I first heard Bill Cosby on my parents’ hi-fi. It was in the mid-60s, when comedy albums were all the rage. “Why Is There Air?” was the best of the best in 1965, winning a Grammy. After that, he seemed to be everywhere, starring in “I Spy” then “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and for eight years as the affable Dr. Huxtable of “The Cosby Show.”
Somewhere along the way he found time to earn a doctorate in education and become Dr. William H. Cosby Jr. He wrote best-selling books and became the TV face of products like Jell-O Pudding Pops and Coca-Cola.
He infuriated some and elicited cheers from others by consistently speaking his mind on what he saw as a generation’s failure to parent properly, in raising children more interested in tennis shoes than algebra.
He recently penned an op-ed piece for the New York Post supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s citywide ban on supersized sodas. His heart was in the right place but his brain was out to lunch when he wrote: “Juvenile Diabetes. Children are not being taken out of harm’s way. And there are many things that we also can do, but one is you don’t want your child consuming too much sugar. That is what the mayor tried to do with the sugar in the soft drinks.”
Six months ago, I doubt I would have caught the crucial error in that paragraph. That was before I had a child diagnosed with Type 1 (formerly known as juvenile) diabetes.
The two types of diabetes are very different diseases. In Type 1, a virus or some unknown environmental trigger causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, eventually destroying them. Why this happens is one of life’s great mysteries. I’m sure every parent of a Type 1 child has spent countless hours trying to figure out why their child? What could they have done differently?
The short and only answers are “why not?” and “nothing.” It’s an autoimmune disease that is sometimes genetically linked, unpreventable and incurable. One thing’s clear, though: It’s not caused by an overindulgence of Big Gulps.
What really matters is that once Type 1 hits, it’s a life sentence of blood sugar checks and insulin injections. Blood sugar levels that are too high or low can be life-threatening.
With Type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin but has become resistant to it. In years past, this usually occurred in older adults, although more and more children and teenagers are now being diagnosed at much younger ages. Cosby was talking about juveniles with diabetes, not kids with juvenile diabetes. Big, big difference.
In Type 2 diabetes there can be a genetic predisposition but it can also be attributed, in part, to the lifestyle choices Dr. Cosby condemns in his column. Many times it is possible to control or even reverse Type 2 through changes in diet and exercise. It’s still an awful disease, but I can’t think of any person with Type 1 who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to swap places with someone with Type 2 and have a chance of controlling or reversing the condition by making lifestyle adjustments.
What concerns me most about the error in Cosby’s column is that a man with a doctorate wasn’t aware of the mistake when he wrote it. Proofreaders and editors at the New York Post didn’t catch the error. But, buddy, you better believe Type 1 sufferers and their families caught it worldwide.
Actually, the mistake is understandable. As Margie Boyd, executive director of the national Type One Diabetes Foundation, an advocacy and educational group, writes, “I like to point out that if you had a room full of 100 people with diabetes, only five to seven of them will have Type 1 and 93 to 95 of them will have Type 2. ... We really are the underdogs fighting to be heard and understood.”
This isn’t nit-picking. This is just one more example of the ignorance and misinformation that folks with Type 1 deal with on a daily basis. The last thing my daughter needs to hear is one more story of someone’s aunt who had to have her (pick a body part) amputated or a cousin who gave birth to a (pick a weight well over 10 pounds) baby after almost dying in the delivery room.
She doesn’t need to hear about the latest South American herb that’s “curing” diabetes or be criticized when she eats a piece of cake at a party. While she may look like she’s checking a text message, she’s actually sending commands to her insulin pump to inject extra medication to offset the sugary treat.
If there’s a bright side to Rachel’s illness, it’s that it hit in her 18th year, not at 18 months. I can’t begin to fathom how parents of children diagnosed as infants and toddlers cope with the monumental challenges of controlling this life-threatening disease. There’s no explaining to a baby why you’re sticking her finger every few hours and no reasoning with her when she decides pull off her insulin pod. These frightened, exhausted parents certainly don’t need smug advice to “just back off on the sugar and everything will be fine.”
If Cosby didn’t know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes when he wrote his column, he certainly does now. So do the folks at the New York Post who were deluged with messages. I notice they’ve removed the word “juvenile” from the online version of the article. That’s a start, I suppose.
Every few months, there’s a headline proclaiming that a cure for diabetes is right around the corner. The time frame usually mentioned is five years. There’ll be a cure in five years.
Personally, I’m not holding my breath. Right now, I’d be happy if just more people understood what diabetes, both Types 1 and 2, is all about.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville business-woman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com.