World Diabetes Day: What I Want You To Know

“What’s that blue circle on your Facebook picture?” is always a loaded question.

006

Firstly, as the international symbol of diabetes, the blue circle is like the communal social media head nod which symbolizes, “I get it,” to others like us who encounter the image.

Not everyone chooses to flash the blue circle, and that is okay, too. We all cope with this disease in our own ways.

Secondly, let’s be honest. The blue circle magnifies the attractiveness of any picture. It’s an unwritten rule. Blue circle = automatically cool.

Thirdly, there is a tale of strength and perseverance behind every blue circle. The story goes something like this:

When speaking to someone not intimately familiar with diabetes, I want that person to know that diabetes is not anyone’s fault. If you want to blame something, point the finger at rebellious islet cells, environmental factors, viral triggers, genetics, and the perfect storm of other elements. But please, do not blame the human being.

Society preaches the message that diabetes is a disease brought on by poor choices. “You ate too much sugar, so you are to blame for your type 2 diabetes. Just lose weight and you’ll be fine.” Phrases like these are tossed around daily in the movies, in comic strips, and in casual conversation. Yet the reality is that if any type of diabetes were so simple to acquire, the whole world would be diabetic.  

Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, does not discriminate according to who collected the most Swedish Fish from the birthday party piñatas as a kid. Instead, it strikes us innocently and without fair warning. We have lost children with their whole lives ahead of them this year because our healthcare system failed to identify the warning signs of diabetes in time. Extreme thirst, blurry vision, weight loss, frequent urination, and other symptoms should ring a “diabetes bell” in your mind after reading this. When in doubt, we implore you to play it safe and see a doctor immediately.

There are other types of diabetes, too: gestational diabetes during pregnancy, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD), latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA), maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), and other offshoots of the disease process.

Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Although no one singlehandedly causes any form of diabetes, let us pretend that the overly-simplified media theories are correct: Ally eats a cupcake, so Ally deservedly acquires diabetes. I “deserve” to take ten shots a day for the rest of my life. I “deserve” to wake up at 4:23 am with a blood sugar of 52 mg/dL, half the normal value, fighting to live- if I am even lucky enough to wake up before it is too late.

Now, substitute someone you love in place of our fictional Ally character. What if Ally was your sister, your father, your favorite high school Math teacher, your best friend? Can you accept the status quo of a world in which someone you love has to go through all of that to survive each day? Could you handle the emotional burden? Wouldn’t you get upset, too, when the severity of the battle was diminished by a corny joke on a TV show?  Isn’t the pain still there no matter what caused the disease?  Aren’t these people still important to their loved ones?

But, it’s no big deal because fictional friend/sister/father/teacher chose to eat the cupcake, right? (I’m taking my coffee with a heavy dose of sarcasm today.)

When we rationalize away the seriousness of this condition by poking fun of Wilford Brimley commercials, what we are really saying is that this is too much for our society to handle. If we laugh it away, we mistakenly presume that diabetes will not touch our lives at some point. Statistically and scientifically-speaking, that is a losing bet to make.

We must, instead, be brave and face the truth that defines this disease: Diabetes is no one’s fault, it is a profoundly-complex condition which is difficult to tame, and we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to lessen its toll by advancing technology and research.

The blue circle represents any of us and all of us. We have endured thousands of needles in our lifetimes. Diabetes changes its mind every day. Given the same scenario, what works on a Monday may not work on a Tuesday. Insulin sustains life, but each dose is an educated guesstimate. One miscalculation can be deadly.

We do not tell you these details because we want you to have a pity party for us. We can do anything. One of us, Sonia Sotomayor, sits on the Supreme Court of the United States. Others have run marathons, graduated from medical school, or written books. We have an enduring human spirit which rises to the occasion of fighting this disease every morning.

This November 14, when you see a blue circle on World Diabetes Day, do not simply scroll right by it. Pause and look at the faces behind the superimposed shapes. Recognize the human being who is affected by diabetes, who is more than a blue circle can ever truly describe. Marvel at his or her resilience. Perhaps donate your weekly coffee fund money towards a diabetes cure effort. Walk with us. Pray for us.

And the next time you hear, “What’s that blue circle all about?,” respond with a story about one of the strongest people you know- someone you love who lives with diabetes.

Thank you.

BetesOnTap selfie

^ Longtime type 1 diabetics, having fun despite diabetes  ❤

Advertisements

November, Polio, and Diabetes: A Lesson on Keeping the Faith

My grandfather was cured of polio as a child.

One summer day in high school, my friend pulled me aside at a barbecue and innocently asked, “Why does Papa have one skinny leg?”

“Polio,” was the only answer I could give.

His leg is atrophied from the polio, but the bounce in his step overrides the slight lag in his stride.  Life is good.  Family, friends, pasta, and red wine.  What more could an Italian grandpa need?

According to my relatives, Papa was blessed while riding on a parade float during the Feast of the Three Saints.  The polio disappeared after that.  I always thought that Jonas Salk played a hand in his cure, but perhaps I just really like the aspect of vagueness.  That’s where the faith is found, after all.

I will accept nothing less than a diabetes cure in my lifetime.  Plain and simple.  That faith will always be here.  When I am cured, I will hold onto that faith until every individual worldwide who is touched by diabetes receives the same renewed membership at quality of life.

Type 1 diabetes has dwelled in my body for almost 25 years.  It has undeniably left its mark.  Freckled fingertips.  Dexcom rashes.  Bruises galore.  As one friend recently joked, “You might want to leave those details out of your Tinder profile!”  Very true.

Diabetes has permanently affected my life, and yours.  I would be naïve to think that after 25 years, a cure will eradicate all of those diabetes handprints.  It won’t.  Some of the damage is already done.  But curing diabetes is also not all about me.  If I am going to be on this earth as a diabetic, if I have endured this crap for 25 years, if I know darn well how unrelenting some days are- then I cannot sit back and be okay with this in the 21st century.

We have the scientific brilliance to cure this disease.  We have the technology to cure diabetes.  And we most certainly have the motivation by which to accelerate research.  Look no further than any diabetes blog or heartfelt Facebook post by a D parent whose child just wants to eat cupcakes like the rest of the class, with no needles involved in the process.  Curing diabetes will involve faith, fundraising, advocating, and destigmatizing.  The #doc is well-suited to do this job.

It is 2015.  It’s about darn time for a cure.  I am excited about the pending technological options which will tide us over in the interim, but ultimately we need a cure.  If not for us in the here and now, then for all of the generations which will come after us.  It is our moral obligation to change this status quo.

November- diabetes awareness month- is about keeping the faith.  If my grandfather and his family had not believed that his polio would be cured- by whatever means- he may not have lived long enough to walk around the world free of leg braces, or to marry his high school sweetheart, or to still be madly in love so many years later.  He needed a cure, too.  He kept the faith, and he got the cure.

Keep the faith.  Advocate long and hard this month, and always.  #weneedacure