Diabetes is a disease that Nancy Dillon knows all too well.
In her 20s, Dillon began caring for her father, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“Sometimes it was a struggle dealing with the diabetes. I had to do his meal planning and gave him his shots,” said Dillon. “I had to adjust my lifestyle to care for him. It wasn’t a burden, but a choice I made to help care for my father.”
As he aged, his diabetes progressed. He lost his eyesight and had several amputations. It began with his foot, then below the knee on one leg, then above the knee on the other.
Dillon’s father passed away in 2007 but during this time as his caregiver, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the most common form. Although her father and the majority of his siblings had diabetes, she was surprised that she developed the disease too.
“I did have the symptoms, but was ignoring them in the beginning like frequent urination, being tired all the time and being thirsty,” reflected Dillon.
Fearing she would end up like her father, she began managing her diabetes with medication, a healthy diet and exercise.
Dillon and family are among thousands of people across the country living with diabetes. Blacks are twice as likely to be diagnosed than whites, and are also being diagnosed at faster rates than any other racial group.
Believe it or not, Blacks are not the largest minority group with diabetes, Native Americans hold that title, but statistics such as diabetes being the fourth leading cause of death for Blacks do not stack up in their favor.
Health experts say diabetes is a disease that can be prevented or managed but there are countless variables that further complicate the issue.
Many point to Black culture as reasons for high rates of diabetes, but Kieren Mather, associate professor of medicine and endocrinologist at Indiana University Health said that’s only a small portion that contributes to the problem.
“Things like socioeconomic status is buried in there,” said Mather.
The big question that’s being addressed is how to lower these numbers when factors such as unemployment, people living in dangerous low-income neighborhoods that discourage outdoor walking, access to places such as parks and food scarcity are issues that are extremely difficult to change.
High medical costs and access to affordable insurance further muddles the problem.
Improving diabetes rates extends far beyond the disease, but health experts say Blacks must move beyond these barriers and gain control of the problem.
Dillon believes that it’s up to Blacks to become advocates for themselves and their community in order to address diabetes head on.
“We can’t rely on anyone else because this heavily affects African-Americans,” said Dillon who has been maintaining her diabetes for 15 years.
She’s doing her part to help fight diabetes by participating in the American Diabetes Association’s Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, which will take place again on Oct. 2 in downtown Indianapolis, and is a part of Project Power, a diabetes education initiative for the Black community.
Mather said that communities as a whole should assess their own risk and take action on aiding the problem such as adding more sidewalks and easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Furthermore, if a person believes they may have diabetes, they should get tested. The first and most effective step after diagnosis is to reset people’s lifestyle.
“Changes in diet and exercise are often undersold on their effectiveness. That can be implemented with very little cost and modest education,” said Mather.
Although there is increased awareness about diabetes in the Black community, advocates believe more needs to be done to lower numbers and save lives.
For more information, call (317) 352-9226 or visit www.diabetes.org.