Written by Tricia Barton

– After having lunch with my 91-year-old grandma, who has type 2 diabetes, she asked me to assist her with her glucometer, which she uses to measure her blood sugar level. I explained that I could read the directions and certainly try, but I didn’t have any experience with glucometers. My grandma has been treating this disease for over 20 years, and this was the first time I saw first-hand what patients with type 2 diabetes go through to manage their disease.

I followed her to the kitchen, where two glucometers and direction pamphlets were spread out on the counter. I read the directions and somehow managed to get the meters to work. Once I shared my triumph with her, she took one of the meters from my hand, pricked her finger, placed a droplet of blood on a test stick, inserted it into the meter, and then wrote down her blood glucose level on a tracking form.

If you would have asked me a few years ago what a glucometer was or how type 2 diabetes has affected my family, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. I also would never have considered how diabetes could affect me or whether my grandma’s diabetes was due to lifestyle factors or genetic susceptibility. Now that I am part of an influential medical communications agency and work alongside one of the first pharmaceutical companies in the world to make insulin commercially available, I have a greater appreciation for this industry and a better understanding of this disease. I now have the knowledge to fully grasp the science behind what my grandma and many others in the world go through every day, and this has allowed me to better educate endocrinologists and sales professionals within the field who advise patients daily. According to Healthline, type 2 diabetes is “a medical condition in which sugar, or glucose, levels build up in your bloodstream. There’s not enough insulin to move the sugar into your cells, which is where the sugar is used for energy. This causes your body to rely on alternative energy sources in your tissues, muscles, and organs.”[1]

In glancing at the demographics, I discovered that in 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the US population, had diabetes.[2] My grandma falls under the percentage of Americans aged 65 years and older who have diabetes, which is 25.9% of the US population, or 11.8 million seniors.2 When my grandma was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she started out by joining support groups to discuss treatment and dietary advice. Because she worked as a chemist for a pharmaceutical company all her life, she was the last person my family ever suspected to be diagnosed with diabetes.

In my current role at FORCE Communications, I recently completed a project in which I worked with a team to manage and execute over 200 lunch and dinner programs with endocrinologists and other healthcare practitioners to discuss an insulin-based drug. My team and I collaborated with various brand leaders to ensure the programs were flawlessly executed and effective for the sales professionals’ customers while providing materials with the most up-to-date clinical information. This past year, I built relationships with the sales professionals and listened to what they experienced in the offices within their assigned territories. Some of them explained that the drug they were selling could help many individuals in various ways. It’s thrilling to hear how you’re a part of a team working to improve patients’ lives.

When an individual finds out they have diabetes, it can be intimidating and sad, though often it simply means that the individual needs to change their daily routine. There are plenty of ways a person can manage this disease and still live a full and happy life, which is my grandma’s outlook regarding the disease, since “diabetes can be treated and managed by healthful eating, regular physical activity, and medications to lower blood glucose levels.”[3] One piece of advice my grandma passed along to me was to allow yourself to have a sliver of cake for your birthday or a holiday.

Working to support sales professionals throughout the nation has allowed me to view diabetes through a different lens. I may not be a doctor or in a position to educate physicians every day, but I’ve pushed myself to become more informed about this disease state. Not only have I brought my learnings to my grandma, but sharing my knowledge on diabetes has also brought my entire family together as we strive to maintain healthy lifestyles. As the disease changes over the years, it has become important to be knowledgeable and supportive of loved ones who have diabetes, and working at a company with a mission to bring science to life to impact patients’ well-being has helped me to do just that.

[1] http://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes
[2] http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/
[3] https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/statsreport14/national-diabetes-report-web.pdf