Viewpoint: Separating diabetes fact from fiction


    By Hillary Gubler

    My youngest biological sister, Kimberly, was diagnosed with diabetes almost 4 years ago.

    Dec. 23, 1996 not only changed the life of a 9-year-old girl, but my entire family.

    Christmas Eve was spent as traditionally as possible in the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Washington County. Our tradition of acting out the Christmas story in Luke was improvised – the wise men gave gifts of gloves, needles and hospital Jell-o.

    The day after Christmas, my mother took my sister to Primary Children’s to learn all about a diagnosis completely foreign to our family. As a family, we had a lot of questions, wondering what impact this disease would have on our family. “Would she ever have another candy bar? “Will kids accept her, or think she is weird?” and “Will her life be shortened by the disease?”

    Our ignorance of the disease fueled our fear, but the education our family received at Primary Children’s put out the flames.

    At Primary Children’s, Kimberly learned how to test her blood sugars and give herself insulin shots from day one. Feeling more like a pincushion then a little girl, she endured insulin shots four times a day.

    Kimberly seemed to age 10 years in the two-week vacation before heading back to elementary school.

    Funny looks and questions from her schoolmates made Kimberly feel uncomfortable. She learned to test her sugars and take her insulin during the school day as inconspicuously as possible.

    She didn’t want her peers to ostracize her because they didn’t understand her circumstance.

    As November is Diabetes Awareness Month, I thought I would help the billions of people with diabetes educate the masses.

    There are two types of diabetes. Type I is insulin dependent diabetes (the kind Kimberly has), while Type II is usually managed by pills and diet.

    According to the American Diabetes Association Web site, having Type I diabetes means your body destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, leading to a failure to produce insulin. Its onset is most common in young adults and children.

    A person with Type II diabetes cannot make enough insulin or cannot properly use it. It is the most common form of diabetes – 9/10 diagnosed diabetics are Type II. According to the ADA Web site, Type II usually appears in people over 45, overweight, and who have a family history of the disease.

    ADA statistics show diabetes, type one and two, are genetically inherited.

    ? Myth: Sugar consumption causes diabetes.

    Before Kimberly was diagnosed, her fourth grade teacher told the class that if they ate too much sugar they would get diabetes. Diabetes is genetic. Eating too much sugar does not cause it – if that were true, everyone would have gotten diabetes after his or her third Halloween.

    Because eating sugar and carbohydrates raises blood sugar levels, Kimberly has to account for the sugar she eats to compensate for the lack of insulin her body produces.

    Two slices of white bread actually raises Kimberly’s sugar levels more than a package of skittles.

    ? Myth: You only get diabetes if you are overweight and do not exercise.

    Kimberly was an average kid – on the skinny side – when she was diagnosed.

    Environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise only contribute to the disease, they do not cause it.

    A person may delay diabetes with exercise and nutrition, but if diabetes is common in his or her family, he or she may still end up with the disease.

    A warning sign or symptom of diabetes is unusual weight loss, not weight gain in Type I diabetes.

    ? Myth: A “good diabetic” who does exactly what the doctor says will never have complications or irregular sugars.

    Even when diabetics are doing everything right, they still have diabetes.

    Everyday variables, such as stress and illness, make blood sugar go up and down, making blood sugar control more difficult.

    ? Myth: Diabetics have an extremely restricted diet and lifestyle.

    You can find someone in any profession with diabetes – whether in athletics or medicine. Diabetes doesn’t have to limit a person in any way.

    Having diabetes may mean that the person needs to follow a healthier lifestyle, but Kimberly can eat pretty much whatever she wants as long as she knows where her blood sugars are and accounts for them.

    The lifestyle or diet of a person with diabetes is one that everyone should follow to be healthy. It wouldn’t be good for anyone to each too much junk food.

    Technology in the diabetic world is constantly changing. Insulin pumps – pager-sized machines that give the body insulin at the touch of a button are replacing manual insulin shots, according to the MiniMed Web site.

    Kimberly got an insulin pump last year and it has given her more freedom in her day-to-day activities because she has the freedom to eat what she wants when she wants to.

    ? Myth: You will always get complications if you have diabetes.

    Diabetics can delay and reduce complications. At times they can prevent some of them by good blood sugar control. Although diabetics can keep complications to a minimum, they cannot prevent all complications 100 percent.

    ? Myth: A diabetic cannot give birth to children.

    Steel Magnolias is not accurate in portraying diabetes. Women with diabetes can give birth to children. Some even can have pretty nice sized families. Diabetics have to pay closer attention to their diabetes during pregnancy to make things as close perfect as possible, but having diabetes does not mean you cannot have children.

    Kimberly has miles to go before she sleeps. Diabetes hasn’t limited her and by being informed, diabetes won’t limit you either. Spread the word – diabetes is manageable and nothing to be afraid of. That candy bar you ate for lunch isn’t going to put you into a coma.

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