Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Diabetes Charity Walk

Last year I participated in the "Step Out" Diabetes charity walk with my then-girlfriend. I had a great time and raised some money to help fund a cure for diabetes. This year I'll be walking again and this time she's my wife.

When I did the walk last year I had some idea of what being diabetic was like. I had been dating my girlfriend for about 6 months so I had been around it a bit. This past January we bought a house and I can honestly tell you I had no idea what its like for her.

I knew she had to constantly monitor her blood sugar levels, and eat or take insulin accordingly. But it goes well beyond that. Everything she does has to be considered in light of the diabetes. Some things are simple and require no thought. But other things require a bit more vigilance from her. And by now she's been dealing with Type 1 Diabetes long enough that she knows what she can and cannot eat, and what she must do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Diabetes is a unique disease in that each person who has it reacts differently to the various medications and lifestyle changes prescribed. Some medications work wonders for some people but not at all for others. Finding what works and what doesn’t takes time. There is no cure, just various methods of controlling diabetes. I worry that someday I might get this disease because of my family history. I worry about the health of my wife too as she struggles daily with diabetes.

Doing the charity walk will be a small step from me in fighting this disease. But obviously I cannot do much alone. I’m asking for your support. You can help by donating directly to the American Diabetes Association, participating in a walk in your hometown, or contact a legislator about a variety of diabetes related bills. I don’t mean this to sound like begging for dollars. If you donate to the American Diabetes Association at all I will be happy, if your donation is for my walk that’d be great but not necessary. If this just makes you have your own blood sugar tested to see if you are at risk, or might already have diabetes, that’d be great too. Mostly I’m hoping to raise a little awareness with this post and if in the process some money gets donated to the American Diabetes Association for research for a cure that would be wonderful.

The Center for Disease Control says that 23.6 million Americans suffered from diabetes in 2007. This was 7.8% of our population. They also estimate that roughly 57 million Americans had pre-diabetes conditions. That means about a quarter of this country currently deals with diabetes in some form, although for many of them they do not realize the condition they are in. You may have heard during this past year that Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (the same type as my wife). [Trust me, if you watch a Broncos game at any point this year you'll hear about Cutler's diabetes. I'm all for educating the public about diabetes, especially the differences between type 1 and 2, but for those of us living in Denver we've heard quite a bit about Cutler and diabetes.] He played all last year with it, not understanding why he was losing weight and was so tired all the time. Finally during the off season a blood test was performed as part of end of year team physical. Now he wears an insulin pump to control his blood sugar levels.

Diabetes is currently the 7th leading cause of death as listed on death certificates. The CDC though thinks that this is under reported as 35-40% of diabetics didn't have their diabetes listed at all on the death certificate and only 10-15% of diabetics listed diabetes as the primary cause of death. Most likely the other 85-90% of diabetics deaths were attributed to some of the things diabetes does to your body; like heart disease and kidney disease. Diabetes also causes high blood pressure, blindness (the leading cause of new blindness cases for the over 20 crowd) and nervous system disease (primarily a loss of sensation in the feet).

All of this scares me. It seems to me that if I can maintain a healthy lifestyle (or in my case do some improvements to get back to healthy and then walk the straight path again) and prevent type 2 diabetes that likely the other health problems will take care of themselves too. The life style that would prevent type 2 diabetes would also be healthy enough to prevent heart and kidney disease, assuming no other factors like family history.

Also I've said a bit about type 1 and type 2 diabetes but have not really defined it. The easiest way I know how to describe it is that in Type 2 diabetes you can "control" it with diet and exercise. You may have to take insulin but diet and exercise will also help lower your blood sugar level. In fact some people with Type 2 can diet and exercise enough that they can stop taking insulin. Type 1 diabetics do not have this luxury. Diet and exercise do still help them but they will always have to take insulin. Their pancreas just does not produce enough of it. With diet and exercise they may have to take a little less insulin but they will have to do daily injections, or have an insulin pump for the rest of their lives.

Beyond my wife, type 2, I've had other diabetics in my family. Most of them have had type 2, which happens to many Americans as we age. I'm sure the Wisconsin lifestyle of everything fried, with plenty of cheese and butter has not helped prevent my family members from getting diabetes as they aged. I'm guilty of that one too, I love cheese and I loved things fried, I love fried cheese too. My dad's mom had diabetes. I'm not sure how old I was but when I was young she had to have part of her leg amputated and my only memories of her are laying in a hospital bed at home. When we went there on vacation I spent a lot of time in her room, watching tv and talking. I know from pictures that there were vacations where she had two full legs and played with me. The first time I saw those pictures I was kinda shocked because I had no memory of that at all. Eventually she died of a heart attack but since heart disease is one of the things that diabetes causes her heart attack was probably diabetes related.

For more information visit the American Diabetes Association online. To donate to the walk I’ll be participating in go to my page.

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