The many faces of diabetes

By: Alison Dunn Nov 23, 2010
The many faces of diabetes

My first experience with diabetes came when I was pregnant with my first child.

During my pregnancy, I gained weight. A lot of weight. I mean a LOT. I was packing on the pounds so fast you would have thought the baby weighed 25 pounds. Either that or I was carrying an extra baby in my rear end.

Concerned with the way the scale was creeping up, my doctor ordered a blood glucose test. I, blissfully unaware of what that might mean, trotted off to the lab with my requisition form immediately after my appointment thinking I could get it done in a flash and be back at work in no time.

“Have you been fasting?” the lab technician asked upon my arrival.

“Uh, no,” I said. (Really, did I look like I’d been fasting? I think my double chin had a double chin.)

“You have to fast,” she informed me. “This is a blood glucose test to check for gestational diabetes. You have to fast for 12 hours, then come and get blood drawn. After we draw the blood, you have to drink an orange drink, sit here for half an hour, then we take blood again. That’s how it works.”

Gestational diabetes? The “D” word completely freaked me out. I had no idea there was even such a thing. In my mind, diabetes was for older people – people like my grandmother, who was “borderline diabetic” and told not to eat a lot of sweets and chocolate bars anymore. I was a 27-year-old, healthy pregnant woman. What did diabetes have to do with me?

I did my research and discovered that gestational diabetes is a very real form of diabetes, affecting pregnant women. (To learn more about it, check out “Baby – and diabetes – on board” this week on Health Local). It was the first time I realized that diabetes does indeed have more than one face, and that many of us are at risk.

My second experience came around five years later, when that baby – now turning five – had a birthday party with his little friends from kindergarten. One adorable tow-headed boy arrived with his mom, who anxiously pulled me aside.

She handed me a small lunch bag and explained that her little guy was diabetic, and needed to be monitored to ensure his blood glucose level didn’t drop too far. She explained the symptoms to watch for, and what to do if his blood sugar did drop. I was stunned… this little guy was far from the picture I had in my mind of what a diabetic “looked” like.

That’s the thing… the faces of diabetes are so many, and so varied, there is no one example of a “diabetic.” Pregnant women, young children, fit adults, senior citizens… you can never really know who among us is one of the faces of diabetes.

As diabetes month comes to an end, I think it’s important to take a look at all the different faces of diabetes and do what we can to raise awareness. Here at Health Local, we’ve spent the entire month researching and learning more about the disease. From health articles that help break down the different types of diabetes (Type I, Type II and gestational), to advice on how to help prevent and manage the disease, we’ve tried to cover the topic in as much depth as we can to bring some of those faces out of the shadows.

Now that we know about diabetes, it’s time to get involved. There is plenty you can do to support the Canadian Diabetes Association, including helping others in your neighbourhood, joining Team Diabetes, offering up old clothes to the Diabetes Clothesline and making a donation. The choice is yours.

To learn more about these opportunities, visit the Canadian Diabetes Association website.

As for me, I’ve already packed up all those old maternity clothes to give to the Diabetes Clothesline. Those rather large maternity clothes, I might add. You might be wondering: did I have gestational diabetes? Luckily, my blood glucose test came back negative. I have no one to blame for that weight gain but myself!

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.