Sariah Abid starts her day like most freshmen residents of the Oaks dormitory at the University of La Verne. She wakes up, eats breakfast and gets ready for class. There is just one difference, which can be revealed by the Medtronic pump that sits in her pocket. Abid, like millions of other Americans, is living with Type 1 diabetes.
“I remember not being diabetic because I was 13, I was pretty old getting diagnosed,” Abid said. “I lived my whole life never thinking twice about eating something, and now I have to.”
Diagnosed in 2010, Abid, now 18 and a biology major, has learned to live with a disease that few understand.
Renee Soderquist, registered dietician and certified diabetes educator, said most people misunderstand the needs and causes of diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2.
“Eating too much sugar causes diabetes is a myth,” Soderquist said. “It is not their fault, their pancreas dies out and is not producing any insulin.”
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation more than 3 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes while 23 million have Type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are fundamentally different. Soderquist said that with Type 1 diabetes, a virus attacks the pancreas and stops the production of beta cells, which produce insulin.
Once this happens, the body has no way of producing insulin, a hormone needed to break down carbohydrates to use them as energy, leading to a build up of glucose in the blood.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces insulin, but does not use it correctly causing insulin resistance. Soderquist said this happens because of habits of unhealthy eating as well as genetics. The eventual build up of carbohydrates in the blood leads to Type 2 diabetes.
Soderquist said that the key to controlling Type 1 diabetes is matching the amount of carbohydrates to shots of insulin administered before meals, while Type 2 can be controlled at first by lifestyle changes.
“Only 50 percent of people with Type 2 eventually become dependent on insulin,” Soderquist said.
People with Type 1, however, need insulin in order for their body to properly process food. Abid’s
Medtronic pump administers her insulin, which is on a 1-to-7 ratio–one unit of insulin per seven carbs she intakes. Others with diabetes manually administer shots of insulin throughout the day.
The typical day for anyone with diabetes also entails a finger pricks to check blood-sugar level using a glucose meter.
According to the American Diabetes Association, emotional support plays a key role in determining someone’s success in caring for his or her diabetes.
Abid said she has received emotional support from both her family and a support group that she attends.
“Support groups are a big help. They always seem kind of cheesy and you don’t want to go to one, but they help a lot,” Abid said. “In a support group you have people who know exactly what you’re dealing with.”
Abid also mentioned that people will make assumptions or statements regarding her diabetes.
“The biggest are ‘Oh, my grandma has that,’ or ‘Oh, did you eat too much sugar when you were little?’” Abid said.
Other people living with Type 1 diabetes echoed Abid’s feeling that there are misconceptions that come along with the disease.
Kevin Pratt, 29 and Placentia resident, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 22-years-old.
“People often make comments about desserts and other foods full of sugar that can be hurtful and degrading but I have realized the comments are from lack of knowledge of diabetes,” Pratt said.
Pratt, too, has faced situations where people draw conclusions about him based upon his disease.
“‘Were you overweight when you were diagnosed?’ is a common question people ask,” Pratt said. “The misconceptions can be very hurtful and frustrating. Hurtful because of the comments made and frustrating because no one will truly understand until they experience what it is like to constantly be concerned with your health.”
The struggles people with diabetes face are a day-to-day reality. Both Abid and Pratt said that more education about diseases like diabetes is necessary so more people are informed.
“People try to make light of the situation by making a joke about it, however sometimes it comes off as they are making fun of me,” Pratt said. “Diabetes is my life and not a joke.”
For more information about diabetes visit www.diabetes.org.