Never Stop Growing

After living life for others, a grandmother learns the importance of diabetes treatment and self-care

Published in Fall 2018

Barbara Ward, in her own words, has a soft heart. The self-described “country girl” has been at the root of her family’s lives—shepherding children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren up and down the East Coast and managing all the highs and lows of her 72 years.

Ward grew up in North Carolina before meeting her husband Frank at 16 and getting married two years later. His job as a truck driver took him on the road, and they moved to New Jersey and Connecticut before settling in Baltimore. Along the way, they had two sons and three daughters, “13 or 14” grandchildren and too many greatgrandchildren to count. Ward is a doting mother who believes in keeping her family together. She still has trouble talking about her two sons who died before their 30th birthdays—one of cancer and the other of pneumonia. Her nurturing spirit has never changed; she helped raise several of her grandchildren over the years.

Life Doesn’t Stop with Diabetes

One day in 2008, Ward went outside and started sweating and shaking. She thought something in the air was making her sick, but her husband called an ambulance. When the EMTs arrived, they told Ward she had diabetes—her blood sugar levels were five times higher than normal. She spent several days at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center before returning home.

Ward began to make changes in her life—she learned to give herself insulin and manage her medications throughout the day. She even quit smoking, going cold turkey after 40 years by throwing her cigarettes out the car window on Pulaski Highway. Unfortunately, a year later, Ward learned her husband, also a lifelong smoker, had throat cancer. She retired and spent nights at his bedside in the hospital, then became his primary caretaker while he was at home.

This might start to sound familiar: a retelling of the modern parable of the tree who gives herself to others so completely that she ends up with nothing. Ward admits that at times, she felt like she was taking care of everyone but herself, and rarely paid attention to her diabetes or general health. After her husband’s cancer spread to his lungs, he died in 2014, after 52 years of marriage.

Loving Others by Loving Yourself

Ward wasn’t alone, having taken in her 12-year-old granddaughter after her husband’s death, but being widowed was hard for her. Her family kept telling her she needed to take better care of herself, but one day, Ward’s granddaughter asked her, “If something happens to you, what’s going to happen to me?” Ward hadn’t ever thought of her health mattering to others, and tried to reassure her granddaughter, who shot back, “You’re almost 100!” Even if Ward didn’t feel that old, she realized her health impacted the people who loved her. Along with her granddaughter, she began eating a healthier diet, and started to take her diabetes treatment more seriously. Her primary care provider, Ana Tucker, M.D., and the faculty and staff at the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center at Johns Hopkins Bayview helped her build a medication and lifestyle plan she could commit to. In addition, she formed a close relationship with Mary Beth Carlin, RN, a nurse at the Diabetes Center who helps address patients’ questions and concerns. Carlin connected Ward with a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) program in her building, and the two talk regularly about Ward’s health and her life.

Ward fills her busy days with family, puzzles and earning her GED. She’s planning to lose weight and get healthier, saying, “I’m always going to be in my grandkids’ lives. I want to live to see them all grown up.”