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The Importance of Role Models

by Amy Mercer

A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes was a wake-up call for Susan Ito. In her words, this working mom was “an overweight, rice-loving, couch potato” who loved food but hated her body. Determined to become a better role model for her daughters than she had been up to that point, Ito joined Weight Watchers, started running, and has so far lost 33 pounds. While the long-term effect on her daughters remains to be seen, Ito has been able to serve as a positive example to others at Weight Watchers who also have diabetes. She says, “Many of our Weight Watchers members are pretty freaked out when they walk in the door after a diagnosis. But when they hear that I also have diabetes, it’s really encouraging for them, and we have a special bond.”

What is a role model?
A role model is defined as “a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others.” Role models are typically thought of as important primarily to young people, but positive role models can be beneficial for people of all ages, particularly those living with a chronic condition such as diabetes. Not only can a positive role model demonstrate how to live well with diabetes, but he may also be able to reverse the damage done by a negative role model, such as a parent, grandparent, or even a celebrity who has not taken care of his diabetes and, as a result, struggled with complications.

How can role models help?
Kelley Champ Crumpler is a Diabetes Clinical Specialist and Nurse Educator with Type 1 diabetes whose husband is an endocrinologist who also has Type 1 diabetes. The couple run their own endocrinology office in Texas. Crumpler says role models play an important part in motivating people with diabetes to “step up their game.”

“When I first met my husband, he wasn’t private about his diabetes at all, whereas I had always kept it very private (testing in the bathroom, not telling others). His confidence really inspired me to become more outspoken, and that’s when I first learned how much of an influence role models can play in the lives of others. It’s very easy to feel isolated with this disease, and knowing that others can do this, and do it well, really parts the clouds for many.”

Crumpler and her husband now act as role models for their patients, and they’ve seen them do better as a result. “Doug and I always make sure to share with patients our current A1Cs and the issues we face personally with food and sugars, and we acknowledge that sometimes this sucks, but that we go through the same plight daily and are here if they need us. We’ve allowed new diabetics to inject us with saline, we demonstrate insertion of pump sites on ourselves, and we will often test our glucose levels in front of anyone!”

According to Crumpler, the payoff for this type of education and support is that “Patients come in with lowered A1Cs, they are more compliant, they are acting as their own diabetes advocates, they are active in our support groups and classes, and we have fewer phone calls and issues between visits. There has also been a huge decline in hospital visits.”

Diabetes role models
When you ask people with diabetes to identify a role model, the most common answer is Mary Tyler Moore. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 33 during the height of her fame, she never let diabetes slow her down. In her 2009 memoir Growing Up Again, Moore writes honestly about the highs and lows of living with diabetes. Throughout her many years as a public figure, she has never tried to hide her diabetes or disguise the fact that it’s been a challenge. This attitude makes her accessible, because even though she’s a celebrity, she has to do injections and check her blood glucose level just like anyone else with Type 1 diabetes, and she does it with grace and style.

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