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To the government of Ontario: please help keep my daughter safe at school

To the government of Ontario: please help keep my daughter safe at school
Picture of Denise Barnard
Posted by: Denise Barnard
Posted on: November 23, 2016

Lisa Geelen’s daughter, Anna, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of four. Lisa (pictured above) spoke to Ontario members of provincial parliament (MPPs) at the CDA’s Diabetes Day on the Hill on World Diabetes Day (November 14). Here’s her story:

Prior to my daughter’s diagnosis, I was unaware of what diabetes was – the symptoms, the complications – and most of all, how fatal it can be.

On September 18, 2010, Anna, who had just begun kindergarten, became very ill. We didn’t know what was wrong. We thought she had the flu: she had been losing weight and was very pale. We called Telehealth Ontario, and then an ambulance, which rushed her to the hospital. After Anna’s blood was checked, we were told she had type 1 diabetes. She had almost died due to the very high levels of sugar in her blood.

After many days at SickKids, we returned home, and my husband and I began to learn about diabetes and how to take care of our daughter. We began our new life of poking Anna with needles, never-ending math (counting carbs is good practice actually), 24-hour health care, and constant worrying. Once we figured out a routine, we started to prepare for Anna’s return to school. We had no idea it would be so hard.

We discovered her school didn’t have a policy that outlined how to care for a child with diabetes and neither did the school board nor the province of Ontario. So, I searched the web and learned that New Brunswick had a diabetes policy for their schools. I used it as a starting point. I now have a 10-point [individual care] plan I go through every year – from conducting hands-on training with Anna’s homeroom teacher to talking to her classmates about diabetes – to ensure Anna has the care she needs.

Each school year, I take the first two weeks off work to train school staff and to be there if needed. And every day, I label Anna’s lunch with the number of carbs it contains. I send her to school with a diabetes kit that contains blood sugar testing supplies, fast-acting sugar and a cell phone.  And at regularly scheduled times I receive a text from Anna about her blood sugar checks. The reality is if the day-to-day management of her diabetes slips, an emergency will occur.

Not all children have parents who can take two weeks off at the beginning of the school year, who know how to advocate for their child, or create a plan. And not all kids have a school that’s willing to work with them to make one. Yet, despite all the precautions, I can’t control everything that happens at school. Last year, Anna experienced two very dangerous lows, which were preventable.

I don’t want anything to happen to my daughter before the government acts. I want Ontario to put in place a policy and training that will keep my daughter – and all other kids with diabetes – safe at school. This needs to happen immediately. Another school year cannot begin without a fully implemented policy. For families like ours who live with diabetes, we have already waited too many years.

Lisa Geelen is a management consultant and the mother of two school-age children. In addition to being a CDA advocate and volunteering at her children’s school, she also has her own diabetes awareness campaign and website, coffeesonme.com.  

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has touched your life or that of someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myCDA community content. 

Do you have a child with diabetes who’s in school? What has been your experience? Visit our myCDA community forums and share your story now.





From isolated and unsure to confident and active: the life of a teenager with type 1 diabetes

From isolated and unsure to confident and active: the life of a teenager with type 1 diabetes
Picture of Denise Barnard
Posted by: Denise Barnard
Posted on: November 18, 2016

When I was 10, my life changed dramatically: I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It turned my world inside out and upside down. Fortunately, the following year my parents made one of their best diabetes-related decisions ever: they signed me up for Camp Kakhamela in British Columbia, one of the Canadian Diabetes Association’s (CDA’s) D-Camps for children and youth with type 1 diabetes. The week I spent there in 2011 gave me the confidence I had lost. I not only learned insulin dosage tips and tricks for different activities, but every day as I tried new activities, I expanded my comfort zone. Camp taught me perseverance and courage, that I was not alone in my fight, and that I had a community of friends and role models who continue to support me to this day. I send the camp volunteers and leaders a thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Last November during Diabetes Awareness Month, I spoke about my life at a diabetes symposium organized by the CDA at the University of Victoria. During the presentation, I shared personal stories and talked about the effects the disease has on one’s life – physical, financial, and most importantly, emotional. The changes in my life after my diagnosis were not just limited to pain and discomfort from the daily needles; my loss of freedom also made me feel isolated and less confident. One point I stressed is that you can do everything right (from ideal carbohydrate-to-insulin ratios and perfect carbohydrate counting), and your blood sugar levels can still go awry. Blood sugar management does not have simple rules: it is an ever-changing art that requires a lot of energy and flexibility. Emotions, hormones, health and activity are all factors that can have an effect on blood sugars. During the question period after the presentation, a lady stood up and gave an example of one time when her blood sugars became extremely high due to stress. She thanked me for voicing these challenges, as they often go unaddressed in the medical world. I loved how the symposium brought people living with diabetes together, and fostered a sense of community that I didn’t feel when I spoke to audiences who were mainly non-diabetic, such as at school events. The event confirmed for me that I wanted to continue being active in diabetes advocacy.

In March 2016, I had the opportunity to be involved in a CDA outreach day at the British Columbia legislature. After attending an advocacy training session where we learned about the health and financial consequences of current insulin pump coverage for people living with diabetes, I sat down with my MLA, Andrew Weaver, to talk about extending insulin pump coverage to users of all ages. As a user and a huge fan of the insulin pump (a life-saving and life-changing device for people like me), I focused on the importance of extending coverage to people beyond the age of 25. Insulin pumps can greatly improve diabetes management, but they are costly. The day gave me a glimpse into the worlds of policy and law, and made me realize how long and strenuously one must work to create change.

This summer, I spent eight weeks working as a counsellor at D-Camps locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It was the most worthwhile and exhausting thing that I have ever done. I felt so fortunate to give back, and help other children living with type 1 diabetes become more medically knowledgeable, confident, and active people, too.

Oria James has lived in Victoria, B.C., all her life. She entered grade 12 at St. Michaels University School in September, where she has been busy in student government as Head Girl. Oria loves the outdoors; some of her favourite activities include backpacking, kayaking and rock climbing. At school, she has been active in senior girls’ rugby. Oria has been learning French and Mandarin Chinese since kindergarten, and counts school exchanges to China and Montreal among her most enriching and interesting experiences. Advocating for people living with diabetes through public speaking is Oria’s passion.

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has touched your life or that of someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myCDA community content.

Do you have a story about living with diabetes during your tween/teen years? Visit our myCDA community forums and share it now.

Did you know?

Thirty-three bags of gently used clothing donated to Clothesline sends a child to one of the CDA’s D-Camps. Donate now and you will be entered in the Clothesline “Find Your Escape! Where Will Your Donation Take You?” contest for a chance to win a $5,000 travel voucher that can be used anywhere around the world, or one of 10 $500 VISA gift cards. It runs until November 30, 2016.





Keep your eyes on diabetes for World Diabetes Day

Keep your eyes on diabetes for World Diabetes Day
Picture of Denise Barnard
Posted by: Denise Barnard
Posted on: November 11, 2016

This year, we take our cue from the International Diabetes Federation, which is putting the focus on diabetes and our eyes. And for good reason: diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in Canada. The good news? There are steps you can take to prevent eye damage, also known as diabetic retinopathy. These include getting your eyes checked regularly; doing your best to keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol in check; and knowing what your A1C is and what your target should be.

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has touched your life or that of someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myCDA community content. 

How are you taking care of your eyes? Visit our myCDA community forums and share your story now.





Move more, eat less – the type 2 diabetes solution? Think again!

Move more, eat less – the type 2 diabetes solution? Think again!
Picture of Denise Barnard
Posted by: Denise Barnard
Posted on: November 04, 2016

Journalist H.L. Mencken wrote that “for every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong.” That observation aptly describes a prevailing attitude toward type 2 diabetes, which characterizes diabetes as a problem that could clearly be fixed if people would simply move more and eat less. Such a suggestion ignores much of what is known about the causes of the most prevalent and rapidly growing form of diabetes in Canada, and places an unwarranted burden of blame on those affected by it.

Type 2 diabetes is a complex problem with roots in genetics, the environment and individual behavioural choices. The role of genes is evident in the epidemiologic patterns of the disease. It is a condition that runs in families and few individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes do not have at least one relative who is affected. It is also more prevalent in certain population groups, most notably First Nations.

For some of those who carry a potent genetic risk for diabetes, no amount of physical fitness or healthy eating will protect them from developing the disease.

A second, less appreciated contributor to the growing diabetes epidemic is the role of the environment, specifically factors such as the walkability of neighbourhoods, food security and local access to health-related facilities and services.

Recent research in Toronto has demonstrated that, all else being equal, men living in the least walkable parts of the city are 32 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those living in the most walkable neighbourhoods. For recent immigrants to Canada (many from parts of the world where the genetic risk is higher), the effect is even more striking, with a risk 58 percent higher in the least walkable neighbourhoods. Similar results were found in women, with risk increases of 24 percent for long-term residents and 67 percent for recent arrivals. New research shows that neighbourhoods where it is easy to walk have lower rates of diabetes and stable rates of obesity.

It is also true that for people who are at risk of developing diabetes, behavioural choices that promote obesity increase that risk. Improving the diet and physical activity level of persons at high risk has been shown to reduce the risk by nearly 60 percent.

Studies documenting the impact of behavioural changes are noteworthy because small changes in weight – on average, a loss of only five to 10 percent – has significant benefits. Such findings have been widely promoted by public health agencies and practitioners in an attempt to empower individuals to reduce their risk of developing diabetes. However, over-emphasizing the importance of weight reduction may have contributed to unbalanced messaging to the public around the causes of the disease. It’s time to right the balance.

To simply blame individual behavioural choices as the root cause of the diabetes epidemic does a disservice to those with the disease by creating stigma (a stigma which can even spill over to those with type 1 diabetes, a disease that it is not linked to obesity).

But there is an even greater danger with a simplistic understanding of diabetes that focuses exclusively on individual choice – it diverts attention and resources from other approaches which may be more effective at addressing the diabetes epidemic.

It is projected that by the year 2020, one in three Canadians will have either diabetes or pre-diabetes, a statistic that crystalizes the need for more emphasis on prevention, and illustrates why individual interventions alone are unlikely to be enough.

We can turn to Finland for inspiration. In the late 1960s, North Karelia, a province in Finland, was found to have the world’s highest documented rate of cardiovascular death among middle-aged men. In response, provincial representatives signed a petition to the Finnish government for urgent assistance to reduce the high burden of disease. Within a year, a multi-stakeholder community-based approach engaged food retailers, the food products industry and even the agricultural sector where, for example, a drop in demand for high-fat milk products was managed by supporting dairy farmers to become berry farmers.

What was the outcome? Over the next three decades, death rates from heart disease fell by 80 percent and significant reductions were also seen in rates of stroke and cancer. This comprehensive approach that sought to address the whole population had a remarkable impact.

Can this experience be reproduced in Canada? There will be a number of challenges, but perhaps the first step is to effectively confront the misconception that diabetes is exclusively the fault of those who eat too much and move too little.

Diabetes is a complicated problem and that simple response has delayed real action.

Dr. Jan Hux is the chief science officer at the Canadian Diabetes Association where she provides scientific and strategic input on research, education, and more.

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has touched your life or that of someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myCDA community content. 

Have you ever been blamed for your diabetes? Visit our myCDA community forums and share your story now.

Did you know?

One in three Canadians already has diabetes or prediabetes and many don’t know it. By taking a short online type 2 diabetes risk test, you and your loved ones can find out your risk and start to take charge of your health.

You can also join Canadians by starting a new healthy habit and raising funds as part of the Canadian Diabetes Association’s (CDA’s) 21 Day Challenge to End Diabetes.





Starting insulin? Watch these helpful videos now

Starting insulin? Watch these helpful videos now
Picture of Denise Barnard
Posted by: Denise Barnard
Posted on: November 02, 2016

“When I started insulin, I thought it meant that I hadn’t managed my diabetes well. I felt guilty, I felt like I failed.” – Nora, on insulin for 10 years


 
 
 

“I was anxious, I’ve always been kind of nervous about needles…and I couldn’t imagine injecting myself.” – Geannette, on insulin for seven years


 
 
 

“I remember being given so much information when I started insulin that I got frustrated. I had a hard time remembering everything. I felt that I couldn’t do it on my own and I didn’t know where to go for help.”  – Paul, on insulin for 41 years

 
 

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Nora, Geannette and Paul have been there. And all three are now successfully using insulin to manage their diabetes. To help you on your insulin journey, we teamed up with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto to create three short videos that cover insulin basics, insulin pens and a step-by-step video guide to injecting insulin.  They also answered some frequently asked questions about insulin. 

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has touched your life or that of someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myCDA community content.

Do you have a story about starting insulin? Visit our myCDA community forums and share it now.