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Success is possible

By Marguerite Butler

With two-thirds of people with diabetes living in cities, we initiated Cities Changing Diabetes three years ago to put a spotlight on urban diabetes. This effort has grown into a global coalition, with nine international cities – including Houston - with more than 75 million residents, and 100 expert partners all united in the fight against urban diabetes. In late October, 300 city and public health leaders, urban planners and key stakeholders in the fight against urban diabetes convened and called for every city to set a goal for what it will take to hold back the rise of diabetes in their cities, and create their own action plans to achieve it.

This is a long-term, global ambition, but it all comes down to one thing: Helping improve the lives of people such as Marguerite Butler who are living with diabetes and helping raise awareness about diabetes prevention.

I’m Marguerite Butler, a professor of law at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. I consider myself a smart woman, but I knew nothing about diabetes when I was diagnosed 25 years ago. I kept it a secret from family and friends for many years because I was embarrassed. 

Days after celebrating the 44th anniversary of my 21st birthday, I came to terms with it and made positive changes in my life. Let me tell you how my journey started. 

My mom passed away when I was 14. So, I took on the caregiver role in the family. I cooked, but my brothers teased me about how bad the food was. I didn’t want to cook for others after that, not even myself. 

All through college and law school and my early career, I was very busy and didn’t have time to cook, so I ate a lot of fast food. It was cheap, it tasted good, and I didn’t have to prepare it. 

Living in Houston, where people drive everywhere, I didn’t exercise much.  I spent a few years doing water aerobics, but I didn’t lose weight.  I came to accept that I’d be a heavy woman.

A doctor later told me I had pre-diabetes.  I didn’t understand what that meant, he didn’t explain it too well, and I didn’t make any lifestyle changes.  Pre-diabetes became diabetes, and my doctor put me on medication. I knew taking the medicine was important since my dad died of diabetes. But, I still didn’t make any lifestyle changes.  

Medication alone couldn’t properly control my diabetes, but my health professionals never talked how important diet and exercise were. It was stressful to talk about having diabetes because it felt like it was my fault. Checking my blood sugar was stressful because it was always high. So I stopped checking it.

After years of assuming that all I needed to do was  take my medicine, I finally met Joy, a dietitian who changed my life. She said: Marguerite, we’re in this together. No one had been interested in my health and well-being like Joy was! She explained what high blood sugar readings meant, and she asked about me and my life. I learned so much from her I’ve been overwhelmed with all that went on at the global Summit in Houston. Getting closer to this program has shown me the depth of the diabetes problem. It’s not just an issue for me or my city – it’s global. It’s also shown me the effort that’s being put into the challenges that diabetes presents to me, and many millions of others. So as this work continues, there are four things I believe are important:

  1. There’s a stigma about diabetes. Don’t talk down to patients.
  2. There’s a lot of misinformation – or failure to explain things. This is complicated stuff.
  3. Approach is everything. Treatment works when you treat people like intelligent human beings
  4. There’s hope.

I continue to take the medicine and I am staying on top of my blood sugar levels. Because of my recent experience with a superb healthcare provider, I have hope. I am walking and exercising now because I just got a dog, Roxy K.  Because of her I have less joint pain and I am back at the gym. 

I want to see my nieces and their children graduate from high school and college. I want to see them get married and I am optimistic that I will if I continue to make the right choices about my health. 

I’m excited for the work happening in Houston, and to see cities from around the world come together to recognize that this is a systemic problem: a problem that we need to – and can – solve together. 


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