Diabetes Awareness: a Focus on Common Misconceptions
Student Author: Amanda A.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM). Type One diabetes (also known as Juvenile or Insulin-Dependent Diabetes) is a chronic, autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces little to no insulin (a hormone needed to allow sugar/glucose into cells to produce energy). Even though Type One Diabetes is more common in children, it can develop at any age. Even though there has been a lot of research, and research continues, there’s no cure yet and because of this, people with Diabetes must take insulin.
The statistics for Type One Diabetes in the US are shocking. Every year, there are approximately 40,000 people diagnosed, making the total of Americans with this disease approximately 1.25 million. That number is expected to rise to 5 million Americans by 2050. Type One Diabetes is a very common disease in the US.
Mrs. Danyel Fitzpatrick said that “Since diabetes is so common, it’s overlooked when raising funds. If we need to find or get the cure, it will take everyone. We should be concerned that it’s common, not OK with the fact that it’s common.” The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) is searching for the cure, but they can’t do it without donations. They host One Walks, but sometimes those don’t go over very well so they don't get a lot of donations and even the donations they get aren’t very high when their One Walks go well.
Raising awareness is the best way to educate people. When asked why awareness is so important to her, Mrs. Fitzpatrick said that it is very personal to her since not only does she have it, quite a few people in her family have it as well. “If we don’t teach people then they are going to make assumptions. One of the big ones is Type 1 and Type 2. She remembers being told in school ‘Oh, you’re not fat’ because of the assumptions people make about Diabetes. Those of us living with the disease are the best ones to educate those who don’t.
Type One Diabetes isn’t a lifestyle disease, it’s an autoimmune disease. It isn’t caused by weight, eating choices, lack of exercise, or other bad lifestyle choices. It’s caused by the your body attacking itself. When a person’s body has destroyed enough islet cells, then you’re pancreas produces little to no insulin.
In my interview with Mrs. Fitzpatrick, I asked her what the hardest part of having Diabetes was for her and her family as a child through now. Danyel was diagnosed in junior high at the age of 12. She said that educating people and making them understand that it “wasn’t a death sentence” was the hardest part for her. Her family didn’t really have any hardships besides the financial side of things because her dad was also diabetic. Her father, however, felt guilty and thought that he was the reason she developed Diabetes because of genetics.
Now, as a mom, she tries to put her children’s needs first while knowing that a medical emergency can occur if she doesn’t take care of herself. She said that her girls are really too young to understand. Harper is starting to ask a few questions, but Kirkley is too little. She wants to help by pushing the plunger on the needles when Mrs. Fitzpatrick has to take a shot, but she still doesn’t understand. Even though they have been together for 15 years, Mr. Fitzpatrick is still learning the different aspects of the disease. He is learning that his wife’s mood fluctuates when her sugars fluctuate. Even though this is true, she has never let this become an excuse. “She is just like everyone else, she just has to take insulin.” Mr. Fitzpatrick is also learning that when she has a headache, it’s different than from when he has a headache. When he has a headache, he can just take a Tylenol, but when she has a headache, she has to take insulin.
Danyel said she wanted nondiabetics to know that even though we handle it fine, it could be worse than we are showing because of day to day issues that could be causing more problems. She also said that she wanted diabetics to know that even though they have the right to be upset, they also have the responsibility to let other people know that you have Diabetes, Diabetes doesn’t have you. Mrs. Fitzpatrick also said that people are looking at those of us with Type One Diabetes to see how we handle it, they might mimic how we handle it.
Info credit: Danyel Fitzpatrick, interview 6 Nov. 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011, and https://beyondtype1.org/type-1-diabetes-statistics/