a do-over, I would have learned more about proper blood sugar management earlier in life.

Could you tell us something about yourself that no one else knows ?

I quilt to relax.

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