A new campaign, End Diabetes, has been launched to address the alarming growth rate of diabetes across Canada.
Diabetes Canada, formerly known as the Canadian Diabetes Association, created the campaign to raise awareness and tackle stigmas attached to the disease.
It features a music video highlighting some of the thoughts and fears diabetics have.
Scott McRae, Regional Director for Alberta and Northwest Territories at Diabetes Canada, says stigma has pushed the epidemic into the dark, allowing diabetes rates to rise under the radar.
He says there’s a societal perception “that they have diabetes because they were lazy or fat, which is a very incomplete picture as to how this disease onsets,” McRae said.
As a result, many people who exhibit symptoms of diabetes are too afraid to get checked, and those living with diabetes often feel guilt and shame.
Funds raised from the End Diabetes campaign will go towards summer camps, research and advocacy.
Living with diabetes
On her sixth birthday Natalie Pina got a birthday present she never asked for. Just one day after turning six, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas and kills insulin-producing cells. As a result, those with type 1 diabetes rely on insulin injections to break down sugar.
“That’s when I knew something was wrong. At her birthday she was the calmest kid there, she was so pale and she had lost weight over the last couple of weeks,” explains her mom, Deanna.
Worried, the parent took her sick child to the hospital. Within the hour the family received a diagnoses that would change their lives forever.
“For the first few weeks she would be a little bit sad that she was the only one in the family, or the only one in her grade with diabetes,” she says. “But I sat down with her and I told her we’re in this together and we’re a team.”
Deanna says that while the diabetes program at Sturgeon Community Hospital has been helpful, the best information she’s received is from the Diabetes Canada website. On the site she was able to find simple information on how to talk to the school about issues diabetics often face, like inclusion.
This summer Deanna says she’ll be taking her daughter to a family camp through Diabetes Canada.
“I thought, ‘She needs to meet other kids so that she knows that she’s not the only one, and that she can have fun and that it’s normal to check blood sugars and it’s normal to get needles, and that it’s going to be okay.’ And I think I need to know that too,” she explains.
Lori Minchau has been living with type 1 diabetes for almost 30 years. She was 19 at the time she was diagnosed.
Her husband, who was her boyfriend at the time, forced her to cancel a ski-trip and go into the doctor to get help. Reluctant, Minchau says she already had been to the doctors who cleared her of any illness.
However, the doctor at a walk-in clinic smelled her breath and the sweetness of it compelled him to get a urine sample from Minchau. She was immediately sent to the hospital in a near-comatose state where she was treated for type 1 diabetes.
“I guess I was in and out of it while talking to him. I just thought I was tired,” she laughs.
For the last six years Minchau has canvassed for Diabetes Canada. She says having diabetes pushed her to want to help fundraise for a cure.
Minchau says she hopes the new campaign will raise more awareness and help stomp out some of the stigmas she has personally faced.
“When I say I’m diabetic people say, ‘No you’re not, you’re skinny.’ I think that when people think of diabetes they think chubby, not active, doesn’t look after themselves and that’s just not true.”
Brianna Daum, 38, is a mother of three girls. She says she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes ten years ago while early in one of her pregnancies.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin or the body resists the insulin it makes. As a result, people with this type rely on pills, and sometimes injections depending on the severity, in order to break down sugar.
She says she had noticed some symptoms of the disease, such as random high blood pressure peaks, steady weight gain and chronic bronchitis earlier in her 20’s.
Daum grew up with hyperglycemia and says she had expected to get type 2 diabetes later in life. Both her mother and grandmother were diagnosed with the disease between the age of 50 and 60. She says the women in her family had also been hyperglycemic.
“I knew it was coming for me at some point, but no one in my family had been diagnosed in their 20’s, that’s for sure,” she said.
As a result, her lifestyle has completely changed, from eating habits to exercising. She currently takes a combination of insulin and an injectible prescription drug in order to break down the sugar in her body.
While she keeps tight control over her sugars during the day, during the night they skyrocket due to hormones. As a result, she has to take a high volume of insulin in order to manage it.
Daum said that while it may seem easy in concept to lose weight to help manage the disease, it’s not so simple in practice.
Working out causes blood sugar levels to drop, which then needs to be handled by eating more food. She says it’s a constant balancing act when it comes to her health.
Stigma hasn’t come from only strangers, but also from friends and even medical professionals.
“I was hospitalized and the nurse told me that I needed to lose weight, and that I shouldn’t be on that much insulin. She knew zero about my situation, why I had gained all that weight during my pregnancy, why I was taking that much insulin.”
Often she’s been told by others to eat less sugar and eat low-fat foods, something that has caused some frustration. A proper diet includes complex carbs and healthy fats in order for the body to function. She says having to explain that to others has at times been difficult.
Daum says it’s a constant learning process for people around her, and she finds herself explaining all to often that diabetes isn’t contingent on poor lifestyle choices alone.
– 317,000 Albertans are diabetic or pre-diabetic
– 90 per cent of diagnoses are type 2 diabetes and under 10 per cent of diagnoses are type 1 diabetes
– There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes
– Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and gestational diabetes occurs to pregnant women for the duration of their pregnancy
– If unchecked, 30 per cent of the population will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2027
– This last year diabets rates rose at three times the rate of the population
– Diet, age, ethnicty and genetic backgrounds are linked to diabetes
– Certain ethnicities, such as Asian, Hispanic or First Nations, have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes