The Dexcom Site I’d Never Recommend Trying

I don’t usually regret trying new sites for my Dexcom and OmniPod.

But recently, I discovered the one area that I wish I hadn’t tried…and that is my forearm.

For a couple years now, I’ve seen forearm Dexcom sites all across social media. People lauded the location for how comfortable it is and the accurate readings it produces, so I figured, why not give it a shot? (LOL diabetes humor.)

Plus, I wanted to give my stomach and the backs of my arms a break. I put both pods and sensors in those locations and while I like them a lot, I’m wary of scar tissue building up.

So with little fanfare, I tried putting my Dexcom on my left forearm (my non-dominant arm). And I knew immediately after hitting the orange button to insert the sensor that it was a bad choice because it STUNG. It stung something fierce! I remember wincing the moment it pierced my skin, and fortunately, the pain did go away…but resurged with a vengeance about half the time I made any arm motions. It didn’t matter if I was flexing it up or down or twisting it to reach for something – any movement could trigger varying degrees of pain. Nothing incredibly intolerable, but enough to make this site uncomfortable.

My face says exactly how I feel about this site: It’s not a winner.

And this pain didn’t altogether disappear one day: I still felt stings 24 hours after I put the sensor on. Maybe I hit precisely the wrong spot (I noticed a very small amount of blood discoloring the white adhesive of the sensor), but I asked the diabetes online community and it seems that the general consensus is that this location sucks. The half-dozen or so people who messaged me said that either the pain was too much and they took the sensor off early, or they toughed it out for a full 10 days and never used the site again.

What’s more is that this site wasn’t as out-of-the-way as I wanted it to be. I roll up my sleeves dozens of times each day for different tasks, and each time I went to roll up my left sleeve, I had to go about it gingerly so I didn’t risk bumping into the site and prompting ripples of pain. This was straight-up annoying because my diabetes devices don’t usually inhibit my movements so much.

The one plus-side of trying the new site, and the only thing that motivated me to keep it on for the full 10 days, is that it was just as accurate as any other Dexcom site I’ve tried. My readings matched up pretty closely with how I felt and with what my blood sugar meter reported, so that was a saving grace. And I have to admit that even though I was worried that sleep would be impossible with the sensor in such a tender spot, it really didn’t interfere with my slumbers, which was a relief.

All in all, though, the accuracy wasn’t enough to convince me to want to keep forearm sites in my regular rotation. I’ll stick with abdomen and upper arm sites for now, with the occasional thigh site to further prevent scar tissue.

3 Things I Want the World to Know About Insulin

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on March 13, 2020…coincidentally, the first day of the pandemic that I started to work from home. I decided to repost it today because even though so much has changed in the last 365 days, the fact that so many people know so little about insulin remains the same. I think that if the world knew these 3 things about insulin, then it would go a long way in understanding how it is vital to most types of diabetes care and treatment, and people might finally realize that something must be done about insulin accessibly and affordability.

See that tiny glass vial in the below image? Can you believe that the contents of it are extremely precious?

Can you believe that, at approximately $9,400 per gallon, insulin is ranked as the sixth most expensive liquid in the world?

It’s kind of crazy, right? But besides knowing that insulin is priced outrageously, there’s actually a few other things that I think the world should know about insulin.

Ethan Zohn_ A Survivor Contestant Who Inspires-2
Did you know that insulin is the sixth most expensive liquid in the world?
  1. Not all insulin is created equal. Just like diabetes, insulin exists in various forms. Besides liquid insulin, there’s also inhaled insulin (Afrezza). And some people with diabetes may even take oral medications that are designed to help increase the effectiveness of insulin that they either receive via injection or produce on their own. There’s brand-name insulin produced by several drug manufacturers (the big three being Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi) as well as generic versions of the drug…but that doesn’t mean that generic insulin works just the same as brand-name insulin for all people with diabetes. Insulin is complicated and different types work better for different people.
  2. Insulin is incredibly sensitive. Take one look at the vial in the above photo and tell me that the insulin inside it is safe at all times. Nope, it sure isn’t! Besides the packaging being super fragile, people who rely on insulin must also be careful to keep it at the proper temperature at all times. All it takes is dropping the vial once or leaving it in an unstable environment for the insulin to be rendered useless, potentially wasting a few hundred dollars. It’s as volatile as it sounds.’
  3. Taking too much or too little insulin is dangerous and life-threatening. For some people, there can literally be a life-or-death difference between one unit of insulin. Too much can cause blood sugar to plummet and a person can experience severe hypoglycemia that may result in shock. Too little insulin has the opposite effect: A person will experience hyperglycemia that can have ranging consequences, some that are minimal/temporary, others that are very serious. That’s why precision is so important when dosing for insulin; on top of that, nobody wants to waste a single drop of the stuff because it is so expensive. But this is what many people with diabetes need in order to survive.

So when you see the hashtag #Insulin4All or hear someone talking about how overpriced it is, you’ll know some of the basic characteristics about insulin that make it invaluable to people with diabetes. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to join the fight to make insulin affordable and available to all – as it should’ve been to begin with.

Dexcom G6: Available to Who? A Post by Tracy Ramey

This post was originally published on the T1International blog on February 17, 2021. I wanted to post it here on Hugging the Cactus because it was incredibly well-written and eye-opening. Thank you to Tracy Ramey for sharing her perspective and prompting me to really think about diabetes technology and who it is available to you. I couldn’t agree more with your closing thoughts. Read on to learn about Tracy’s thoughts on the Dexcom G6, its availability, and the problems with the commercial that aired during Super Bowl LV.

Celebrity. Celebrity in a filter. Technology. Sleek. Celebrity showcasing a device that many people with diabetes can’t afford and telling said people with diabetes that they should get with the times. That’s it. That’s the entire commercial for Dexcom G6, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), that aired during Super Bowl LV Sunday. To the world outside of the diabetes community, it presents an easy solution to the problem of diabetes management, a quick aside they can tell that person with diabetes they know in the office on Monday.

“Hey I saw Nick Jonas in that commercial. He said you don’t have to prick your finger anymore! Ya know, he doesn’t even look like he has diabetes.”

As a mother of a child that has type 1 diabetes, managing this condition is always on my mind. I am my child’s “pancreas momager,” if you will. For the past three years I have endured well meaning people giving advice, offering empty platitudes, and not understanding the tightrope we walk as a family attempting to raise a well rounded human that is growing physically and emotionally while course correcting a disease that is never the same day to day. I hear often how diabetes is manageable, an understanding that is as true as it is nuanced. Managing diabetes is not a one size fits all leather jacket. Said person with diabetes will assuredly be giving Diabetes Splainin’ Danny an immense amount of side eye.

With this ad, Dexcom and Nick Jonas had an immense opportunity to truly advocate for all insulin dependent people on the world’s stage. Instead of dispelling hurtful myths such as diabetes being caused by eating too much sugar, or insulin being “so cheap, it’s like water”, they created new ones like people with diabetes do not need to prick their fingers. The ad conveyed that there is an easy solution to diabetes management, which is a huge blow to everyone that has been fighting with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and device companies just to get basic insulin and other vital supplies covered, including glucose monitors.

Dexcom’s ad conveyed that there is an easy solution to diabetes management, which is a huge blow to everyone that has been fighting with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and device companies just to get basic insulin and other vital supplies covered, including glucose monitors.

Most people with diabetes know about Dexcom and the other major continuous CGM company, FreeStyle Libre by Abbott. Assuredly, if they don’t have one of these devices, in most cases it’s not for lack of understanding – it’s due to high cost. For many uninsured or underinsured insulin dependent people who are already struggling to afford their insulin, the Dexcom (with an initial out-of-pocket price tag for receiver, transmitter, and pack of 3 sensors that exceeds $1,000) is technology that remains out of reach. The ad boldly proclaimed “It looks like the future, but it’s available now.” Available to who? I know people that have had to plead with their insurer to keep their Dexcom if coverage changes occur. Many can’t get it covered in the first place, even though being able to have CGM technology is a gamechanger in the life of people living with diabetes. IT affords a level of control that is hard to think of giving up once you experience it.

But again, we must ask: who is this available to? This technology requires a prescription, and we know that Black and Brown communities are being offered access at much lower rates than their white peers. I am a Black woman with a family history of type 2 that puts me at greater risk of developing it. Interestingly, despite having several family members with type 2 diabetes, my child with type 1 is the first person that has CGM technology, and that was because I pushed for it.

You know what I’m getting at. The elephant in the room is medical racism and implicit bias. When cries for justice rang out for Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, many companies found themselves scrambling to make sure they appeared to sympathize with Black people and the systemic disregard for our lives. But here we are, almost a year into the pandemic, with a January 8th, 2021 headline from Endocrine.org that reads “Black people with type 1 diabetes, COVID-19 are four times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis.”

Companies that make a profit off of medical devices as life altering as Dexcom owe it to their consumers to look at the data and adjust to get their technology onto the bodies that need it most. Instead of addressing how they are going to provide a solution to inequities that black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) face – especially Black patients – in comparison to their white peers, Dexcom paid $5 million plus for a Super Bowl ad that ignores barriers to access completely. This is chump change when, according to Yahoo!Finance, they earned $1.93 billion in 2020.

Dexcom offers a life saving product that I am fortunate enough to be able to use for my child because of my health insurance. I am acutely aware that many who look like us and need it the most don’t have access to CGMs like Dexcom’s G6. The Black and Brown people that are experiencing medical systemic racism deserve better. All insulin dependent people deserve better than a 30 second ad that wags it’s finger at all of us silly Billy gumdrops that are still pricking our fingers. Don’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining.

How I Did My Part to Help Prioritize All Types of Diabetes as it Pertains to COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout in My State

Across social media, I keep seeing the same type of photo pop in my feeds that sparks jealousy, triumph, fear, confusion, and hope all at once: the COVID-19 vaccine selfie, fondly referred to as the “vaxxie”.

I’m beyond happy that dozens of family members and friends have received the vaccine. It makes me feel good to know that they’re doing their part to help protect themselves and others, and it’s wonderful to know that the vaccine is being distributed to some extent.

However, I take issue with part of the distribution plan in my state.

Using my voice to hopefully change/improve the rollout of the vaccine in MA felt good.

In Massachusetts, COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been chaotic, to put it mildly.

It’s probably similar in many states, but the part that I find most frustrating is the fact that people with type 1 diabetes (and seemingly no other co-morbidity) are being lumped together with the last group of individuals to be vaccinated.

My endocrinologist confirmed this for me the other day during my virtual appointment: “Why is it [presumably her computer system] showing you in phase 3? You should be in phase 2…” I nodded vigorously and we talked for a few minutes about how disconcerting the whole vaccine rollout plan is. I explained to her that the Massachusetts chapter of #insulin4all was coming up with language to email to local representatives to implore them to do everything possible to prioritize vaccination for all people with diabetes, and a couple days later, I got my chance to do just that.

I looked up my local and state representatives with a quick Google search and emailed three individuals who are in positions to revise public guidance regarding COVID vaccinations. As soon as I hit “send”, I felt this amazing sense of empowerment – it felt good to do something about an issue that I’m very passionate about.

While I wish that I could do more to ensure change, I do feel a sense of pride that I tried to do something by using my voice. It represented the first (but certainly not the last) time that I plan on contacting legislators to help improve diabetes care, management, and accessibility of supplies – not just for myself, but for all people living with diabetes.

My First Virtual Endocrinologist Appointment

My first-ever virtual endocrinologist appointment – and my first one of 2021 – took place last week. I’m going to sum it up list-style, because who doesn’t love a good bullet-point list?

  • It was strange. I didn’t think I would be weirded out by having my endocrinologist “in” my home, but it was freakin’ bizarre to see her face show up on the monitor that I do my day job from, that happens to live on a desk in my bedroom.
  • I had to wait to see my doctor. It took almost 10 minutes for me to receive my pre-appointment check-in call, and another five before my doctor actually joined. That felt normal.
  • We made a single change to my pump settings in the whole appointment. She suggested a solitary tweak to my correction factor. I’m not sure I agree with said change, but we’ll see how I feel about it over time.
Look, it’s actually me in the virtual waiting room! Smirking at the camera and everything! Thank goodness my doctor didn’t join at this moment…
  • My lab results were barely discussed. My doc mentioned that my cholesterol was a little higher than it was last time, and I unabashedly told her that this was probably because I hit the drink somewhat harder than I used to in the past (sorry not sorry, I like wine). I brought up my A1c and I said I was proud of myself for achieving it, and she just nodded, otherwise disregarding this data point.
  • We figured out which prescriptions I needed. When she asked about my supplies, I explained to her that Dexcom is no longer shipping sensors and transmitters to me directly and they want me to use another supplier called Byram (more on that in a future post). I asked if she could send my prescription to my regular mail-order pharmacy instead, and she obliged, telling me to double-check on the script in a few days to make sure it would go through properly.
  • It was just as short as they typically are. The whole damn appointment lasted only 15 minutes and 2 seconds…and we talked about me/my diabetes, specifically, for fewer than 5 minutes. We spent the rest of the time discussing our collective confusion over my COVID vaccine eligibility and my frustration over my postponed physical. It was both gratifying and dismaying to discover that she couldn’t understand why the state of Massachusetts considers me ineligible to receive the vaccine until the third (final) distribution phase, but I’m hoping that will change soon.
  • She wants to see me again in 6-7 months. My doctor ended the appointment by asking me to schedule an appointment in the August/September range, which seems so far away. I let her know I’d schedule it at a later date for a couple of reasons, one being that I have no clue whether I’ll want to go in person or do it virtually again, and another being that I really don’t know that I want to keep her as my endo.

That just about covers it. I’m not the happiest patient in the world – I’ve been uncertain about this doctor since I started seeing her – but for realsies, I’m glad that I trusted my instincts and requested a virtual appointment instead of an in-person one.

The drive would’ve been longer than the visit, and for me, that just doesn’t make it worth it.

A New Pod in 5 Minutes Flat

I literally just got off the phone with OmniPod/Insulet as I’m writing this post.

I jumped on the computer right away because I was so impressed with the speediness of their customer support team.

Normally, I only call customer support to report the occasional pod failure. I had my first one of the year over the weekend, so I made some time during the week to give them a call and tell them about it.

I’m used to being hit with all kinds of questions when I call customer support: Where were you wearing the pod? What were you doing when it failed? How long were you wearing it for? What kind of insulin were you using in it? What’s your date of birth/shipping address/Social Security Number? (Okay, they don’t ask about that last one, but they need so much information from me that they might as well get that, too!)

This time, after I verified my shipping address, I was simply asked to rattle off the alarm code that triggered this pod failure, and state approximately how long I wore the pod.

That’s it.

I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was to get a replacement pod.

Just a couple easy questions that I could answer straightaway because I had my PDM on hand (I always do when calling Insulet because 9 times out of 10, they’ll need information from it). The rep I spoke to on the phone just had one final question for me: Did I mind ground shipping for the replacement they were going to send to me, or did I need them to overnight it?

I let her know that standard shipping was just fine, and then I felt compelled to tell her that I was appreciative of her swift solution and professionalism. She thanked me and also clued me into the fact that Insulet’s worked hard to streamline the number and type of questions asked when customers call in, which made someone like me doubly happy.

I thanked her for her help again before hanging up the phone. Then I noticed: The length of our phone call was just under 5 minutes. It takes me a bit longer than that, on average, to apply a new pod.

In 5 minutes flat, a replacement pod was on its way to this satisfied customer. It’s nice to know that when pod failures happen – they do, and they will happen again – it’ll be much easier going forward to get them replaced.

This Valentine’s Day, Spare a Rose and Save a Child

Like so many other things, Valentine’s Day is probably going to look and feel a little different to you and your sweetie this year.

But not everything has changed. One thing that remains the same is the fact that a bouquet of a dozen roses is practically synonymous with the holiday.

A dozen red roses is a classic Valentine’s gift. But what if you received 11 roses in your bouquet, instead of 12? What if you knew that a rose was spared because the value of that flower helped support a child living with diabetes in a less-resourced country?

I bet you wouldn’t mind getting one less rose in that case.

Who knew that the value of a dozen roses could pay for a child with diabetes to live another year of life?

This Valentine’s Day, please consider sparing a rose. Life for a Child is a nonprofit charity that created the Spare a Rose campaign. They’re able to support nearly 20,000 young people living with diabetes by using donations to buy them insulin, syringes, clinical care, diabetes education, and more. Anyone who’s familiar with diabetes realizes that access to care, education, and resources is critical to living a healthy and normal life. No one would want to deny another, especially a child, from having to forgo these resources because of the financial burden associated with them.

I’ve written about the Spare a Rose campaign for the last few years because I think it’s a beautiful way to celebrate a day that makes some swoon and others sick to their stomachs. A common complaint among people in this day and age is that too many holidays are all about raking in the dough for companies like Hallmark; in other words, most holidays have lost their original meaning and have become too commercialized.

So here’s your chance to bring back some significance to Valentine’s Day. In the face of a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we do all that we can to help people with diabetes access life-saving supplies and care.

Spare a rose and save child this Valentine’s Day.

The Truth About My Carb Counting

One of the many reasons why I love the diabetes community is that I’m constantly learning new information, finding inspiration, and enjoying support from my fellow friends living with T1D. Sharing our stories with one another leads to us finding that it’s more than diabetes that we have in common.

Here’s an example: My friend, Cherise Shockley, recently wrote an article for DiaTribe in which she made a confession to herself regarding how she counts her carbs. I recommend reading the extremely well-written article to get a full sense of what she discovered, but in short, Cherise recently realized that her carb counting is inaccurate because of the “glass ceiling” for entering carbs into her pump for bolus calculations. In other words, Cherise’s personal maximum of carbs that she was comfortable with dosing for using her pump wasn’t aligning with the actual amount of carbs she was consuming. This excerpt explains part of it:

That was my moment of truth. I told Natalie I ate my favorite chocolate chunk cookie that day. She asked me how many carbs the cookie contained, and I told her 68 grams; she wondered why I only bolused for 55 grams. I paused before I replied – I did not know the answer.

Natalie then asked me if I had a glass ceiling for entering carbs in my pump. She explained that this means even though I know I eat 63 carbs, I will only enter 50 carbs in my pump because anything higher than that concerns me. What she said was interesting; I had never heard anyone describe it to me in that way.

-Cherise Shockley

When I read this, I said, “Yes! Finally, someone is able to articulate exactly how I handle carb counting!”

This is the truth about my carb counting: I have limits when it comes to how many carbs I will bolus for at a time, but those limits do not apply to the actual number of carbs that I consume.

In my 23 years of life with type 1 diabetes, I never knew the meaning behind my carbohydrate glass ceiling.

To explain, I am only comfortable with bolusing for a maximum of 60 grams of carbohydrate at a time. I do not know how I came up with this particular number, but I do know that there are situations (e.g., holiday celebrations) in which I am absolutely consuming more than 60 carbs in a sitting, and yet I only bolus for that amount.

Still confused by what I mean? Read the full article to understand, but this excerpt from it helps to explain why this fear of bolusing for more than 60 carbs at a time exists for me:

To learn more about carbohydrate glass ceilings and why some people have one, I talked to Dr. Korey Hood, a professor of pediatric endocrinology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University who has lived with type 1 diabetes for over 20 years. Dr. Hood told me that all parts of diabetes management can be challenging, and carb counting is particularly tough because it is hard to be accurate and precise. He always recommends people with diabetes meet annually with their diabetes educator (CDCES) to get a refresher on different aspects of diabetes management, including carb counting.

Dr. Hood said that the glass ceiling is most likely due to one of two issues – worries about hypoglycemia or the meaning behind taking such a big dose of insulin. Dr. Hood said that “many of us with diabetes, particularly those on insulin, worry about going low. Why wouldn’t we – it is a terrible feeling! We often experience fears of hypoglycemia because we had a terrible low in the past and have a desperate desire to avoid it in the future. When we worry about hypoglycemia, we scale back our insulin dosing. This prevents the low but also likely results in high glucose levels. So, it really is not a good strategy.” 

-Cherise Shockley

This was a major revelation for me because suddenly I realized what my reasoning is for my carbohydrate glass ceiling: I have a hypoglycemia fear. I have experienced scary episodes in the past (fortunately, none of which have required medical attention). I have friends who have experienced severe hypoglycemic episodes, and when a colleague of mine experienced a low episode that was so bad that I had to call 911 for him, it left a mark on me. So on the occasions that I do eat more than 60 carbs in a sitting, I simply don’t take the amount of insulin that I should to account for those carbs, and I wind up going high, exactly as Dr. Hood describes in the quote above.

When it comes to diabetes, there is no such thing as “perfection”. My blood sugars cannot and will not be perfect 100% of the time. But one thing that I do have control over is doing the absolute best that I can with carb counting and bolusing. It’s time I hold myself more accountable to my carbohydrate glass ceiling…in fact, it’s time for me to smash through it.

A ginormous thank you to Cherise for being so open and honest in this piece and for inspiring me to own my carbs, too.

My Top 10 Blog Posts of All-Time

I’ve been writing blog posts for Hugging the Cactus for just over three years now. In that span of time, I’ve accumulated more than 500 posts total, and I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

Obviously, though, some of those posts have been more popular than others. I thought I’d link to them all here because 1) it’ll be helpful for both my readers and to me to see which topics garner the most interest, and 2) it makes for easy clicking to get to the top articles! So without further ado…

The only thing missing from my blogging location is…a real cacti. I got plenty of fake ones, though!!
  1. Is a Bleeder a Reader? My Take on a Bloody Dexcom G6 Insertion – This is the top blog post of all time (so far) here at Hugging the Cactus. It’s got more than 6,000 views and proves to me that many people who use Dexcom sensors aren’t sure whether bloody sensors indicate an inability to measure blood sugar readings. If you aren’t sure yourself, click the link for my take.
  2. So THAT’S How Long and Sharp the Dexcom G5 Insertion Needle is… – I’m very surprised that this is number 2 on the list, but it is! Who else was slightly horrified by the sheer length of the needle used to insert Dexcom sensors?
  3. My One-Month Dexcom G6 Review – People seem to dig reviews (I know I love reading product reviews online), so it’s pretty obvious why this comes in third place. Plus, I wrote it early on in the release of the Dexcom G6: Due to my participation in the advertising campaigns, I was lucky enough to be among the first individuals in the country to start using the G6.
  4. T1D and Cosmetics: My Thoughts on Jeffree Star’s “Blood Sugar” Palette – I can only guess that this one is a high performer because Jeffree Star is the kind of character who gets a lot of attention online. Still unsure why he named an eye shadow palette “blood sugar” (tacky IMO), but whatever.
  5. That “Thing” on my Arm – What is “that thing” on my arm? Is it a large nicotine patch? A weird new piece of statement jewelry? Or something else? In this blog post, I write about a situation in which I was asked about the “thing” on my arm and how I handled it.
  6. Insulin Pumps and X-rays – I didn’t realize I had no clue what the protocol is when it comes to insulin pumps and X-rays until I actually had a broken bone! It taught me a lesson that I won’t forget about whether or not it’s safe to wear an insulin pump when getting an X-ray.
  7. Restarting the Dexcom G6: Attempt #2 – The Dexcom G6 wasn’t out for long when the diabetes online community started hacking it to figure out whether or not it could be restarted and worn for a longer period, just like its predecessor. It took me a couple of tries, but I finally found a method that sorta works, as described in this post.
  8. How Long Do OmniPods Really Last? – In this blog post, I reveal the true life cycle of an OmniPod…did you already know this, or was this new information to you?
  9. The CGM Experiment: Comparing the Dexcom G5 to the G6 – I remember that people were verrrrry curious about the differences between the Dexcom G5 and the G6 when the G6 debuted. Could it really put a stop to fingerstick checks? Was it more accurate? Was it painless? I compared the two in this post and, hopefully, answered a lot of questions that people might have had about how the G6 measures up to the G5.
  10. The Best (and Worst) Insulin Pump Infusion and CGM Sensor Sites – I shared my opinions in this post on what makes the best and worst sites for my medical devices. If anyone is wondering about trying a new site, chances are I’ve described how I feel about it in this post.

It’ll be interesting to see how this top 10 list changes in the coming months and years. One thing is for certain, though: I’ll continue to do my best to deliver engaging content that is truly helpful or supportive to our diabetes community. It’s my honor to contribute in any way that I can.

My Thoughts on Nick Jonas and His Dexcom Super Bowl Commercial

On February 2nd, Dexcom announced some major news: Nick Jonas – yes, the famous guy from that band – is starring in a Dexcom commercial that will be airing in a coveted Super Bowl Sunday advertisement slot.

This is pretty big for a couple of reasons, one being that Nick Jonas is now an official paid Dexcom spokesperson. In addition, this represents the first time that a diabetes company like Dexcom will be airing an ad that will be delivered to millions of Americans at the same time, which is definitely a big deal.

Upon hearing this news, the diabetes online community and I had some intense and justified reactions.

Nick Jonas is officially a Dexcom spokesperson, which generated some strong reactions from the diabetes community.

A lot of people expressed frustration that a superstar like Nick Jonas only ever seems to talk about his type 1 diabetes when he’s being paid to do so.

And listen, that frustration is warranted. It’s like the guy is trying to monetize his diabetes and it’s a little gross. There’s collective annoyance that Nick Jonas doesn’t use his (massive) platform and following on a more regular basis to advocate for diabetes. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a lot of us who have created blogs, podcasts, social media profiles, and more in order to help the diabetes community and beyond by doing things like raising awareness and talking about real issues regarding access to necessary diabetes care and medication (and so much more). So when Nick Jonas finally opens up about it, apparently it’s to advertise an expensive piece of technology that isn’t available to all people with diabetes. (And here’s my disclaimer: Yes, I use a Dexcom G6 CGM and I love it. But I’m very aware that I’m fortunate to be able to afford it because others cannot.)

It’s a little difficult for me to sympathize much with Nick Jonas here. Of course, I don’t know him (though I’m sure he’s a lovely guy and obviously he’s quite talented). I have no idea what it’s like to be a celebrity. He’s been in the limelight since he was a teenager. Many of us grew up with him. I can’t imagine what kinds of pressure he’s faced, so something like diabetes (a deeply personal condition) might be tough for him to talk about in a candid manner in front of the mass media. Or maybe he simply doesn’t know how to frame discussions around it. Who knows, but his acceptance of this sponsorship deal warrants the conversations that it has generated. Moreover, I can’t ignore his involvement with a non-profit that’s become infamous for accepting money from big pharma, which is massively problematic in the fight to make insulin affordable for all.

Let me end that line of thought by pointing out that he’s not the only person with diabetes featured in this commercial. There are two other “real-life”, non-celebrities living with diabetes who got this incredible opportunity to be featured in a freakin’ Super Bowl commercial. As someone who has participated in Dexcom ads in the past*, I can understand how exciting this time must be for these two people, and I hope that it isn’t diminished by the diabetes online community’s reaction to Nick Jonas’s appearance and sponsorship deal.

Now let’s pivot to the fact that Dexcom has dropped (probably) millions of dollars to appear in this Super Bowl ad slot…and signing a high-profile celeb like Nick Jonas as a company spokesperson likely wasn’t cheap, either.

It definitely leaves me feeling unsettled. Why did the company feel it was necessary to spend so much on this new advertising campaign? As my friend Stacey put it, Dexcom is putting corporate and celebrity money before patient needs. The reality here is that not everyone can afford insulin, let alone a “gratuitous” piece of diabetes technology like a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor. Elevating diabetes to the national spotlight only does good when it can do something about insulin access and affordability, or to raise awareness about it, or to explain how to recognize the symptoms of diabetes.

To sum it all up, I’ll share a thought from another person I’ve come to know from the diabetes online community: @miss__diabetes. The day that Dexcom announced the commercial, she tweeted:

Nick Jonas is the advocate of a privileged life with #type1diabetes. Doing super bowl ads tells the rest of the world that diabetics are living their best life with diabetes technology when the reality is diabetics are dying because they can’t afford insulin. #Insulin4all

@miss__diabetes

A nicely phrased sentiment as well as a reminder that we’ve got a long way to go in the fight for affordable insulin, don’t you think?

*When I appeared in Dexcom advertisements, I was not compensated beyond the company paying for my transportation, on-set meals, and hotel. If you want to learn more about the experience, I wrote this blog post about it, and I am always open to answering questions.