You'd have a hard time imagining a life fuller than the one Dale Evans has packed into 87 years.
‘Life is not over because you have diabetes.’
She's been an actress, a singer, an entertainer, and a best-selling author. She was married four times; her marriage to the "king of the cowboys," Roy Rogers, lasted almost 51 years, until his death of congestive heart failure in 1998 at the age of 86.
Since 1942 she has starred in 41 films amd four television series, most of them with Roy and his horse, Trigger, and her horse, Buttermilk. She wrote their theme song "Happy Trails." For the past 17 years the Trinity Broadcasting Network has shown her one-half hour talk show, "A Date with Dale," which she still tapes every week. And, so far, she has written 26 books.
Together Dale and Roy parented a family of nine children, including one from her first marriage, two from his previous marriage, and one together. Their children also included four by adoption and one by foster parenthood. The multi-ethnic family included Choctaw, Scottish, and Korean girls.
But along with Dale's triumphs came more than her share of tragedies. One of the adopted children, Sandy, had been a battered child. Dale and Roy's only child, Robin, was a Down's syndrome baby. Their adopted Korean daughter, Debbie, was killed in a bus accident. Sandy and Robin also died before reaching adulthood.
In 1992, Dale had a heart attack, and she suffered a stroke in 1996 that weakened her left arm and left leg. She has had congestive heart failure and erratic blood pressure. Nowadays she wears a pacemaker and gets around in a wheelchair and with a walker. She lives in Apple Valley, Calif., near the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, Calif. [Subsequently, the museum was relocated to Branson, Missouri.] Dale has chronicled these challenges in her latest book, Rainbow on a Hard Trail (Revell, August 1999).
Diabetes: A Family Affair
But there is one aspect of her life she has never written or spoken about (until this interview, that is): her diabetes.
"I was diagnosed with diabetes after our little Korean girl was killed on our church bus," Dale says. "My whole body simply went into reverse. The next morning I was on my way to UCLA to see Roy, who had had an operation on his neck. After I got out there, I couldn't rise out of my chair or eat anything."
She saw her doctor who did a glucose tolerance test. "I was loaded!" she recalls.
That was in 1964, but Dale says it's likely that she had diabetes a long time before that. "My mother developed the onset of her diabetes when she was in her 80s," Dale says. "I should have know it then. But you think you are going to be free of it forever."
Two sisters of her mother also had diabetes late in life. Dale's son, Tom Fox, has diabetes, as does one of his children, Candy Halberg. Dale's great-grandson, Josh Halberg, had diabetes until he got a liver/pancreas transplant in July.
Of diabetes and her family, Dale says, "We got a big wallop of it."
At first doctors treated her with Glucotrol and then also with Glucophage. Dale also tried to watch her diet.
But for 36 years she never said anything about it publicly. She offers two reasons for that.
First, she was dealing with a host of other tribulations. "So many others things happened that really hurt and upset me," Dale says.
But when her doctors put her on insulin in July, she decided it was time to go public. Before that, her diabetes could be reduced to just one or two of the 16 pills that she had to take every day. But the shots of Humalog and Humulin 70/30 that she now takes first thing every morning and before she goes to bed have made her much more aware of her condition.
The switch to insulin, however, wasn't easy. "I balked at first because I didn't want to."
"I just don't like needles," Dale says. "I never did. But it's a wonderful thing now that they have those tiny needles." A caregiver gives Dale her shots with an insulin pen.
Dale wasn't the only member of her family to rebel against the idea of insulin shots. When her great-grandson, Josh, was diagnosed with diabetes at age 14, he told Dale: "I cannot impale myself."
She told him that he would be able to give himself insulin shots because his mother had been given shots since she was 15 months old and had injected herself since she was seven or eight. Soon afterward, Josh was injecting his own insulin regularly.
"I feel much better now that I am on the insulin," Dale says. "And I watch my diet. I watch the sugar intake and the salt. I'm careful. And the numbers are much better." Her fasting blood glucose levels are now usually between 150 and 160 mg/dl.
Despite the weakness following her stroke, Dale exercises regularly. "I have a therapist who comes to the house and exercises me by walking and arm exercises, particularly the arm and leg affected by the stroke. I know that's good for my diabetes too. I do pretty well, considering."
Since her stroke she has lost weight and is down 30 pounds to 120 on her 5'4" frame. "They are on me all the time to eat," she says. "But it's kind of hard. Roy died and a lot has happened, so I'm struggling a little bit. I'll hear a song or something that reminds me of him, and I'm in trouble."
When she had a stroke about three and one-half years ago, Dale says she thought her life was over. "But I lay in the bed at the hospital and said, ‘let's see what I have left.' And I could see, I could speak, I could think, I could read. I simply tabulated my blessings, and that gave me a start. So I wrote the book Rainbow on a Hard Trail."
Now, she says that she wants to write about diabetes so that others can learn from her experience.
This article appeared in Diabetes Forecast, March 2000, pages 76-78.
Dale Evans died February 7, 2001, of congestive heart failure at her home in Apple Valley, California. She was 88.
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