By M. Bollinger
I didn’t know when I lived there, but November in Chicago is unique. I’m not just talking about frigid temperatures, the “lake effect” at 7 a.m., or even the mad rush for holiday shopping on the Magnificent Mile.
What I’m referring to is a different type of “conversation”. Something I haven’t heard or seen since I left.
You see on November 1st, after the pumpkins were removed and the opened candy wrappers scattered in the streets were swept way, the city of Chicago turned from orange to BLUE.
When I lived there in the year 2000, National Diabetes Awareness Month not only had a presence, it had a voice. Billboards, posters, signs on the back of buses driving through downtown, and radio and TV spots all helped to “start the conversation” about diabetes awareness.
It was the first time I saw the “conversation” at work…
People would see the ads, start asking questions, and during the conversation you could see the bridging of the gap between the “haves” (with diabetes) and the “have nots” (without diabetes). With greater understanding comes empathy and eventually action.
People with diabetes, caring for a child or spouse with diabetes, or trying to prevent diabetes had the opportunity to share their daily struggles. While the “have nots” listened and found ways to relate to what was being explained, they began to empathize. Once imagining themselves on the “other side”, the “have nots” would begin problem solving and asking how they could be of some help. The conversation dissolves the associations between the “haves” and the “have nots”, and replaces it with one, health-minded community.
I moved to San Diego in December of 2004. While other people anxiously awaited the opportunity to dress their little goblins up for Halloween, my excitement was brewing to see how the city and communities would celebrate and give recognition to Diabetes Awareness Month. I waited and waited, and nothing happened.
I thought… maybe I live in the wrong part of town? Nope! Listen to the wrong radio stations? Nope! I started to wonder..
“Is the conversation about Diabetes Awareness on mute, or is it just not there?”
We tend to talk about things we find to be important or relevant to our lives. Well, I’d hope diabetes would make the list of what is considered important. It’s the fastest growing disease in our history. It affects every race, gender, and age. It’s the 5th deadliest disease, and diabetes and prediabetes together cost the economy over $218 billion a year.
The problem (diabetes) has not gone away since 2000, it has only gotten worse, but the awareness campaigns are seemingly nonexistent.
If Diabetes Awareness Month is not widely promoted, what message are we sending about its level of importance in our society, or about the 81 million Americans that have or are at risk of having this disease?
With projections like 1 in 3 children (1 in 2 minority children) will have diabetes in their lifetime, and the number of people with diabetes tripling by 2050, we have to become more involved.
It’s time to take the conversations surrounding Diabetes Awareness Month off MUTE!!
When I vocalized my disappointment about the amount of attention that Diabetes Awareness Month was getting last year, a friend asked me, “What exactly are you looking for? People know what diabetes is. Maybe that’s why awareness isn’t such a big deal here.”
My response was long and emotional, but in summary my point was this… there isn’t much awareness because people don’t know what diabetes “is”. If people fully understood this disease and how it affects, not just the people around them, but their OWN life, November would be BLUE in every city and state in the country.
There are lots of great diabetes communities and online chats out there. I know the conversation about diabetes exists in these areas. What I’m talking about is “opening the doors” to these diabetes communities and letting the general public join the conversation.
Join the conversation by focusing on honoring, understanding, supporting, and sharing.
- Honoring those who have lost their lives to diabetes.
- Understanding the different types of diabetes
- Supporting our friends and family and helping them to manage their diabetes.
- Sharing the at risk factors with others and encouraging friends to take the necessary steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
If diabetes affects everyone in our community (which it does) we should all be part of the conversation and part of the solution!