Breast Cancer Awareness Month
A lesson for people with diabetes?
October 2011 — Last month, my first cousin called me with the not-so-good news. "It's back," she said. The breast cancer that had been radiated away two years ago had reappeared, and this time the prospects pointed to a mastectomy. Within a few weeks, she had interviewed the surgeon and a plastic surgeon to do reconstruction, made the necessary appointments, and had the operation. Luckily, she sailed through with a single small complication, and received a clean bill of health from her oncologist — the cancer was contained and no further treatment was necessary.
This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and soon you'll be seeing pink ribbons everywhere. While some of us have mixed feelings about the pink aspects of the breast cancer campaigns, no one quarrels with the message — more funds and more research are needed to end this disease. But since this is a column about diabetes, I want to focus on a different angle of my cousin's confrontation with breast cancer: the idea that when faced with an immediately life threatening illness, we tend to act quickly and decisively, as opposed to a chronic illness like diabetes, which at times can lead to procrastination, burnout, and — on occasion — outright denial.
Why is this? Part of it is the nature of having a chronic disease; it doesn't go away. For another, diabetes is insidious, and often symptoms don't show up in very obvious ways. You might be more thirsty of shaky or have blurry vision, but sometimes that doesn't line up in your head with the long-term damage high glucose levels can be doing to your body. Sometimes, there aren't any symptoms at all, and it's hard to live for the idea that glucose is causing damage that will occur in the future. It's not like a broken leg where the pain is immediately apparent, or a lump that has to come out today.
All of which made me think of a famous writing dictum, to "make your own emergency." This is not asking you to push the panic button. But by thinking of diabetes as a serious disease that demands daily care, you might be able to push yourself into paying closer attention to it on a daily basis and responding to it with the same attention you might to another, more urgently pressing medical diagnosis.
So when you begin to see all of those pink ribbons during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, think of it as a call to improve your own health as well. Just as a woman faced with my cousin's dilemma is shocked into action, sometimes we need to be shocked into taking first rate care of ourselves every day. It isn't easy and good care takes a variety of forms. It means regularly checking your blood glucose, taking your meds, monitoring your diet carefully, and getting regular exercise. It might mean lobbying for more diabetes research for a cure or making sure that your personal endocrinologist is responsive to your needs. It might mean taking off a few pounds. It might mean admitting you have diabetes once and for all, with all that implies.
But, without a doubt, it will mean a better quality of life and a longer life. Which is an outcome worth fighting for.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...