Some 26 million Americans have diabetes, yet seven million don't even know it. November is about raising awareness, since early diagnosis makes the disease much more manageable.
"There are a lot of fears and misconceptions about having diabetes. As soon as they hear the term come out of their doctor's mouth, there's a panic," said Julie Kamphaus, a registered nurse and diabetes educator with the Diabetes Education Center of the Midlands in Omaha.
"There's an 'oh my gosh my life is over. I can never eat anything again.' All those things are generally untrue and people can go on to live very full, productive lives. It's a matter of learning as much as you can to control the disease."
Type 2 diabetes is a gradual slowdown of the pancreas over time. It's possible to stop it or even reverse a near-diabetic condition with weight loss and increased activity. "Inactivity, overweight, just being very sedentary, those things are all modifiable risk factors that people can really dig into," Kamphaus said.
But she pointed out, "A lot of people undiagnosed and a part of that is older people who develop diabetes have some very vague symptoms they may just attribute to the aging process, increased thirst, increased urination, increased fatigue. But that definitely could be symptoms of high blood sugar and it could go on for quite some time before it’s picked up."
Type 1 diabetes isn't preventable and requires insulin injections. It's often hereditary and tends to develop during childhood or adolescence. But 25-year-old Jason Huff of Omaha had no family history of that disease and he just learned he had the disease a couple months ago while applying for a life insurance policy.
"I was thinking hey, I'm young, I'm healthy, I eat well. If I buy insurance now it will pay off dividends later. I did the blood and urine test and it came back and it said I was cancelled."
He called the underwriter, confused. "And he said your sugar's about 300 to 400 and I was thinking like baseball batting averages, is that good, is that bad?" Turns out, it wasn't good. His doctor confirmed the diabetes diagnosis. Ever since, he's been doing four insulin injections a day and checking his blood sugar regularly.
At first, his mind raced with all the ways in which his life would change. What would happen when he got married? "I could pass out in the middle of the ceremony. If I have kids, how am I going to make it okay if they get diagnosed?"
"The biggest help was the diabetes center here. They gave you the knowledge." He stays up on the latest research and even attends support group meetings, in addition to getting dietary advice.
Registered Dietitian Nancy Schwartz said, "Many people when they arrive are defensive. They assume I’m going to tell them they can’t eat anything. They are very pleasantly surprised when I can work with what they like to eat and not take things away."
It's about controlling carbohydrate intake, drinking sugar-free beverages, eating lean meats and following the general guidelines of a heart healthy diet. There's a strong correlation between diabetes and heart disease.
Often, Schwartz said, diabetics who take care of their bodies are in better shape than non-diabetic peers. They're paying such close attention to what's going in their body as well as their exercise level and they're on top of anything that doesn't feel right.
For Huff, the diabetes diagnosis hasn't been the life-changer he expected. "The knowledge is the big key. It becomes more of you're just tying your shoes every day. It's just another thing."