Today is my 49th birthday, a perfect day to kick off Diabetes Blog Week! I’m also coming up on my 33rd year of living with type 1 diabetes, and the theme for today, the first day of Diabetes Blog week, is, “What are the diabetes causes and issues that really fire you up?” In the interest of focus and brevity, if I boil down my many years of diabetes activism, I would say the cause that fires me up the most could be called, “Take Charge of Your Wellness!” At the essence, I want everyone with any illness or health problem to learn every thing they can about their condition, and then take the necessary steps to take charge of their health. At times, it can be extremely overwhelming to have to learn all there is to know about a health problem.
Diabetes is a very complex condition. Both type 1 and type 2 and all the variations of both diseases, are complicated. It takes a lot of studying and asking lots of questions to understand what’s going on or what’s not going on in your body once you have diabetes.
It’s why I started the Red Riders. I wanted people with diabetes to recognize one another at an American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure ride, so that we could easily ask each other questions about diabetes and exercise. And do that while out riding our bikes together! It’s why I started TeamWILD Athletics. I wanted clear, helpful, empowering information available to people with diabetes, so that we could all learn the many nuances of nutrition, endurance exercise and diabetes management.
As I think back on the trajectory of my life, it turns out that this passion for patient empowerment started early, and has permeated every health challenge I’ve ever encountered. I remember asking lots of questions when I had to go to the doctor for strep throat when I was a kid. When I had the chicken pox and I had to stay home from school for two weeks, I remember learning everything I could about the red, itchy spots all over my body. My oncologist in Denver, Colorado told me during my second cancer bout, that I was the most educated patient she’d ever had!
I just attended a health conference in San Diego with the Aligning Forces for Quality program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I believe there are no accidents in life. It was a Red Rider friend, a man who’s had type 1 for over 38 years, who referred me to the group that selected me to be a Consumer Representative for the Minnesota collaborative. At the conference, one of the major themes was patient engagement, and another was population health. These two themes strike home for me. I want every person who gets a diabetes diagnosis to step up to the plate! I want excellent diabetes education immediately available. I want people to get it that they have a lot to learn and they must figure out how to make adjustments to their lifestyle. Health is not a given. Health depends on what you eat. How much you move your body. How closely we pay attention to our sleep and our stress levels.
I want every person newly diagnosed to be introduced to the Diabetes Online Community! It is through the connections and support we make with one another that we learn tools and skills and we become inspired to take actions to take better care of ourselves. We learn about the resources we can take advantage of to help us live even better.
One thing that really inspires me is “population health.” Population health is defined as the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group. These groups are often geographic populations such as nations or communities, but can also be other groups such as employees, ethnic groups, disabled persons, prisoners, or any other defined group. The health outcomes of such groups are of relevance to policy makers in both the public and private sectors.
Right now, diabetes, in particular type 2 diabetes, is on a dramatic rise, worldwide. And there is finally emerging an interest in looking at why is this happening and what can we collectively do about it. One thing that excites me is looking at how we eat in this country. How ALL of us eat!!! Obesity doesn’t inherently cause type 2 diabetes!!! If it did, then a whole lot MORE people would have type 2 diabetes!! But eating more healthfully and moving your body more DOES help everyone. If someone has pre-diabetes, eating better and moving more, could draw the line between getting type 2 diabetes and avoiding type 2 diabetes. And that’s a good thing!
In general, I like thinking about everyone, yes, everyone, getting more informed about how to take good care of their body. And I also like the idea of all of us developing empathy and compassion for those who have a health challenge. There are so many things that make us vulnerable as we move through this human life. And caring for one another as we each navigate our path makes it all just a little bit easier.