My name is Anna Amos and I am currently a second-year pharmacy student at Drake University. I am 22 years old and have been a Type 1 diabetic since I was four years old, making it 18 years since my diagnosis in June.
This year, I am the Operation Diabetes chair for the American Pharmacists Association – Association of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) at Drake. This is a very important organization and position to me given my situation.
The month of November is known as National Diabetes Month in the United States and Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day. While November may be over, I wanted to reflect on how this month has meant many things to me over the years.
When I was younger I thought it was foolish to have a month for something I perceived to be so normal. I had lived the majority of my life as a diabetic and watched my dad go through the same thing.
In my head, diabetes didn’t deserve an awareness month like breast cancer or brain cancer. Now that I’m older, my viewpoint has greatly changed. This is just one example of how even people living with diabetes have much to learn about their own disease. Having lived most of my life that I can remember as a diabetic, I have heard so many outlandish ideas about what having diabetes means, both from diabetics and non-diabetics.
APhA’s main focus this year for National Diabetes Month was education, both on how to lower risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and to address misconceptions about what it means to have diabetes. This gave me a unique opportunity to help people make healthier choices and live healthier lives, as well as shed some light on what a day is like for me and all other people living with diabetes.
One common misconception about people living with diabetes I have come across is that they are all unhealthy. This is something that is absolutely not true, and while certain decisions may affect one’s risks for diabetes, there are many non-modifiable factors involved as well.
For example, in my case, Type 1 diabetes is genetic. Both my father and paternal grandfather had Type 1 so it was incredibly likely I would develop it at some point in my life as well.
Other people can be at risk for diabetes from things like age, race or their environment, among others. The idea that all diabetics are unhealthy typically come from those people who have one or more of the modifiable risk factors. Some of these include being overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and alcoholism. It is important to educate on these risk factors but not be judgmental as they are modifiable and can be changed – and change should be encouraged and supported!
Another misconception I often come across is when someone with diabetes is eating something, typically with lots of sugar or carbohydrates, and someone says, “Wait, you can’t eat that, you’re a diabetic!” or asks “Are you sure you can eat that?”
The truth is, as long as the person has good control over their blood sugars, they can eat whatever they want. If they take insulin like myself, they can take as much insulin as they need to cover those foods. The important thing about eating foods with high sugar or carb content is moderation, which is the key for everyone, not just those with diabetes.
Over time, I have learned a lot about diabetes as someone who lives with it everyday. I’ve also been able to help many different people through previous jobs in community pharmacy and through educating my friends who are also in healthcare to common issues or questions that people diagnosed with diabetes may have.
While November has come to a close, there are always opportunities to learn more about diabetes and diabetes awareness. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) are both great resources for anyone who wants to educate themselves or find out how they can help give time, money or empower others through your knowledge.