Actor makes his disease work for him: Turner to speak at Carle event

Actor makes his disease work for him: Turner to speak at Carle event

URBANA — The sudden raging hunger and unquenchable thirst, the countless trips to the bathroom day and night.

Even more than 40 years later, actor Jim Turner describes the onset of his Type 1 diabetes when he was a high school junior like a teenage boy's living nightmare.

Heck, it sounds like anybody's living nightmare.

But like so many things in life, it's not so much about what unfortunate things happen to you but how you handle them — and Turner is all about making this disease work for him and encouraging other diabetics to do the same.

"I'm not ashamed of it, and I certainly do not hide it," he says.

Best known as the character Kirby Carlisle on the HBO comedy "Arli$$" and the co-host of "dLife TV," a weekly show dedicated to empowering Americans with diabetes, Turner will be the keynote speaker at a free community diabetes education event sponsored by Carle. It's set for 6 to 8:30 p.m. March 5 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Champaign.

Now 60, Turner remembers thinking his sudden onset of diabetes was a case of the flu because he felt so terrible. And it took his dad bringing up his poor nocturnal aim in the bathroom before he informed his parents he had been getting up to use the bathroom 10 times a night, he says. His shocked parents got him to a kidney specialist fast, and that's when Turner found out he had diabetes. His reaction: Shots and no more sugar?

"I knew nothing about diabetes," he recalls.

Because his blood sugar was extremely high, Turner said, he spent a week in the hospital, and there he learned how to take charge of his diabetes on his own.

He has been doing it ever since.

Kids need their parents' help to stay on top of the disease when they're young, he says. But he sees a lot of parents who go on doing the controlling as their kids get older, and he advises those parents, gently, to step aside and let them learn to manage on their own.

"It's very hard for parents to give that up," he says.

Turner uses a surfing analogy for keeping diabetes under control.

"It's kind of like surfing this wave of your own body chemistry. You've got to be aware. If a wave surfs up, you've got to be aware."

For Type 1's like himself, he says, there really is no choice.

"You have to manage it. You absolutely have to manage it or you'll fall apart very quick," he said.

For Type 2 diabetics, who have bodies that make some insulin, it's a bit tougher, he thinks.

"They can slip off the track," he says.

His advice to everyone: Get on that track and stay there, and the sooner the better.

"I say, 'Look, you've got to figure this out, dude. This is you. You can read and dream about a cure, but I've been reading about a cure since I got this disease, and it's still not here.'"

Part of getting serious also means exercising, Turner says.

He plays basketball and golf, and it helps, he says. On the morning after basketball, he can have toast with his bacon and eggs.

"I can eat more carbs if I exercise," he says.

He also advises reading about diabetes: When he was first diagnosed, there were about three books out there on this disease, and now there are thousands, he says. Find a book that's encouraging for you, Turner says.

It also may mean an attitude adjustment. "The attitude is huge," he says.

One example: "I have an elliptical and weight set. It's so boring, and sometimes it just drives me nuts. I put on the music, a lot of times I won't do it. I have to simply go, Jim, just do it for five minutes, and once I'm on it, I'll do it. It's a constant attitude adjustment. I know I can't let it down."

Diabetes is a personal disease, Turner says.

"Make it work for you," he urges. "Make it stylish."

If you go


The Carle community diabetes education event March 5 is free and open to the public.

It is designed for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and their families and friends, said Martha Trenkamp, Carle dietician and diabetes educator.

In addition to keynote speaker actor Jim Turner, it will include nearly 20 exhibitors with diabetes products and a panel of medical experts who will be available for a question and answer session.

The event was made possible by a gift from the estate of Jody Trisler.

Registration is required in advance.

To register online:

To register by phone: Call 383-3021.