Guest Commentary

Diabetes: Take it seriously and get educated

Susan Parker Sellers
Susan Parker Sellers

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing epidemics in the world, affecting 425 million people. Many more go undiagnosed until it’s too late. It is the seventh leading global cause of death according to the World Health Organization. Diabetes affects people of all races, income levels and ages. It doesn’t discriminate.

Despite the growing number of people living with diabetes, it has not triggered broad national or global alarm. Even though it kills more Americans each year than AIDS and breast cancer combined, there is a common misconception that diabetes is not a serious disease.

As a nation, we are not doing enough to demand widespread education. We aren’t discussing the challenges of diabetes, or how to curb its growth. To start, anyone who is told they are pre-diabetic needs to make real life-style changes immediately.

When my doctor first told me that I might be pre-diabetic, I only heard him say, “You might be …” I ignored the diagnosis and hoped it would go away. I didn’t understand my condition in a way that would push me to make life-style changes, because I didn’t feel sick. It wasn’t until I was addressing another health issue, unrelated to diabetes, that I was told my blood sugar was too high. To my dismay, I had crossed over from being a pre-diabetic to becoming an insulin-dependent diabetic.

Unfortunately, my reaction to being diagnosed pre-diabetic is all too common for people with Type 2 diabetes, and it’s costing our country billions of dollars. For the first few years I was willing to make small changes in the hopes it would be enough — but it was too easy to focus on what I couldn’t eat, which added to my frustration and noncompliance behavior.

But I got smart. I got educated. Today, my diabetes is under control because I got help and encouragement from others.

According to the Kansas City Diabetes Association, approximately 282,000 people in Kansas, or 12 percent of the adult population, have diabetes. In Missouri 689,000 or 13.4 percent of adults have this disease. Respectively diabetes is costing Kansas and Missouri $2.4 and $6.7 billion each year. What’s more, thousands of people walk around and don’t know they have this silent killer or have high blood glucose levels that could be sending them on their way to Type 2.

People need to know that managing diabetes is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Anybody who is pre-diabetic or diabetic needs to take this on as a priority, and accept that this is a process that will continue to change. The solution is to find out what works for you.

Diabetes has forever changed my life and I have learned a lot in my battle to live with this disease. I am a volunteer with the local Lions club, which allows me to use my experience to help others struggling with this disease. And now that Lions International has designated diabetes as its new signature cause, the other 1.5 million Lions members around the world and I are actively raising awareness of this disease by distributing diabetes information at local health fairs and festivals, as well as offering diabetes screenings.

As a Lion member, I know that we are the ideal group to go up against diabetes because our network spans far and wide.

Diabetics are four times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Eight people lose their sight every day because of diabetes. And the cost of diabetes will eventually cripple our health care system.

We must change the way we think about diabetes. We need more routine screenings and to amplify public awareness about the life-changing impact of this incurable disease. Early detection is crucial.

Through more outward discussions in the workplace, at home, in schools and at community centers, we can help the general public and our public officials understand the impact on millions of lives, and the economic toll this disease has on our country.

I urge all Kansans and Missourians: Do your research. Talk with your doctor. Understand the expectations and limitations. And, if possible, get help from dietitians or other experts in your community.

Susan Parker Sellers is a member of the Brookside/Waldo Lions Club in Kansas City.

Steps you can take

The process of learning how to manage my diabetes has been hard and frustrating at times. Here are some best practices to consider for anyone who has heard their doctor say, “You might be diabetic.”

Communicate with your doctors to let them know all the medicines you are taking, because some drugs can affect your blood sugar.

Take diabetes seriously. You can control it, rather than it controlling you. Strictly follow the recommendations made by your doctor and dietitian.

Diabetes is a math problem to solve. Read labels before purchasing food. Look at the carbohydrates, sugar content and the recommended serving size. If the numbers add up to more than your doctor or dietitian has recommended per one meal, you have options: You can eat half of a portion, make modifications if you are following a recipe, or choose something else.

Plan your meals around your day. If your day consists of strenuous activities, start with a hearty breakfast such as cereal. A carbohydrate-rich meal like this can help you reduce the chance of low blood sugar during a busy day. If you plan to go to a birthday party that evening and you know you will have some cake, be pro-active and eat lower carbohydrates and less sugar during the day, and consider eating just a small piece of cake.

Exercise to keep your body in the best shape possible. Whether you walk your driveway or the hall of your apartment, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or do something else, losing weight will make a difference in the amount of medication or insulin you need to control your diabetes.