I meet new people on a daily basis through my profession. I am regularly sticking out my hand to shake, followed by an introduction and usually a business card exchange. None of those things allows my new acquaintance to know I have diabetes – and that’s the way I prefer.
I’m not ashamed, and I’m certainly not bashful. In fact, I’m quite vocal about my diabetes, but I’m vocal on my terms. I don’t want people to know I have it based on looking at me. And while it may seem strange, I want to be able to disclose my diabetes myself and not because you see a piece of equipment on my hip or my arm or a bulge on my hip underneath my dress.
For that reason – as well as several others – I have issues with the insulin pump. I wore it in high school, and I couldn’t stand it. I was absolutely miserable while wearing it. The thought of having it attached to me via a tube drove me nuts, and I couldn’t get around it. I’d much rather deal with carrying syringes and insulin vials in my purse – bruises and scar tissue included.
Last week, I sat in on a lecture at our local hospital about where we stand in the fight for a cure. I heard some really great things. There’s a study in its phase three (the human trial phase) that is working with beta cells.
For a long time, it was believed new, healthy beta cells weren’t produced by the body, but this isn’t the case. According to research, the problem for diabetics is the unhealthy beta cells overpower the healthy ones, killing them off.
This trial is inducing tolerance and training for the cells, basically telling the body not to attack the healthy beta cells. The speaker, Tom Brobson, said it works much like an allergy shot, exposing the body to a piece (in this case, the beta cells) and saying “it’s ok, get used to it.” This method will work great for early-onset or pre-onset diabetics. Brobson said it can help stop “the progression of diabetes in its tracks.” It wouldn’t be a cure for anyone other than pre-onset, but it could help with complications for more tenured diabetics.
Another study, in its second and third phase is looking at growing new insulin-producing cells. The study is being tested in an effort to teach the body to heal itself. While the study is quite complex, we know cells are capable of regrowing and making insulin because of studies completed on pregnant women. During pregnancy, it’s been documented that a diabetic woman’s body produces a minimal amount of insulin to support the baby during growth. Brobson said it’s why many diabetic mothers claim their bloodsugars were great during pregnancy. Again, it’s not a cure, but it could help with pregnancy as well as halting progression.
The third study discussed – and the basis of this post – deals with the artificial pancreas. Brobson is currently part of the artificial pancreas trial at the University of Virginia. In the study, Brobson wears two pieces of equipment, two portals. One reads his bloodsugar levels and one is his (wireless) insulin pump. It works as a continuous glucose sensor, alerting him of his bloodsugar taking away the need to prick his finger. Brobson called it the “biggest advancement in 20 years.” By working together through a computer program, the sensor will alert him when his bloodsugar hits a certain level (a high and a low he sets). It also works as a predictive method, calculating the rate at which the bloodsugar level is dropping or raising.
Basically, the equipment can tell a person, “hey, you’re sitting at 137 right now, but based on how much you’ve dropped in the last hour, you’re going to be in trouble in about 30 minutes.”
Can you imagine? I mean, think about it. No more fear of lows out of nowhere or being caught without a glucose tab or Coke money. The idea of what the artificial pancreas can do is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. The thought of a computer being able to tell me when I hit 70 or when I hit 170 sounds too good to be true. It’s something that brought tears to my eyes as I heard Brobson talk about what it was like to not feel like he had diabetes for a period of time. It’s something every diabetic dreams of .
I don’t mind diabetes as much as I mind the hassle of diabetes.
Here’s the downfall, and for me, it’s a doozy. It’s still two separate portals on my body. Two canulas inserted into my skin and two pieces of equipment sticking out of my skin. For a guy, it’s easy to hide, but for myself, not so much. No matter what I wear and no matter where I put the two pieces of equipment, they will show. It will be noticeable on my stomach, my leg or my arm. There isn’t a place that it wouldn’t show. There would be no way to hide it upon introductions or in social environments. Yes, I understand this post is whining about something most people don’t understand, but for me, not being able to know I have diabetes by looking at me is an important issue.
As I sat in that conference room and wiped tears from my eyes, I felt hopeless. The lecture was partially sponsored by JDRF – which I support tremendously. I was hoping to be uplifted by the lecture.
But in that moment, I realized all hope I had of a cure ever being found was completely gone.
I support JDRF to the best of my abilities. I donate money and time. I captain a team for the local “Walk to Cure Diabetes.” I fundraise, write stories and help them with advertising. I am an advocate of support groups and forums. Most of all, I truly believe they are on the cutting edge of research. They are the front-runner in development, clinical trials and partnerships with drug companies. I will continue to support the organization as long as I live, but I don’t do the things I do because I think there will be a cure. I raise money for advances in technology that will:
- help make managing my diabetes easier and simpler
- help me have children someday and
- help children that will be diagnosed with diabetes in the future.
Those things are my cure. Those are the reasons I raise money and support research. I think the medical advances and the trials Brobson discussed are exceptional. I applaud JDRF, the corporate world and the medical community for working together for that research. It’s exceptional, and it needs to continue at all costs. But for me, after 16 years, I don’t have hope, and every time someone tells me there will be a cure in another five years, I lose a little more.