Okay....In case you're wondering, the title was just a throwback to the super cool 90's female rap group, Salt 'n' Pepa and their song, "Let's Talk about Sex." A number one song released in 1991, it talks about safe sex, the positive and negative sides of sex and the censorship that sex had around that time in American mainstream media. Some similarities can be drawn between the purpose of this song and how diabetes is viewed and discussed in America.
Yes, diabetes is on our minds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because we live with it. But, the concept of managing a disease (that requires you to perform the function of a bodily organ known as our panceas) is a concept that the average person in America has no realization about or understanding of. We (people with diabetes) tend to get upset when the media, a friend, or just a random acquaintance blurts out a statement that furthers a misconception about diabetes. “You’re not supposed to eat anything with sugar, right?” The hairs stand up on the back our neck and we immediately feel defensive….almost like the “flight or fight response.” But, is that really the best reaction?
Last week, I attended Sanofi’s Partners in Patient Health event in Washington, DC where the overall discussion centered around uncovering ways for diabetes advocates to have a bigger voice among influencers- insurance companies, employers, and third party administrators. One recurring subject was the fact that the general public has very little understanding of diabetes. Among those who have knowledge about diabetes, it is often laced with blame and shame toward those with type 2 diabetes. Of course, this topic is near and dear to us here at DiabetesSisters because we feel very strongly about removing any kind of blame and shame related to diabetes- especially for our sisters with Type 2 diabetes who face the worst of the blame and shame. One of the speakers who led a nonprofit focused on cancer shared that, similar to the diabetes community, there is a ‘line in the sand’ between those who have lung cancer as a result of smoking and those whose cancer was not ‘caused’ by smoking. She stated that they remove the stigma between the two types by repeatedly reinforcing the idea that “no one deserves to have lung cancer.”
With the public’s understanding of diabetes being so low, I would contend that each of us owes it to ourselves and the diabetes community as a whole to embrace every opportunity to teach others the correct information about diabetes. The misconceptions and untruths are not going to go away on their own, but if the 30 million people who are living with diabetes (in the US) started taking advantage of every teachable moment, we might just see some progress! We can start by using the same mantra as the lung cancer community- “No one deserves to have diabetes.” If you’re looking for other ways to improve your communication about diabetes with strangers and loves ones, be sure to check out Regina Shirley’s poignant article, “Diabetes and the Food Conversation” on the DiabetesSisters website. If you could use some help in gathering your thoughts on how to say certain things or explain diabetes to strangers, Regina’s article is just what you need. Another helpful resource regarding communicating with others about diabetes is my recently published book, “A Woman’s Guide to Diabetes.” In Chapter 6, “Creating Better Relationships”, I offer some communication tips for dating and marriage. In general, I’ve through my work at DiabetesSisters, I have learned that diabetes affects our loved ones much more than most of us realize (or want to realize). Over the past seven years (since I founded DiabetesSisters), my husband, Chris, and I have talked more about my diabetes than we ever did during the first eleven years of our relationship. You’ll also find a very touching letter that Chris wrote to my diabetes—an exercise that is good for anyone who has diabetes in his/her life.
However you choose to handle discussions about diabetes with both strangers and loved ones is up to you, but it’s always good to have a few resources in your back pocket to pull out when those unexpected situations arise. It’s also good to know that you have a whole Sisterhood supporting you. If you have a chance to attend a PODS Meetup in a city near you this month, please do. All of our PODS Meetups will be discussing ideas for how to best communicate about your diabetes this month.
Until next time, make every moment and every day count!