Friday, November 6, 2015

Diabetes Awareness Month

I was giving an interview the other day when I was asked, How does diabetes impact your daily life?

I was stuck for an answer. Diabetes is woven into the fabric of everything I do, but not in a particularly invasive context. With the support of my health care team, I never felt as though diabetes were a limiting factor, an unmanageable burden or, even, my most pressing problem on any given day.  

I have to make sure my glucose meter is warm enough when I go skiing so that I can take a reading on the slopes.

Seriously. That was my answer. It was the best I could do in the moment and, really, a frozen meter is a source of annoyance. So, too, is the amount of diabetes stuff that I have to carry around. I used to leave the house with cash in my pocket and little else. Now? I have a purse. I hate carrying a purse. On the bike, it’s all crammed in my jersey pocket along with the usual staples for any cyclist: food and cash, cell phone, a couple of air cartridges and a spare tube. Now, though, my pockets are packed. That’s mildly irritating. And the stuff of diabetes isn’t just in my pockets, but in my mind. Throughout the day, I stop to check my blood sugar or do quick calculations before eating or exercising. For a myriad of reasons, I have to pause to consider diabetes. I have to call in prescriptions, argue with insurers, coordinate the mail-order supplies with my travel schedule.

That, I suppose, is my daily life with the condition. It’s a lot of nuanced, unimportant things when taken in isolation but, when added together, take up the extra mental and physical space of living with type one. For me, it’s not some lonely grind. It’s a series of small reminders, like tiny breezes, that move through my day. Some days, the breeze is more like a steady wind, and others, it’s a hardly noticeable draft. Yet, I also find that diabetes better connects me to myself, making me more aware of how food and exercise impact my body, and giving me the motivation to be proactive about my health.

The reason, of course, that diabetes is just one small – albeit important – part of my life has everything to do with advances in diabetes care and the support of my amazing health care team. I realize how lucky I am to have been born in a country where I can access the tools needed to help me better manage my condition. I am grateful beyond measure to those scientists and physicians who have devoted their careers to making my life a little bit easier. During Diabetes Awareness Month, I recognize how many people are not as fortunate, and don’t have access to the basic tools and resources needed to live with diabetes. While I worry about keeping my meter warm on the ski slopes, there are mothers and fathers worrying about how to procure those items on which the lives of their children depend. The TT1 Foundation is nonprofit organization pursuing a mission of education, empowerment and equal access to medicine for everyone affected by diabetes. To achieve their goals Team Type 1 recently donated a years’ supply of test strips and 900 glucose meters to Rwanda. If you would like to help further that mission, you are welcome to donate here:

That, to me, is the essence of diabetes advocacy: Compassion. For some, diabetes awareness is about education, or dispelling the myths surrounding diabetes, or increasing dialogue about those things which matter most to the millions of people impacted by diabetes, or creating better access to diabetes care. All of those things are really about that one thing – that shift to compassion. It’s about understanding the condition beyond rhetoric in the media or the context of addressing a public health problem. It’s about exercising empathy, and considering what it is like to carry through life all the stuff of diabetes. It’s knowing that every day is different, and that the pockets get filled every morning, and that the calculations start all over. It’s gratitude for having the very ability to do it again tomorrow.