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Call Me “Diabetic”?

CDE® Gary Scheiner explores this controversial term

The debate rages over what to call the “pancreatically challenged.”

William Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I guess that means that a “diabetic” by any other name would taste just as sweet … at least to a vampire!

For as long as I can remember, the debate has raged over the appropriateness of referring to someone living with diabetes as a “diabetic.” The acronym PWD (person with diabetes) has become a popular alternative in recent years. Personally, I don’t have a problem with being called a diabetic. I think of myself as a member of a large, dynamic, and influential community … sort of like being called a Democrat or a Republican. I just wish the term “diabetic” could differentiate between the type 1 and type 2 communities, since they are in many ways so different.

In fact, I take pride in being recognized as someone who lives with diabetes. It means I’ve managed to do what I do and accomplish what I’ve accomplished while also tending to a challenging chronic illness – similar to how we tend to look more favorably on an athlete who has overcome a physical disability to excel in his or her chosen sport. So if being called a “diabetic” creates that type of favorable impression, I’m all for it.

Of course, I can understand the view from the other side of the aisle as well. Most of us detest labels, especially when they lead to an antiquated, prejudiced point of view. Let’s use a political analogy again: Many people, especially those who have not taken the time to get to know the individuals behind the parties, envision all Democrats as one kind of generalization, and Republicans as another kind of generalization. Those who don’t understand the ins and outs of diabetes might view a “diabetic” as someone who simply made poor lifestyle choices. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

The beauty of our society is that everyone is supposed to be treated equally and without prejudice. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Members of a minority group such as “diabetics” are, in my opinion, too often frowned upon and denied access to fair opportunities. In almost all cases, this type of prejudice is the result of ignorance.

The way to overcome ignorance is through education. Don’t hesitate … rather, GO OUT OF YOUR WAY … to teach those around you about diabetes. Pick your moments of course. Before lunch, when you’re checking your blood sugar, is probably a better time than late in the day when everyone is stressed about meeting a deadline. Explain how you developed diabetes and that it is not contagious. Describe the “balancing act” of carbsinsulin, and physical activity that you must perform on a daily basis. Convey how it feels to have high blood sugar or low blood sugar, and why it is important to manage it as well as possible. I emphasize that with proper care, diabetes should not get in the way of anything I set out to do.

And don’t forget to set a good example. If you want to create the right impression, take proper care of yourself and be proud! That’s what makes a “diabetic” look, smell, taste, feel, and sound as sweet as ever. That’s my opinion, what’s yours?

Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE*, is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Masters-Level Exercise Physiologist who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than twenty-eight years. He was named 2014 Diabetes Educator of the Year by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and has written six books, including Think Like A Pancreas. Scheiner and his clinical staff provide diabetes management consultations worldwide via phone and the Internet through his practice, Integrated Diabetes Services. Scheiner is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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  1. Tom 'DiabetesDad'
    December 19th, 2013, 11:35 AM

    When I was at dLife—we had the incredible Jim Turner tackle this question and we created this segment–it’s short–his last line is worth its weight in gold. Enjoy.

    1. The DX Editors
      December 19th, 2013, 3:26 PM

      Thank you, Tom!

  2. Tom
    December 17th, 2013, 2:31 PM

    This is an interesting discussion. My thought on use of the term ‘diabetic’ tends to differ a bit from some of the views expressed in the article. I tend to think that continued use of the term diabetic to describe a person tends to play a part of perpetuating old beliefs and flawed perceptions. In the course of my work I regularly interact with physicians and nursing staff – I have noticed that, generally speaking, the more progressive and encouraging providers tend not to use the term ‘diabetic’ – instead they tend to use ‘patient(s) with diabetes’. For those within the existing D community who already realize the new hopeful truths about Diabetes it probably doesn’t matter whether or not the term ‘diabetic’ is used. (The author is an incredible advocate for those living with diabetes and is most certainly a pivotal figure in this more highly evolved D community.)
    I guess to summarize my opinion: There continues to exist in the general populate flawed perceptions and understanding of diabetes. These perceptions are negative and demotivating and can project limits on the life of those affected. It’s my opinion that use of the old term ‘diabetic’ can contribute to the old public attitudes.

    1. The DX Editors
      December 17th, 2013, 3:29 PM

      Tom, thank you for your thoughtful addition to the discussion. –The DX Editors

  3. Henry
    December 17th, 2013, 12:56 PM

    I use to not mind the term diabetic but after hearing a physcologist give a talk at a diabetes meeting I really chewed on what was said and it took me a while to get my mind wrapped around the discussion but I have finally begun to understand what was said in that presentation. We people that have diabetes are really people first that for whatever reason have developed diabetes whether Type I or Type II.
    We do not call someone that has survived heart attacks a heart attackit or a cancer survivor a cancerit as they are people first also that have survived heart problems and cancer. Why then must we people that have diabetes be put in a class or caste if you will having the moniker diabetes? I would much rather be known as a person first that is living with and successfully managing my diabetes instead of a diabetic.
    I don’t have any degrees of any kind behind me and what I know about diabetes I have learned from attending workshops of various kinds, my endo, CDE’s, from support group meetings, reading and listening to other people that have diabetes. When given the opportunity I do speak to support groups to encourage people living with diabetes to keep doing the things that help them to manage their diabetes successfully and to others that need encouragement to start doing the things they need to for successful diabetes management.
    At times I have the opportunity to share to me this distinction between diabetic or a person with diabetes and I have had many favorable comments and thanks for helping them to see and understand the difference.

    1. The DX Editors
      December 17th, 2013, 1:23 PM

      Henry, thank you for your insightful comments. –The DX Editors