Celebrities sometimes use their power for good. Like Kevin Kline. His son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and Kevin has since been working with diabetes organizations to raise both awareness and funds for research towards a cure. THAT is celebrity power used effectively. His words, his efforts make a difference that is both poignant and tangible.
But some celebrities don't realize the impact of their words. Like good ol' Halle Berry, who is a disastrous representative of the diabetes community. Diagnosed with diabetes in 1989, Berry claimed -- in a 2007 interview -- "I've managed to wean myself off insulin, so now I'd like to put myself in the Type 2 category." I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that Berry was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, or perhaps some other kind of diabetes (see also: monogenic), but definitely not the type 1 diabetes she claims to have been diagnosed with. Because if she did have type 1 diabetes and stopped taking insulin, she would have most certainly died within a short time frame. How can I be so certain that she doesn't have type 1 diabetes? I'm not a medical professional. I'm not a doctor. I'm not even a certified diabetes educator. What gives me the right to voice a frustration with celebrities who claim "cure?"
Because I have been living with type 1 diabetes for over 24 years. That means more than three quarters of my life have been spent testing my blood sugar, carefully monitoring my food, and injecting insulin. People with type 1 diabetes do not make their own insulin. Insulin needs to be administered either by syringe or by insulin pump. Without it, I would die. Very quickly, at that. So while I don't have a medical degree, I do have this disease that Berry claims to be cured of. And such claims make me so frustrated. People hear her spouting off about being weaned off insulin and then they ask me, "Kerri, are you not working hard enough to be weaned?"
Another raised voice in this "celebrity with diabetes" pool is Drew Carey. Drew Carey has type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is an entirely different beast than type 1 diabetes, because while a person with type 1 diabetes stops producing insulin entirely, a person with type 2 diabetes develops a condition known as "insulin resistance," where their body makes insulin, but it doesn't perform properly. While I do not have type 2 diabetes, I have many close friends who do, and they are regular fixtures in the diabetes blogging community. I've read about their emotional responses to their diagnoses, their struggles with the stigma associated with diabetes, and their reactions to people who assume that type 2 diabetes is curable.
There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. If you are a type 2 diabetic and you are taking medication to control your blood sugars, you still have type 2 diabetes. If you are injecting insulin and checking your blood sugar regularly, much like a person with type 1 diabetes, you still have type 2 diabetes. If you are managing your condition with diet and exercise, and not with medicines, you still have type 2 diabetes. And if you were once on medication, but you were able to cut it out of your management plan, you STILL have type 2 diabetes. Not being on medication doesn't mean you are cured. It means that your condition is managed without medication, but you are still working to control a disease. The disease doesn't leave your body just because the medication did.
But Drew claims that his 80 pound weight loss has earned him the right to claim cure. "'I'm not diabetic anymore,' he told [People] magazine. 'No medication needed.'"
I'm happy for Carey's weight loss achievement and the fact that he's no longer on diabetes medications. But as a member of the diabetes community at large, I'm frustrated by these misconceptions and false claims being peppered into the media. There is no "cure" for diabetes. Not for type 1 or type 2 (but there are widely varying levels of treatment). The Joslin Clinic in Boston states quite clearly on their website:
"There is no cure for diabetes. Neither type 1 (juvenile onset or insulin-requiring) diabetes or type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes ever goes away."
But now everyone who picks up People magazine will see that Drew Carey was "cured," and may assume that everyone who still has diabetes is just too damn lazy to get off their ass and off their medication. While weight does play a strategic role in the health maintenance of a person with type 2 diabetes, it's not the end game. There's more to type 2 diabetes than just the weight. Skinny people get type 2 diabetes. So do young people. And like its type 1 counterpart, there is no cure.
Diabetes isn't the most agreeable disease to manage. I know this fact firsthand. For people living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it's a daily dance of food balance, medication juggling, and both blood sugar and emotional roller coasters. Life can be considered normal, but it's a new normal, and it's not always easy. And I, for one, do not want to see society viewing people with diabetes as undeserving of research or funding towards a real cure because they think we can be cured solely through weight loss. Or for them to think that all diabetes is controllable and treatable and potentially reversible. That it just requires work, and for the diabetic to not be lazy about taking care of themselves.
If one dollar of funding towards diabetes research is put back into a potential donor's pocket because they believe, as a result of your words, that all types of diabetes are the same and that all diabetics simply didn't take the measures to "prevent" their disease, that would be beyond shameful.
And for those of us with diabetes -- all kinds -- we will have to carry the burden that society doesn't deem us "worth curing" because they think we did this to ourselves.
Come on, Drew. Come on, Halle. Can't you use your celebrity powers for good? Or are you seriously going to let the diabetes misconceptions in mainstream media become so prevalent that any hopes for a cure are forever stunted?
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