The month of November is dedicated to national diabetes awareness, with the 14th of November being dedicated as World Diabetes Day. The intention is to raise awareness about a disease that afflicts 30.3 million people nationwide, nearly 10% of the United States population.
However, even with the staggering numbers and an entire month being dedicated to the awareness and prevention of such a disease, diabetes specialists and patients alike do not believe the populace gives it the attention it needs.
Tricia Dutra, a medical assistant at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Health Center who works with diabetes patients, said her office sees upwards of 30 diabetic patients daily between three doctors, highlighting the fact that a large amount of the local population struggles with diabetes.
Even with the local and national figures, Dutra said she has not seen any increased awareness due to Diabetes Awareness Month.
“Everybody knows about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is extremely important, and Heart Disease Awareness Month, but nobody ever thinks about diabetes,” Dutra said. “What a monster disease it is; people just don’t realize how bad it is.”
Of course, diabetics themselves and their immediate family members are well aware of the severity of the disease. Diabetes prompts not only the patients, but their families, to make adjustments in their lives to compensate for their predicament.
Heidi Jackson, a patient at Charles Regional Health Center, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 40 and her daughter, Heather Oliver, has been her caretaker since.
Jackson said she was not aware of the severity of the disease upon diagnosis which in turn led to her needing additional care.
“A lot of things happen to you when you don’t take care of yourself. It affects all of your organs,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are walking around with diabetes and they don’t know they have it. So the public needs to be more aware of this.”
Oliver agrees that the public needs to be more educated on the adverse affects of diabetes, plus preventative actions that citizens can take.
Even with having an immediate family member affected by diabetes, Oliver said the message of the national diabetes month is unclear other than the obvious fact: “take care of yourself.”
“I think it should get as much awareness as breast cancer does,” Oliver said. “People need to go have their A1C checked and have that part as their yearly physical. I also think they probably could use a bit more funding because insulin is really, really expensive and there are a lot of people out there who have a hard time affording it.”
Lack of knowledge and insulin prices have contributed to 23.8% of diabetes cases going undiagnosed, along with it being the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
This is not to say diabetes is a death sentence, as plenty of diabetics lead functioning lives after diagnosis by making the proper adjustments in their daily routines.
Ray Bazil, another patient at Charles Regional, experienced a tremendous amount of impact on his daily life when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2004, but said now things are a bit more regulated.
Bazil said he has completely restructured his diet, eating six small meals a day, in addition to staying away from sugary drinks and processed foods.
“You have to monitor and be more careful about what you eat and how you eat,” Bazil said. “Be aware of it. Don’t be fearful of it. Know that you can manage it, and know that you can take care of yourself.”
Bazil mentioned that he was not aware of the message a national diabetes month presents, but credits the medical staff for helping him make the adjustments to live a functioning life with diabetes.
A reason people are not fully aware of the adverse affects of diabetes could be not having any direct or indirect contact with the disease. Through no fault of their own, people become ignorant of how important a structured diet and active lifestyle is to long term health.
Diabetes can manifest itself anywhere with anyone, it is a non-discriminatory disease that even experts on it are at risk of developing.
Such is the case with Natasha Adams, a medical assistant at Charles Regional. Adams has been working with diabetes patients for 17 years and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes this past February.
Adams used her diagnosis as a motivating factor to prompt changes not only in her life, but in the lives of her patients who may believe the disease is uncontrollable.
“You have to be vested in you. It’s not just based on the treatment, but you as the patient have to be willing to participate and do what’s needed to make the changes,” Adams said. “I tell patients from my standpoint, ‘look I get it,’ so I try to be a positive role model to the patients to let them know I am doing it, and you can do it as well.”
Adams stated that the lack of awareness, sedentary lifestyles and prices of medication all contribute to the diabetes crisis, having an impact on both a local and national scale.
“Many people can’t afford medication, so now people are at the point where they debate, ‘Do I buy my food, do I pay my bills, [or] do I get my medication?’” Adams said. “The cost becomes extreme. The government contributing more would definitely help to bring down the numbers.”
“If you have it, embrace it. If you embrace it, then you try to control it,” Adams said. “You try to do more, you try to let other people know it’s not a death sentence, you can actually live with it, you can live a long life with it, too.”
Dutra explained that exercise and a controlled diet can prevent the development of diabetes to begin with.
“It doesn’t have to be strict, you don’t have to follow Atkins or Keto or anything like that, but just use basic common sense,” Dutra said. “Moderation is the key. Realize you have limitations.”
Patients and medical staff alike agree that awareness of a preventable disease must be increased, along with the promotion of a structured, controlled diet and active lifestyle.