“Your life will never be the same.”
I still recall my doctor’s stern words when I was first diagnosed.
I was just nine years old when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. My parents, both Mexican immigrants from a small town called Zacatecas, had limited English proficiency, which made communication with healthcare professionals a difficult challenge.
Despite my parent’s best efforts, they struggled to understand my diagnosis. In the Latino community, Type 2 diabetes is generally prevalent and the most commonly known by the population. Type 2 diabetes is very different from Type 1, especially in the fact that it is not genetic, but rather develops in time and is for the most part, lifestyle related. Initially, my parents found difficulty distinguishing the two due to the language barrier. My provider’s rude demeanor only exacerbated the situation, dismissing my parents’ attempts to learn more about the situation and treating their limited English as a nuisance. It was a disheartening experience, leaving my parents feeling inadequate and me feeling frustrated and confused.
For the initial months after my diagnosis, my parents and I heavily focused on diet and lifestyle modifications to control my condition. While both were very helpful in my diabetes management, the treatment was more geared toward Type 2 diabetes. What my parents and I did not understand was that although diet and lifestyle play a critical role in managing blood sugar levels, they are not the primary treatment.
For people with Type 1 diabetes, insulin doses and carbohydrate intake are critical to maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Furthermore, carbohydrate counting is an essential skill for those with Type 1 diabetes. Insulin dosing and carbohydrate counting were both vital skills that I did not learn until a couple of months after my diagnosis.
The confusion and frustration that I felt when I was first diagnosed was a turning point for me and sparked my willpower to advocate for health equity in the Latino community, especially for those facing language barriers. As I delved into research, the more I discovered that language barriers were just one piece of a complex puzzle.
In the Latino community, health inequities for Type 1 diabetics remain persistent due to a combination of factors: socioeconomic disparities, cultural differences, and limited access to education on diabetes management. Many Latino families live in underserved neighborhoods with little to no access to healthcare facilities or specialists, making it difficult to control chronic conditions effectively. Furthermore, cultural beliefs and stigmas surrounding diabetes and mental health add to the complexity of the problem.
To help diminish these health disparities, I volunteered with CarbDM and JDRF programs as a Spanish-speaking translator. At these events, I helped introduce families to culturally sensitive materials, and initiatives that can be made to empower families to make informed decisions about diabetes management.
I learned just how crucial it is for healthcare systems to understand how important culturally competent care is. There is a real need for health professionals to undergo training to better understand the needs of diverse communities and develop empathy for patients facing language barriers. By fostering an inclusive environment and employing bilingual staff, we can bridge the communication gap and ensure all patients receive the care they deserve.
My diagnosis journey, though challenging, has given me a deep-rooted purpose: to raise awareness about health inequities in the Latino community and advocate for positive change. By sharing our stories and collaborating with passionate individuals and organizations, we can work together to advocate for our necessities, break down the barriers that prevent proper healthcare access, and ultimately create a more equitable future for all Type 1 diabetics, regardless of language or background.
Thank you to Sun Life for sponsoring this blog.
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