Originally published Sept. 10, 2019.
In our series of interviews with the 2019 DiabetesMine Patient Voices Winners, today we’re happy to feature Mila Clarke Buckley, based in Houston, Texas. She lives with type 2 diabetes and writes a popular blog about healthy eating as well as the mental health side of life with T2D.
Some may recognize Mila from her work over at The Hangry Woman. She has quite a bit to say as an outspoken advocate for our community.
DM) Hi Mila! We’d like to start by hearing your diagnosis story…
MCB) I was 26 years old in 2016 when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The disease runs in my family, with both my mother and grandmother having gestational diabetes while pregnant. But when I was diagnosed, I had no idea that the symptoms I was experiencing were due to diabetes.
I was sweaty, nauseous, losing weight rapidly, and constantly fatigued. I chalked it up to working 60 or more hours a week and not practicing enough self-care. The diagnosis was a shock to me.
That’s only a few years ago. So did you start using modern tools for your diabetes right away?
Throughout my time living with diabetes, the thing that I always come back to is how eager I am to use technology to manage my diabetes, but how often I felt dismissed by physicians about using them because I was type 2. That made me want to dig deep into why tech wasn’t as accessible for people with type 2, or if it was just me.
So which devices do you currently use?
Right now my technology use is pretty limited. I use a OneTouch Verio Flex meter, which syncs my data to my phone (believe it or not, I was tracking blood glucose numbers myself in a Google spreadsheet). Eventually, I would love to use a CGM (continuous glucose monitor), which I know is old news to some.
What do you do professionally?
I work as a social media specialist for a cancer hospital in Houston. I also work on patient stories and interview cancer survivors about their experiences.
How did you first find the Diabetes Online Community (DOC)?
I stumbled upon it by chance. I was scrolling through Twitter one evening searching for diabetes information and I saw the #DSMA Twitter chat with a bunch of people talking about living with diabetes. I lurked for a little bit to see the conversation, and eventually, I began jumping in to ask questions and connect with other people.
When did you decide to start blogging?
I started my blog, called The Hangry Woman, a couple of weeks after my diagnosis. I’d been blogging for years before, but I really wanted a new outlet for talking about what I was going through, and understanding more. Now it’s become a place where I show people how I’m living my life, and hopefully offer up some inspiration. I explore the emotional and mental sides of having type 2 diabetes. I always like to show people that you can live a beautiful life with type 2 diabetes.
My blog also includes lots of recipes, and everyday tips for type 2 diabetes management.
Any particular types of recipes or foods you focus on most?
I love creative low-carb recipes, and there are some keto-friendly desserts that I love creating. I try my best to create balance in my life, though. Even if I’m constantly watching my blood sugar numbers, and trying to stay in range, I feel like it’s OK to treat myself if I want to.
You’ve surely noticed a shortage of blogs about type 2 diabetes. Why do you think that is?
I think we see so few type 2 influencers because there isn’t that space for us. People want to feel empowered and encouraged about speaking up about their chronic illness. We have to stop defining type 2 as the “bad” type of diabetes, or else that space may never exist. I honestly didn’t understand the depth of the stigma until I started engaging in the community. Sometimes it feels like your own community will throw you under the bus to say, “I don’t have that kind of diabetes,” or you often feel alone because there aren’t many people talking about it.
What can we all do collectively to address that stigma?
As a community, we have to make sure there is less blame aimed at people facing type 2 diabetes. I think we can collectively open up a judgment-free space for people to talk about their diabetes when they’re ready. I also feel like brands whose main audience is people with diabetes really need to consider the impact of featuring people with type 2. Representation is so important and seeing diverse faces and lifestyles helps people to feel like they can open up. In my lifetime, I hope to see the stigma and shame about having type 2 diabetes go away, and more voices sharing their type 2 diabetes stories.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in diabetes just since you “joined the club” in 2016?
I would say the acceptance of peer support communities as a pillar in managing diabetes. Online and in-person communities are being regarded as a way to cope with having a chronic illness, and the internet is making it possible to connect with people more and more.
What would you most like to see in diabetes innovation?
One really simple thing that I’d like to see work better is how to keep insulin at consistent temperatures. I often notice the fluctuating temperature of my refrigerator when anyone at home opens and closes it, and it always makes me wonder if my insulin is constantly being stored at a proper temperature.
I also wonder what more we can do to help people with type 2 diabetes prepare for natural disasters. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, my biggest insecurity was about what to do with my insulin. It was in the middle of a hurricane, with the threat of losing power, that I scrambled to figure out what to do. Now I know that was the wrong time, but I wonder how people can be educated on proper preparation.
What would implore industry to do better?
Affordability, accessibility and de-stigmatizing diabetes are all areas of improvement. No one should be priced out of being able to take care of their diabetes. Additionally, the stigma and shame that typically comes with having diabetes needs to change.
Have you suffered any access or affordability issues yourself?
Personally, something interesting happened to me recently. I changed jobs, and insurance, and had to make sure my insulin was covered. When I looked up coverage for my medication, I noticed that my insulin — the same insulin pen, the same brand, the same supply — cost double. I can afford my insulin, but there is something wrong when the same product can be two such different prices. That greatly frustrated me because I know I’m paying double for something that isn’t worth double.
Last not least, what motivated you to apply for the 2019 DiabetesMine Patient Voices Contest?
I was interested because it seemed like an opportunity to learn new things from other diabetes advocates and professionals, but also to share my perspective. Sometimes the voices of type 2 patients are minimized, and we don’t often get a seat at the table.
I wanted to bring that perspective to the room, but also bring along the questions and feelings of others with type 2 who have a stake in the conversation. I think the information I learn from ‘DiabetesMine University’ will help me keep an open mind about diabetes technology and be a better advocate for people living with type 2.
Thanks for sharing your story, Mila!