I used to write for women’s magazines a good bit. I often composed stories on the “disease of the month.” They ranged from breast cancer (October and pink ribbons) to heart disease (February and lots of red) to brain cancer (May and gray ribbons for gray matter, in case you didn’t know).
Such occasions served to raise awareness and research money for these serious conditions.
I recalled those days when I realized that November marks Diabetes Awareness Month and includes World Diabetes Day.
In non-COVID times, the month would include walks and runs to raise funds and educate people about diabetes. But given the global pandemic and how the months of 2020 have melted into one another, I wonder if this “by-the-month” approach has outlasted its usefulness.
Not only because of the pandemic. Our society has changed. The internet and social media have made information -- and connection with other people -- available 24 hours a day.
Let me be clear: I’m all for research, education, and awareness about diabetes. The more the better. The need has not decreased. According to the CDC, diabetes affects 34.2 million people in the U.S., or 10.5% of the U.S. population. (And this doesn’t count the approximately 88 million adults with prediabetes.) While the CDC figures don’t distinguish between type 1 and type 2, the agency’s statisticians figure that about 95% have type 2.
To me, these numbers -- and the changes in our world -- signal that we need more than an awareness month.
What do I think we need? I’m glad you asked.
One of the goals of the awareness month is to build a community willing to lobby and fundraise -- let’s take these actions every day of the year. Each of us with type 2 can make it a habit to ask ourselves how we might make our lives and the lives of others better and healthier. If it’s sending a check to an established diabetes organization, great. But you could also consider supporting groups fighting for more equitable health care or supermarkets in poor or rural neighborhoods. It doesn’t have to be money -- you could contribute via postcards or phone calls to elected officials about things you care about. There are so many issues: fighting for safe spaces to exercise in crowded cities, demanding lower insulin costs, calling for changes to the health care system.
If you aren’t the political type, you might work on your own diabetes awareness. Read up on type 2 so you understand exactly how it works and how food and exercise impact your blood sugars. Pass on what you learn to your family and friends so they can better help you with your care. (Sharing information with them might also prompt them to pay closer attention to their own risk of diabetes). Arrive at your doctor’s office or telehealth appointment prepared with questions from your readings -- along with any information or concerns you have about your diet, exercise, glucose readings, or medications -- to empower them to give you the best care.
As I said, I’m not against disease-of-the-month campaigns. But at this difficult point in the world, I believe each of us needs to step up and let the world know what we need -- all year round.