A diabetes diagnosis is a life-changing event. During the month of November, health care professionals, people with diabetes, their families and their allies make an extra effort to raise awareness of the metabolic disorder.
UW student Trevor Gonzales manages his diabetes with frequent insulin injections and said he must always pay attention to the continuous glucose monitor that watches his blood sugar.
“You just never know what’s happening inside your body,” he said. “And so you always have to be prepared. You always have to have insulin or a snack.”
Diabetes’ two most common forms are referred to as Type 1 and Type 2. People with Type 1, previously known as juvenile diabetes, have a pancreas which cannot produce insulin. People with Type 2, previously as adult-onset diabetes, have a pancreas which does not produce enough insulin.
Both types can lead to serious complications — cardiovascular disease, stroke, damage to the eyes, foot ulcers, even death — if not properly managed.
Gonzales has Type 1 diabetes, which he said takes more effort to manage than Type 2, the kind of diabetes his father has.
“I have to test my blood sugar 3-4 times a day, if not more, where he tests 3-4 times a week,” Gonzales said. “I also have to do injections daily, where he just has to take a pill.”
Given the difficulties of managing the disorder, many with diabetes find support groups helpful.
Beth Kamber, a dietician and diabetes educator, helps to run one such support group at Ivinson Memorial Hospital.
“If you’re in a group of people who have the same diagnosis that you have,” she said. “Maybe you’re struggling with something and you can bring that question out and somebody will say, ‘Yeah, I’ve had that same problem and this is what I did.’”
The support group meets at 5:15 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month in the Happy Jack Room of IMH. Kamber said the group generally consists of 5-10 people, but she would like to see more people join in.
She added the group is open to anyone, including the friends and family of those with diabetes, and those managing both Type 1 and Type 2.
“If you’re the only one in your family who’s had Type 1 diabetes and struggle with keeping your blood sugar down, sometimes it’s good to talk to someone else who has those same issues,” Kamber said.
Gonzales said he did not have any diabetic friends, and learned to manage his diabetes with help from staff at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Aurora, Colorado.
He added diabetes treats him comparatively well. If his blood sugar falls or rises too far in the night, he will generally wake up — something that does not happen for all diabetics.
“My advice to people would pretty much be, from early on, start good habits,” Gonzales said. “And realize that you have diabetes. Diabetes doesn’t have you.”
IMH also hosts diabetes management classes, during which Kamber and her colleagues meet with people managing diabetes to discuss nutrition and other aspects of diabetic life.
“What I try to stress with people is you can eat almost any food with diabetes, but it really comes down to how much, portion size, and timing,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is balance what they’re eating with their medications or their insulins.”
When people take the necessary precautions, they can safely enjoy all the foods non-diabetics do, Kamber said.
“Our whole goal is to make sure that those blood sugars remain within that normal range or good range,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is prevent any progression of the diabetes or prevent any complications from diabetes.”
Other classes discuss complications, stress, depression, sexuality and other aspects of living with diabetes.