By Joe Frescott, Staff Writer
November is American Diabetes Awareness Month; a month in which over 34 million Americans try to spread awareness for their commonly misunderstood medical condition.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), diabetes is defined as a “chronic health condition” where the body cannot produce and/or use insulin, which causes individuals to have low/unstable blood sugar levels. There are two main types of diabetes; type one and type two.
Type one diabetes is less common, as 5-10 percent diabetics have this type. Individuals can get type one at any age, although it is more commonly diagnosed during childhood adolescence. Those who have type one cannot produce insulin, and must take insulin shots and check their blood sugar regularly in order to maintain their health. Currently, there is no known way to prevent or cure type one diabetes.
Type two is the most common form of diabetes, as 90-95 percent of diabetics have this type. Unlike those with type one, type two diabetics can produce insulin, but their bodies do not respond normally and struggle to use it properly. Because of this, individuals’ blood sugar rises to dangerous levels, which causes serious health risks if untreated. Treatment for type two diabetics differs between every individual, with some requiring certain medications, insulin shots and/or frequent blood sugar monitoring. Similar to type one, there is no known cure, but individuals can lower their risk of having type two diabetes through living a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise.
Junior musical theatre major Hannah Winston has been living with diabetes since she was 12 years old. She describes her typical day managing diabetes as a never-ending cycle of health monitoring, medical device usage and adjusting to her blood glucose levels.
“There’s definitely not a set equation in terms of management, but a typical day looks like waking up checking my blood sugar, eating before class, then giving myself an insulin injection before or after meals, carb counting everything I eat in order to give myself the right dosage, checking my sugar again, and listening to my body and trying to regulate it the best I can even if I am not 100% that day.”
Winston recalls the struggles of when she was first diagnosed with diabetes.
“I was 12 years old, going to the doctor for a well check before the start of 5th grade. I remember that it was such a complicated time, right before I entered middle school and I was so nervous to go back to school to familiar faces with this new aspect of my life needing my constant attention,” she said. “Not to mention navigating it at school, events, friends, and family, I felt that because everything wasn’t “normal” for me at the time that I had to make it seem like everything wasn’t different with me.”
Despite these early struggles, she learned how to manage her health during her everyday life.
“Now, having gone through middle school, high school, and now a junior in college I’ve been branching out and learning that I can advocate for myself whether it be to professors about certain accommodations like eating Starbursts or snacks in class to treat a low blood sugar, or if my phone or sensor makes a noise to alert me about my blood sugar trends,” she said. “It definitely has been a lot of growing and reflection to know that my medical condition isn’t a burden to others and shouldn’t ever be, because if I don’t prioritize my health I can’t be myself at the end of the day. I can’t be 100 percent Hannah.”
Winston believes that although she is capable of doing everything a non-diabetic can do, she feels her perspective on life differs as a result of her condition.
“I can still do everything your average person with a working pancreas can do, but for me everything is looked at through a different lense. I have to think about how food affects my body, but also how my medication will affect my body in the present moment as well as throughout the day,” she said. “I also have to be my own best advocate 24/7, on the clock, always in regards to not letting my medical condition dictate my quality of life. So, even though my experiences are different from most, I always try to adapt because that’s all that I can do for myself with this.”
As a type one diabetic, Winston stresses the importance of educating the public on the disease.
“Non-diabetics still fall into the trap of the misconceptions surrounding this medical condition. I’ve heard comments around campus before that feed into or are the result from the stigma around diabetes in general. So I implore people to do research and to not just make assumptions about this condition just because they know Nick Jonas has it or that they think that they’ll get this condition because they had a second donut that day,” she said. “Awareness is essential and I think that most don’t realize the severity of living with this type of disease. So please, talk to us, we’re open books and love to educate others because it could save a life one day. All in all, everyone needs this hormone, insulin, to live. The only difference is that diabetics get their insulin in a different way.”
To learn more about diabetes and how you can make a difference, visit diabetes.org to learn more about what you can do to get involved in nonprofits and research.