If you have cancer, you are usually met with sympathy and compassion. A person diagnosed with heart disease is met with care and concern. When people find out someone has diabetes, the first reaction tends to be blame. What did the person with diabetes do to cause this condition? What have they done to have an A1c that high? Have you ever wondered what would happen if people with diabetes weren’t constantly subjected to blame and criticism?
Think about this….a woman goes into her doctor’s office and is told that she has breast cancer. What does her doctor do after breaking this news to her? Can you picture how her friends and family will react? Most likely the doctor offers support and treatment options. Her family will offer to assist her in any way that they can. Everyone offers sympathy and hope.
Next imagine what happens when a man walks into his doctor’s office and told that he has congestive heart failure. What does his doctor do? How how does his family react? Again, treatment options and hope are given we can be sure.
Now consider what happens when diabetes is the diagnosis…. A family walks into a doctor’s office. Their son hasn’t been himself lately. He is lethargic. He is drinking everything in the house and consequently is suddenly having accidents and can’t seem to hold his water. They know that something is definitely off.
The doctor tells them that their son has Type 1 diabetes. She asks if there is a family history of diabetes? She gives them a brief rundown of what diabetes is. The doctor provides a prescription for things like insulin, syringes, and blood glucose test strips. No treatment options are discussed. The doctor then tells the family that they will have to go immediately to a place called “diabetes education” for a bit more training.
The stunned family is pushed out of the door and heads to the next office. They are reeling. They don’t understand what they have been told. The poor family knew nothing about diabetes before this day. It was something that came from eating too much sugar but they didn’t feed their son sugar…did they?
The family has been told that they will have to inject their child with a syringe multiple times per day. The doctor has told them that if their son gets too much insulin, it is an emergency and he could pass out and die. They have been told that he currently has too much sugar in his body and he needs more insulin or he may got into a coma and die.
The doctor did asked them if there was a family history of diabetes. Now they wonder again if they caused this. Did they do something wrong? Did they pass on faulty genes to their baby?
This newly diagnosed family goes to diabetes education and learns all they need to know about diabetes in a few hours. They are told about carbohydrates, insulin, exercise and many more terms that are floating around meaninglessly in their heads. The family is overwhelmed and exhausted.
As the news of the young boy’s diagnosis reaches family and friends, well-meaning friends reach out and contact the family Their aunt tells them that their great-uncle had diabetes…the bad kind….he died. A neighbourhood child asks your son if diabetes is contagious because he is worried that he might “catch it” and then have to have needles too!
Can you see the difference in these three scenarios? In each incidence, the diagnosis is earth shattering. The people involved in all three stories are forever changed but in the first two cases, they are met with compassion and care rather than being the butt of jokes. When diagnosed with something other than diabetes, the individual does not seem to have to educate or correct misconceptions from family and friends.
Now imagine this…the same family meets with their doctor. She tells them that their son has diabetes. It is a serious life-threatening disease but working together, they will ensure that he will live a long and healthy life. She tells them about amazing treatment options and offers them numerous online resources.
A diabetes team comes in bring with them another family who also has a child with diabetes. This family will act as mentors for them. The parents will be able to share their fears and experiences and the children will be able to also share with each other. They will guide them to other supports. The family knows that they are not alone. They know that they will make it through.
Further imagine this family going home after insulin guidelines are established but they don’t come home to judgement and fear. Instead this family walks in the door to find that their neighbours have prepared meals with carb counts so that Mom and Dad can focus on their family. They see that Grandma has arrived to help out and learn diabetes care so that their son can still spend his summers with her.
The is way diabetes should be handled–with compassion and care. It does happen. There are some incredible diabetes teams out there. There are amazing people who understand and don’t judge.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was the rule not the exception? Can you imagine if there were no more diabetes jokes? No more comments about Great Aunt Sarah dying from the bad kind of diabetes? What if parents no longer threatened their children with “if you eat one more of those candies you are going to get diabetes!”
That would be compassion in its purest form. It would allow families and individuals to deal with this new way of life with much more support and love.
It can happen but it takes work. We must continue to educate the general public. Educators and doctors must continue to offer compassion and support. It is important that those of us who live with diabetes constantly remain available and understanding towards those who are just learning about life with diabetes. Together we will create more compassionate resources for those with diabetes until there is a cure.