The other night my son and I were sitting at the kitchen table working on an essay about stem cell research. My young son would rather have been doing anything else but working on this topic so his mind and his mouth constantly wandered to strange new topics. In an attempt to steer him back to the subject at hand, we discussed the use of stems cells in diabetes research.
Out of nowhere he comes up with the idea that people who develop diabetes have had too much sugar and thus “caused” their diabetes.
I replied with my usual “Yes, I force fed you chocolate bars at two and gave you spiked your bottle with nothing but sugar water until finally I succeeded in giving you diabetes.”
He looked at me a little strange and I finally replied “Are you crazy?”
His response was “Well, everyone says that if you eat a lot of sugar you get diabetes. They must be talking about Type 2 I guess.”
I suddenly shifted gears. He was no longer just goofing around. For some reason he was actually thinking this is true. He asked why “everyone” would say this if there was not some truth in it. I didn’t have an answer. I gave him my standard spiel on genetics and how it plays a role in those developing Type 2 diabetes. I told him the benefits of eating healthy for everyone and most especially those who could be prone to develop diabetes.
The conversation continued as he noted that his brother’s children could end up with diabetes now that he had added the genetic component to their gene pool. He didn’t think that that was fair. I explained that nothing was a given in his own children or his brother’s potential off-spring.
We finally moved back around to finishing his paper and establishing his position but the conversation left me a little taken aback. My son, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes since he was two years old, is thin, has always eaten in a very health conscious manner, rarely eats sweets, and has been educated by his mother on the realities of diabetes and the fact that this is not his fault, had begun to question his role in this horrible disease. That scared me. If he can be sucked into the vacuum of misinformation, what in the world are we going to do about John Q Public who does not have the benefit of a D-parent?
Over the past week, the media has been busy discussing the “war between Type1 and Type2s”. Supposedly there has been a hot debate raging regarding changing the name of Type 1 diabetes to any but diabetes. They say that some people with Type 1 diabetes feel that they are wrongfully lumped in with the stereotypes of people with Type 2 diabetes and that it becomes more difficult to lobby for cure funding.
The more I thought about this, the more I began to wonder, what’s in a name? Before it was called Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, we had Juvenile and Adult Onset Diabetes. When my son was first diagnosed I definitely wanted a different name. My son’s diabetes was nothing like your grandmother’s diabetes that she was diagnosed with when she turned 70. My son did not get diabetes from eating too many chocolate bars when he was one. My son would not be “cured” by eating well, exercising and losing 50 pounds…he was less than 20 pounds when he was diagnosed and believe me when I say he didn’t have an ounce of fat to spare
As time went on, I learned a lot more about Type 2 diabetes. I met marathon runners who were living with Type 2 diabetes. I experienced the frustrations of people trying desperately to manage their diabetes with diet and exercise. I learned that you did not have to be old, overweight, or a couch potato to develop Type 2 diabetes.
There were differences between the two diseases for sure, but they both have to do with the pancreas not doing its job. They both are silent killers. Neither diseases are taken serious enough by the public at large (or in some cases the people living with it).
This new debate has had me thinking back to the good old cancer advocates. We all continue to stand in awe at the funding and awareness that is out there for cancer. Not all cancers are the same however. There is the sexy cancer, the cancer you don’t want to talk about if you are a male, the cancer that is all your fault because you were a smoker or lived with one, and so many more. People living with these diseases do not ask to have each cancer recognized with a different name. Despite all being “cancer”, we immediately recognize pink as breast cancer. We know about the “Dad’s Ride for Prostate Cancer” and we have seen the Heart and Lung Association extol the evils of smoking and its high risk for lung cancer.
Do we really need two different names or should we spend that energy simply educating people now on what Type 1 diabetes (or Type 2 if you like) really is? People still call Type 1 diabetes Juvenile Diabetes so will yet another name make any difference in how they see our loved ones and people with diabetes? I doubt it.
As Shakespeare’s Romeo said, A rose by any other name still smells as sweet. Type 1 diabetes by any other name is still just as horrible. It still kills too many people. It is still very serious and requires a lot of care. It is still carries a terrible expense–both financially and emotionally. The name does not change the facts. We just need to work harder at making the world know the facts not the fiction.