The Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosis: Emotions

By Kathy Kastner with Zal Press

First, you grieve

A diagnosis of Type2 Diabetes means the end of life as you’ve lived it. Adding to the shock is the perception: Type2 is the ‘bad’ diabetes. The one you’ve brought on yourself by your overindulgent lifestyle. Type1 is seen as the ‘good’ diabetes: beyond your control.

Rarely is this the case: Type2 Diabetes is most often ‘written in the genes’, thus confounding even the most diligent of health efforts.

Lori became an advocate as a result of seeing the impact of this condition on her father and nephew, which evolved into her becoming a resource and Opinion Leader.

With a Type2 diagnosis, going through the stages of grief is not uncommon: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually – hopefully – choosing to accept.

Anger and denial

Even for those in ethnicities at high risk of T2, acceptance of a diagnosis can be devastating. Heather is a nurse and Opinion Leader who, on a whim – and well into her career – decided to test herself: Being as she was in the hospital on the Diabetes unit. That was in 1989.

Aida (who gives an infectious giggle as she explains,’ it’s pronounced like the Opera’) is slim and fit and is certainly no slouch. When others might think of retiring, she’s embarking on new careers as a radio and tv ‘star’.

A family history of diabetes meant Aida’s genes were indeed pre-programmed but that doesn’t mean she expected her diagnosis,7 years ago. Her reaction was to go into denial. As with many T2s, she felt no differently than before being diagnosed.

When Aida’s Diabetes required an insulin injection, she felt her reality shift. “I hate needles, even tho I have the tiniest one, I hate injecting myself. And I have to do this whenever my sugars aren’t controlled.”

Aida feels education – especially from Opinion Leaders such as these ‘round the table – is one of the keys to her decision to choose to successfully managing her T2.

Depression and bargaining

Heather and Lori agree: “It’s depressing, getting a diagnosis of Type2 Diabetes”

Trying to manage is often an emotional rollercoaster. In a video produced by Northwester University’s Communication in Medicine Shoold, specifically for medical school residents to better understand the lived experience, a young woman looks into the camera, her face full of confusion and upset. “This can’t be. How can my values be so skewed? I thot I did everything right.” She rhymes off her new rituals on her fingers: “I measured the protein, I exercised, I meditated, I injected.” and as she says this, the very finger she’s using to count off her list of ‘rights’ begins to leak blood. Her shoulders sag. She shakes her head, looking at her hands. “My fingers,” she says, almost to herself, ‘Now they leak all the time.”

Acceptance

Jim’s dedication as an Opinion Leader takes many different forms: care giver for his first wife with Lupus, President (Past) of the Optimist club, he works with disabled children as one of their many projects, Canadian Diabetes Association Volunteer of the Year and a Patient Educator for people with Arthritis.

As with many trying to manage Type2 Diabetes, lives are already complicated by other health conditions. To explain his head to toe issues, Jim stands up to demonstrate starting with his balding head, ending ‘an with enlarged aorta – I’ve got a big heart.”

Changing habits is hard enough for those who don’t have Type2 Diabetes – as evidenced by an industry devoted losing weight and healthy lifestyle strategies – which always include exercise. Another tough one even for the most determined.

This group of patient and caregivers are each Opinion Leaders who are committed to improving their own lives, and the lives of others with T2D. They combine support and advocacy with a healthy dose of humour: Heather is slim, keeps a healthy diet and gets in a certain amount of activity in her job as a nurse educator at a Diabetes Management Center, and has managed her Type2 Diabetes for 22 years.

Managing

By Kathy Kastner with Zal Press

Day to day: the social and the practical

Around the dinner table, the mood was relaxed and jovial – exemplifying the comfort and relief of a ‘safe’ environment. Even for these patient and caregiver Opinion Leaders, there’s often anxiety about awkward reactions during meals when explaining “I have Type 2 diabetes”: defending choices they have to make is but one of the social implications of a PWD.

Scheduling testing and taking necessary medication is such that often a PWD doesn’t even want their family to know. As Aida explains, “I have to hide it from my children.”

Stigma and being judged

Stigma, being judged, misconceptions and interference – even if well meaning – are often everyday hazards for a PWD. Stigma because the assumption is if you weren’t born with it, you’ve brought it on yourself. Being judged by what you eat: ‘you only have yourself to blame – it was your undisciplined eating habits that ‘got you here.’

Heather shares the conflict brought on by medication that made it impossible to maintain a healthy weight. As a diabetes nurse, she knew how to eat properly, but the meds caused such lows that she was unable to maintain a healthy weight.

Food: never-ending vigilance

Aida, diagnosed 7 years ago, comes from a family and a culture that loves to eat (is there a family and culture that doesn’t love to eat) “every social event is all about food.” Her educational journey to patient empowerment has her at every event related to Diabetes. Her mission as an Opinion Leader: to become more empowered and to have choice. Collaboration with Opinion Leaders ‘round the table gives her confidence.

Education

The rising number of PWDs hasn’t led to the educational support needed. Lori is a caregiver advocate for her father and brother. In her experience as Opinion Leader, she knows: education and choice are what’s needed.

The cost of managing: hundreds of dollars

Cost is another factor that smacks even the most stalwart Opinion Leaders. For Aida, it’s a monthly $200 plus. Heather comments: ”insulin is covered but not the needles. What do they think …you’re going to drink it?” In addition to the insulin, there are tablets, glucometer testers and strips. Expense works against control.

In their research, Bringing patient centricity to diabetes medication access Canada the authors point to the Charter of Rights:

“Medication access is a key right and responsibility noted in several sections of the Charter, given the central role played by medications in diabetes management…. 15% of PWD [people with Diabetes] indicated a lack of government and/ or private prescription drug coverage, while another 30% of PWD reported a lack of insurance to cover blood glucose monitoring supplies or equipment.”

Judith L Glennie, Katharina Kovacs Burns, Paul Oh, ClinicoEconomics and Outcomes Research 2016:8 599–611

Communication

At work, PWDs often feel they must not let their co-workers know that they are on insulin. As Aida pointed out: “There’s still a stigma and a misconception about insulin that if you’re on insulin, death is coming.” Aida’s job involves many social functions, but worry about this perception has resulted in missed injections – risking further health complications.

Jim is an Opinion Leader who describes himself as a ‘layperson without technical or medical knowledge’. He shares what many patients ‘take away’ from a hurried appointment with any healthcare professional: just the bad news. This is a communication issue that’s been proven in more than one study. Jim, who feels healthcare professionals should make more of an effort to ensure patients understand, takes heart, hearing Heather’s modus operandi “I’m impressed at how you treat patients.”