This year, I decided to room with my best friend. She happens to have type-1 diabetes. Living with her amidst a pandemic has shown me how complex diabetes is, and how much more research is needed. In 2018, the American Diabetes Association estimated that 34.2 million Americans have diabetes---and around 1.6 million of those cases are type-1 diabetic.
Type-2 diabetes is becoming more prevalent among adults in the United States. In most cases, type-2 diabetes can be prevented through changes in lifestyle. Poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to the decline of the pancreas, which causes the body to not be able to produce enough insulin, or resist insulin. Unlike type-2 diabetes, Type-1 diabetes is not related to lifestyle, and is an autoimmune disease. This form of diabetes occurs when the body's immune system attacks the pancreas, and makes the organ unable to produce any insulin. Type-1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at a young age.
One of the most frustrating things for my friend is not how meticulous the condition is to manage, but rather how expensive it is to treat. My friend says that "One bottle of insulin is roughly $300. A bottle will typically last me 10-15 days." As any adult knows, navigating insurance is no walk in the park. Often times, my friend doesn't feel like she can pursue the careers she really wants to, because she knows she cannot survive without health insurance.
Moreover, there is a lot of stigma that surrounds diabetes. My friend reiterates, "[People with diabetes] can eat anything we want! We just need to calculate the right insulin dosage." Like many diabetics, she finds it extremely annoying when someone says, "Wait, you can't eat that! There's sugar." As someone with type-1 diabetes, she wants to remind people that if the disease goes undiagnosed, it is fatal.
Diabetes is no laughing matter. My friend says, "if you don't understand, try stabbing yourself ten times a day just to hear someone make a joke about the disease being caused by eating too much." With that said, many diabetics are happy to share their experience, so long as you ask respectfully. My friend receives a lot of comments on the continuous glucose monitor on her arm. Like any body part or piece of clothing, you shouldn't touch something without a person's consent. This rule holds true for medical devices. If you want to know more about what something is or does, just ask.
In honor of National Diabetes Month, take time to check in with a diabetic loved one. This is no easy time for anyone, but living with a chronic condition makes the threat of COVID-19 even scarier. Researchers have come a long way in understanding diabetes, however, scientists are still unsure of exactly what causes the disease. There is currently no cure for diabetes. With more diabetes awareness, we can work together to find a cure (or at least a way to make treatments less expensive). And next time you devour a dessert, stop yourself before joking "this is diabetes on a plate".
To learn more about diabetes or to donate to diabetes research, visit the American Diabetes Association.