What Will You Die Of?
A personal campaign to stamp out death from diabetes.
with Amy Tenderich
Sorry to be morbid, but every November is American Diabetes Awareness Month – and this year, on Nov. 14, the globe with celebrate the first-ever United Nations' World Diabetes Day with a big shindig in New York City (lighting up the Empire State Building in blue!) and activities in 200 other participating countries. Such large-scale events always remind me of the devastation diabetes can do. How many friends and loved ones will die of its effects this year? Will it kill me ‘before my time'?
Usually, I think of my diabetes more as a nuisance than actual threat. That's partly denial, I suppose, when you look at the staggering statistics: 3.8 million people die every year from diabetes. Even more people die from cardiovascular disease made worse by diabetes-related lipid disorders and hypertension. That's one death from diabetes-related causes every 10 seconds! Diabetes is the fourth-leading cause of global death by disease.
I wonder how the authorities even get these statistics, since the tracking seems so poor. For example, when my own father passed away in the 1998 at age 71 (twenty years too early!), there was nary a word about diabetes on his death certificate – even though we all know that's what killed him. Without proper tracking, how should anyone recognize all those fallen to diabetes, let alone honor them?
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I've made my own resolution this month to apply the "Think Globally, Act Locally" edict to my diabetes. Please stick with me here to get the gist.
Call me pigheaded, but I heartily believe that in this day and age – with all the treatments and protocols available – no one should have to die early of diabetes-related causes. This is theoretical of course, assuming all the patients in poor and developing countries had access and means to purchase the tools they need to manage their diabetes. Clearly they don't, yet.
Meanwhile, here at home in the USA, nearly 6.2 million Americans (or nearly one-third of the 21 million affected) walking around with diabetes unaware that they even have the disease, according to the ADA? Yikes! These are the folks who will find out only when complications are advancing on them. A crying shame, considering we live in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet!
Because we live here in the US, we have access to some pretty amazing new cutting-edge diagnostic tools, like new DNA testing that can actually predict what you will die of. Or at least, it can predict what you would very likely die of if you don't take action now. One company called Delphi Health Services states, "No two people's DNA is the same over 4 million variants or mutations have been documented and the number grows everyday. Most have no effect, but a few are what makes each person's body unique, from height to hair color to shoe size. Your genes also determine whether you're likely to develop many diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and many cancers."
How is this helpful for people already diagnosed with diabetes? According to the ADA, more than 75% of us PWDs (people with diabetes) die from heart disease. DNA testing can tell you whether you have a strong genetic predisposition toward that as well, including conditions like heart attack and stroke.
It's all about using this knowledge as motivation. Researchers hope that seeing your risks in black and white "will send a more powerful message to people who may not focus on healthy eating and exercise … so they feel more motivated."
At the national level, all of this is still somewhat abstract and "global" in the sense that you or I, as individual patients, can do little to remedy the situation. But I'm thinking about your beloved partner or that Uncle Al everybody seems to have who just can't seem to get focused on taking care of his own health.
Therefore, my new diabetes resolution is to do everything I can in my own personal sphere to offset the effects of diabetes. This means not only taking great care of myself, but reaching out to anyone affected whom I happen to know personally.
Let me throw another mysterious statistic at you: according to the CDC, about 70,000 people die in America every year from the effects of diabetes. Why should that be?!
And shouldn't we, the American diabetes community, make it our business and our passion to chop that number down – starting with ourselves and those around us? If each one of us vowed to take just one other person with diabetes – that Uncle Al or Aunt Rose everybody seems to know – under our wing and help them get on track, couldn't we eventually change the world, one PWD at a time? Perhaps even more importantly, if we're not doing so well ourselves, wouldn't it be beneficial to team up with a friend or relative to tackle our diabetes challenges together?
I realize I may sound dreadfully idealistic here. But the notion of a UN Resolution on diabetes once sounded just as implausible.
For me, doing all the annoying things diabetes requires every day – pricking my fingers, counting carbs, dosing insulin, and swallowing pills – is my personal campaign to stamp out death from diabetes. When I go, I want my death certificate to say "old age."
* Amy Tenderich is co-author of the new book, Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes.
Read more about Amy Tenderich.
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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