Diabetes: A Quiet Disease that Affects Millions

To round out the month of November, I completely blew it on promoting (well, discussing) a disease that is near and dear to my heart (in the most sarcastic tone): diabetes. November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and, sadly, not many people realize it. I only found out about it because I follow some diabetes Instagram accounts, and it’s my own disease! I am a Type 1 Diabetic, diagnosed at the age of 12 right before I entered high school. This disease effects 29 million children and adults in the United States according to the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US, surpassing AIDS and breast cancer combined. Furthermore, that number is probably higher as deaths are recorded as heart or kidney disease when the patient was a diabetic…diabetes causes these diseases! Diabetes is not a disease to be messed with.

I have Type 1 Diabetes. There is a Type 2 Diabetes and a third type called gestational diabetes. To simplify the differences:

  • Type 1 – Lack of or no insulin being created by the body. Insulin is created by the pancreas and allows the body’s cells to break down and eat food. If the cells can’t eat food, then they attack (eat) the body instead, going for fat tissue and then muscle tissue.
  • Type 2 – Body creates insulin, but it comes out “wonky” or not right. Can be reversed through diet and exercise. Occurs in overweight patients, but has shown in healthy individuals (it’s a strange disease). More common than Type 1, occurring in 90% of diabetic cases worldwide.
  • Gestational diabetes – occurs during pregnancy, causing hyperglycemia, or raised blood sugar. Usually disappears after birth, but does put mother and child at risk for Type 2 diabetes in the future. (My mom was on the verge of pre-natal diabetes with my younger brother, not me. I’m the diabetic and he’s healthy as an ox. Go figure!)

Quick Facts About Diabetes*

  • Every 23 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with diabetes.
  • 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk of Type 2 diabetes, but 90% don’t know they have it!
  • The total cost of diabetes and pre-diabetes in the U.S. costs $322 billion! With $14 billion towards Type 1 alone.
  • 1.25 million Americans are affected by Type 1 diabetes and the number is increasing.
  • 5 million people in the US expected to have Type 1 by the year 2050
  • Diabetes causes/affects: stroke, high blood pressure, hyper/hypoglacemia, DKA (Ketoacidosis & Ketones), nephropathy (kidney disease), eye complications, skin complications, neuropathy, gastroparesis, foot complications, mental health, oral health.
  • 200 Americans undergo amputation from diabetes on a daily average.
  • 136 Americans enter end-stage kidney disease treatment on a daily average.
  • Type 1 diabetes is associated with an estimated loss of life expectancy of up to 13 years.

*From American Diabetes Association and JDRF

My Story

megan diabetes

Towards the end of 8th grade, I woke up one night thirstier than ever. It came on abruptly and I couldn’t quench it. For the rest of 8th grade I was dying of thirst and peeing every 30 mins. New to me because I was the crazy kid that could hold her pee for the entire school day. I peed my pants twice rushing to the bathroom. It was frustrating and embarrassing. I started losing a lot of weight too. Fast forward to summer time and I started getting passed in soccer and struggled swinging a bat in softball. I had a physical for high school done end of June. 5’4″ and 95 lbs were my height and weight. The doctor said my body was going through a lot of changes and with me doing 2 sports and growing, it just couldn’t keep up.

My summer continued with excessive drinking and peeing. My parents clueless on what to do after believing what the doctor said. In August, volleyball tryouts for high school came. During the second week, I experienced sharp pains in my stomach and for the first time in my sports career, I had to sit out. I weighed myself, 93 lbs. I stayed home the next day lying in pain on the couch. My organs felt like they had shut down. I had to force myself to swallow food by gulping water. The following day was Freshman Orientation. I weighed myself in the morning, 83 lbs. I dropped 10 lbs in a day doing nothing. My mom, crying from confusion and at a lost on what to do, dropped me off at orientation and told me to call her if I felt sick. I lasted maybe 15 mins before I called her to come get me. We rushed to the nearby Kaiser health center, and the lady said “Get her to emergency.” Off to Kaiser ER, where I had to wait for help. I was in and out of consciousness when they finally rushed me inside. A bunch of IV hook-ups later, a nice old man comes and sits next to me. He smiles and says “Well Megan, you have diabetes.” I remember smiling back and thinking “Oh good, so that explains what I’ve been going through.”

My blood glucose levels were 700. A normal person ranges between 90 – 120.
I was approaching what is known as a diabetic coma. It happens when sugar levels are either too high or too low for the body to handle. Since that day, I have proceeded to give myself shots of insulin before eating and prick my finger to check my sugar levels 4 times a day. It took me about a year to understand it, another couple of years to get the hang of it, and then a daily battle to manage it. Diabetes changes with your lifestyle. I get a good system going, and then a stressful life event occurs and, what I like to refer to as “my numbers” (blood glucose levels) are out of whack. Sometimes I shout “I give up!”

Diabetes is a daily struggle. I am very fortunate to have a more mild case of Type 1 diabetes. Through some exercise and watching my levels, my numbers stay fairly moderate. Most Type 1 diabetics have more fragile numbers, some will fluctuate between 70 and 400 on a daily basis. That’s why most opt for the pump (a small machine that attaches to the body) because it monitors their numbers continuously and will provide the body insulin if needed to help keep the numbers in check. I still use a pen (basically a big needle, but insulin does not have to be drawn from a vile) because I can mange it well and I hate having something stuck in me at all times.

Fragile Diabetes – A woman on her 3rd chance for a new life

My mother knows a women who has very fragile diabetes. This woman, her name is Becky Lecker, can suffer from multiple seizures throughout the day due to her fluctuating glucose levels. Becky has to work from home and have someone there at all times to help her get through each day. Her story is remarkable, uplifting, and sad. Read it here.  She’s had kidney transplants, visits the hospital multiple times in a month, and suffers from seizures daily. Right now she is planning on a pancreas transplant as her last chance for life. The disease won’t relent after all her other attempts. Her husband has started a fund in her honor years back to cover medical costs. If she doesn’t need the funds each year, than she donates to other people in need. She’s a good person and is also raising a daughter with cerebral palsy. Help Becky receive a pancreas and continue her life with her family. Visit her fund here or her website here.

The Harsh Truth about Diabetes

The harsh truth about diabetes is that the disease would have killed me if it wasn’t for the research on diabetes beginning in 1869 and the creation of insulin back in the 1920s. Insulin wasn’t even made available to the general public until 1982! Thanks to the help of insulin, diabetes is no longer an immediate death sentence for children and adults, but we must not let that stop us. People are losing limbs, having seizures, having to live each moment in the restraint of diet, exercise, and stress. A simple upset at work can cause glucose levels to spiral out of control. We diabetics are strong though and can continue to appear stable and happy with life. But we suffer daily.

The disease never leaves our minds. Every bit of food we take, “How will this affect me?” Every night going to sleep, “Hopefully I didn’t give myself too much insulin.” Sleep can be a scary thing for diabetics who cannot easily feel their levels drop. Oh yeah we feel our blood sugar levels. Imagine feeling normal and then all the sudden you get cold sweats, your muscles begin to feel weak, your body tired. I rush for a juice or anything high in carbs. Takes my body about 10 mins to regain normalcy. Many diabetics don’t wake up when their sleeping and their levels drop. I’ve heard stories of diabetics thrashing around and love ones waking them up to get food or, worse, they can’t get them to wake up and have to inject them with a sugar shot. Severe diabetics cannot be left alone for this reason.

Type 2 diabetics have it easier in that with discipline they can reverse the disease. However, their life is more restricted. They normally don’t take insulin, which means they can’t easily help their body if their levels are too high. Also, having Type 2 diabetes usually means the person is unhealthy in some form of diet and exercise, i.e. obese.

Diabetes is also a long-term disease, meaning it takes years, decades even, for the effects of unmanaged glucose levels to show on the body. Diabetics who fail to keep their sugar levels in a moderate range will usually face nerve complications, followed by heart and kidney disease. You’ve heard about diabetic socks? Nerve complications are the first effects of ill-managed diabetes, resulting in amputation of toes or a foot. My brother had a friend who didn’t even know he had Type 2 diabetes and woke up one day to a couple of his toes being dead! So terrible and crazy!

The sad stories of how diabetes affects daily lives are endless. Kids not being able to do PE in school because their sugar levels are too high or low. Adults losing limbs from complications. Diabetics suffering seizures and comas from fluctuating sugar levels. We must find a cure. I believe we can. I feel we are so close to making the connection, but each day new cases come up that make researchers change their approach. Originally, diabetes was thought to be only genetic, but more cases, like me, appeared where diabetes was not found in the immediate lineage. Thus, research on a virus theory. Furthermore, scientists believed Type 1 only developed in kids under the age of 13, but more cases arose of people well over 13 developing Type 1 diabetes. I’ve even heard of healthy individuals diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. They feel clueless as to what they did wrong in their diet to cause it!

We need to continue research. We need to help those with diabetes to fight the disease. Look for fund accounts for individuals. Look to advocate for medical coverage and FDA approval of supplies. This is a silent killer to me because the disease allows those affected to live fairly normal looking lives, while slowly killing them (us) every day. Some faster than others.

How to Help or Become Involved

There are a few big organizations that are working to help fund research and support those with diabetes. However, I have come to believe helping individuals like Becky Lecker and working to gain FDA approval for diabetic medical supplies is more important. Many great medical devices that can help the lives of diabetics get stopped by the FDA. Most severe diabetics will take the risk of trial and error for a chance to improve their life. Below I present places to help fund diabetes, but I urge you all to work on helping individuals and helping companies get FDA approval (that is my opinion). Here is an article on the FDA approval pace in the US. It’s slow….

  • American Diabetes Association – will be matching donation gifts on Giving Tuesday (today!); walk, ride bikes, set up fundraisers, etc.
  • Clinical Trials for Diabetes (from American Diabetes Association)
  • JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) – donate, walk, ride bikes, attend a Gala, golf, etc.
  • JDRF One Voice – Advocate for Type 1 diabetes research
  • World Diabetes Foundation – focuses on alleviating human suffering related to diabetes and its complications in low and middle-income countries
  • Becky Lecker Fund – A golf tournament occurs every November with funds going to Becky or another in need
  • Diabetes Hand Foundation – brings people together to fight the disease, so no one has to go through it alone; programs include: The Communities, The Big Blue Test, and The Diabetes Advocates
  • Children’s Diabetes Foundation – based in Colorado, helps children who suffer from diabetes
  • CR3 Diabetes – provides equipment and encouragement to those in need living with diabetes; donate money or supplies (they are in need of pumps, pump supplies, and glucose test strips)
  • Diabetes Sisters – (for woman and girls only) offers a range of education and support for woman of all ages with all types of diabetes
  • Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation – works to help find the cure for diabetes, while supporting and caring for those with the disease

Lend me some of your wisdom