You might say music industry celebrity Randy Jackson is a pretty big deal.
Most people these days think of him as one of the celebrity judges on American Idol. Not me. I don't watch reality TV, so I'm not familiar with his persona there. But being a classic rock music lover and huge fan of legendary band Journey that Randy was a part of in the '80s, having a chance to chat with him on behalf of the 'Mine certainly got my fan-excitement level cranked up. Too bad I didn't get much out of him.
We talked by phone at the end of July, as rumors were flying about whether Randy would be staying on as an American Idol judge or leaving along with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. The focus of our interview wasn't Idol or his career, but rather Randy's own diabetes and the awareness campaign he's heading up for Pharma company Merck. He was pretty vague for the most part, but my impression was that his own heart seems to be in the right place about helping fellow PWDs.
This type of awareness campaign is nothing new for Randy. He's been a part of these initiatives for years, and this newest one launched in April 2012 has him touring the country to share his story. Called Taking Diabetes to Heart, the program is designed to inform people about type 2 diabetes and the complications that can result, including heart disease. The aim is to provide resources and information to help "inspire people to take small steps to better health," like Randy did back in the early days just after his diagnosis.
In the past decade, Randy has come a long way in living with diabetes.
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Diagnosed with type 2 almost a decade ago in 2003, Randy said it took him about six to eight months to get a handle on his diabetes and actually start accepting it rather than viewing it as a curse. It took him a good year and a half before he got it "down to a science" (Editor's note: wow, that was fast!)
Even though his dad had been diagnosed with type 2 later in life, Randy says he generally didn't think much about it until his own diagnosis. We can relate to that. He said he was eating too much and not getting enough exercise, generally just ignoring his health during the long hours on the set of American Idol and those spent in his recording studio.
"I didn't know I had diabetes until I wound up in the emergency room, thinking I had the flu," he said. "My blood sugar was over 500."
He lost 30 pounds and had gastric bypass surgery, and that got him to a place where he could manage his diabetes effectively.
One of the toughest challenges for Randy was resisting his love for rich Southern food and moving to more of a "grazing" style of eating, with the biggest portions being "the size of an airplane meal" and including plenty of veggies. He also now moves every day, hitting the gym to do yoga or pilates or playing tennis. These days, he tests two or three times a day and says that paying attention to his diabetes "is always a part of my life." Though he doesn't test while on the set, Randy says he doesn't hide his diabetes and isn't ashamed to talk about it.
That's where the Merck campaign comes in, he says.
The Taking Diabetes to Heart program helps people living with type 2 diabetes understand the serious complications like heart disease — which a lot of people don't realize is so closely related to diabetes. He's encouraging PWDs to visit the campaign website, now called www.JourneyForControl.com to learn about ways to take care of both their diabetes and their heart health.
As part of the campaign, those who make a pledge to better manage their diabetes will get access to Randy's personal tips, including everything from a downloadable "conversation starter" to help you talk with your doctor to lists of easy 30-minute exercises you can do every day. Other tips include "gathering your fans" (how create your own support network) and "putting yourself center stage" (not neglecting your own health no matter how busy life gets).
If you click on the website to "take the pledge," one of the first things that pops up is a PDF with a congratulatory message and that list of about a dozen questions you can take to your doctor — such as how often your A1C should be tested and the risk factors for type 2 and heart disease.
Sure, that's pretty elementary for us longtime PWDs... but this campaign is all about awareness for the masses.
Here's a look at the intro video Randy did for the campaign:
Randy says it's important for people to realize that no one size fits all as far as managing diabetes and everyone needs to take ownership and do what works for them. Many people — especially in the African-American community that's more prone to type 2 diabetes — don't realize they even have diabetes and it's important to see a doctor at least once a year.
"It's not easy. Everyone's journey is different," Randy said. "Diabetes makes me listen to my body more and be aware of what I need to stay healthy."
While we had Randy on the phone, of course we tried asking him about his fate with American Idol, which is capturing headlines and stoking the rumor mills these days. Hoping to get him to talk, I pulled the D-card, saying: "I have no aspirations of joining a rock band, being a singing sensation or even scooping TMZ, but... help a fellow diabetic out. Anything you can tell us?"
That got a laugh, but Randy danced around the career question. He maneuvered right back to his diabetes story and the Merck campaign.
"This is only about the campaign, and helping people get healthy," he said. "Those two worlds don't intersect."
Really? We're not so sure about that. What better way to REALLY capture the nation's attention than to talk about diabetes awareness on the Idol show or even show off a glucose meter check or two? Doubtful that will happen, but we can hope.
Anyhow, we talked diabetes and the campaign, and some personal notes on how important it is to sidestep the judgment that can come with diabetes. In his world with this Merck campaign, Randy said there's only advice and support, not judgment.
That is something he'll be saving for American Idol!