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Understanding Autoimmune Disease

Demystifying Diabetes in Canada

Speaking to a doctor
Speaking to a doctor

Kimberley Hanson

Executive Director of Federal Affairs, Diabetes Canada

Mediaplanet sat down with Kimberley Hanson, Executive Director of Federal Affairs at Diabetes Canada and one of the 300,000 Canadians living with type 1 diabetes, to discuss her personal experience with the disease and the need for a national diabetes strategy in Canada.

Mediaplanet: Tell us about your experience with diabetes.

Kimberley Hanson: I developed type 1 diabetes when I was 20. I went to my doctor and told him that I thought I had diabetes — I was really thirsty, had lost weight that I couldn’t explain, was going to the bathroom all the time, and have a family history of the disease. He told me that I did not have diabetes and, in fact, accused me of being anorexic. I left his office and got sicker and sicker for the next two years, wondering what was wrong with me. It took them until I was 22 to finally figure it out, at which point I was very ill.

My first reaction when I received the diagnosis was, oddly, relief. I had been sick for so long and was relieved to finally have a name to put to it. Immediately following, I felt scared, and then soon after that, angry — angry that I had gone unnecessarily undiagnosed and untreated for so long. With autoimmune diseases becoming more common, it’s so important that people advocate for themselves and fight for an accurate and timely diagnosis. 

What’s the difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 is much more common. Between 90%–95% of the five million Canadians who have diabetes live with type 2. It’s caused by a multitude of factors, including ethnicity, environmental factors, and in some cases, lifestyle behaviours.

Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease. It’s sometimes clustered in families but it’s a lot more random in its appearance. It’s a quirk of the immune system.

We have to recognize that type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases are on the rise in Canada for reasons we don’t fully understand.

How have advancements in medical technology helped you manage your diabetes?

I’ve worn an insulin pump 24 hours a day for 23 years now, which gives me insulin every few minutes. I also now wear a continuous glucose monitor, which is a device that checks my blood sugar levels every few minutes and transmits the data to my phone. It can warn me when my blood sugar is getting dangerously low or dangerously high so that I can take immediate action and preserve my health.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve had the ability to manage my diabetes well, but we need to do more in Canada to make technologies like insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors available to the Canadians who need them.

What do you see as the next greatest challenge in treating diabetes in Canada?

We have to recognize that type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases are on the rise in Canada for reasons we don’t fully understand. Part of making sure that Canada has the resources and the strategies to take action and to measure the effect of those actions means we need to embrace a nationwide strategy to address the epidemic.

Diabetes Canada has brought the diabetes community together to develop a plan that does just that. Diabetes 360°, as it’s called, contains recommendations for people in the broader populations with all types of diabetes.

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