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Anthony Anderson gets real about diabetes

American actor, Anthony Anderson is the star of the hit comedy-drama Black*ish. Anthony has been living with type 2 diabetes since 2002. Diabetes Voice got a chance to speak with him about his journey with diabetes and why he’s such a serious advocate.

Anthony Anderson

American actor, Anthony Anderson, the star of the American hit comedy-drama Black*ish, is one of the most nominated black actors in the history of the Best Comedy Actor race with his fourth consecutive Emmy nomination (2015-2018) for his performance. The Black*ish series story-line follows Anthony’s ‘family man’ character Andre (aka Dre) Johnson as he navigates a life where being black, successful, and too easily assimilated into current culture may have some drawbacks.

The show is seriously funny but story lines have turned to more serious topics including diabetes, a very important issue for the actor. You see, Anthony Anderson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2002. The show’s December 12 2017 episode, “Sugar Daddy,” features Dre dealing with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, along with all the fear and denial that can often accompany that. To get it all done, Anthony partnered with Novo Nordisk to create a diabetes awareness campaign entitled “Get Real About Diabetes”, and as part of that initiative, the type 2 diabetes diagnosis episode was written into the plot of his hit comedy series.

Diabetes Voice got a chance to speak with Anthony Anderson to talk about his journey with diabetes and why he’s devoted a good deal of time to diabetes advocacy.

DV: Everyone has their specific journey with diabetes. How would you describe your journey with diabetes so far? Do you feel like you are in the driver’s seat?

Anthony Anderson: At first, I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Diabetes blindsided me. Back then I felt like — How am I going to deal with this disease? — but you have to. I was in my early thirties when I was diagnosed, and my son was one year old. I was the first person in my family to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and then my father was diagnosed later, after me. But you know, looking back one thing is pretty clear, my father probably lived with diabetes for more than 20 years undiagnosed. Now that I know diabetes symptoms, I can see that my father exhibited them. He was living with diabetes when I was a teenager, he just didn’t know it. And then my mother subsequently was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as well. Family is a huge part of my journey with diabetes.

DV: What are the things that you actively do to help manage diabetes?

Anthony Anderson: My thing is walking and jogging on the treadmill. I put on my headphones and get lost in my world or listen to music for an hour. Sometimes I do that twice a day because it’s very efficient for me given my schedule. I also have a trainer in Los Angeles that I work with four times a week. It’s a mixture of cardio, strength and boxing. So, we work out with weights and then do some boxing, then cardio. Healthy eating is equally important. I have better control of the things I consciously do. I have more control of my health in terms of being diligent such as making time for the gym and eating the right foods. It’s all about making healthier choices.

DV: Do you mind talking about your medical treatment for diabetes?

Anthony Anderson: Sure, I can talk about it. I’m on injectables now. I am not averse to trying anything to make my life better. You know people with type 2 diabetes like me start on orals and then move to injectables. There’s some trepidation about that. We all want extra time to work diabetes out. People get nervous when a doctor says it’s time to start insulin. I know how it goes! People not wanting insulin say, Wait a minute, give me a minute! I’ll work this out. I’ll get some control! I got this. Give me another month doctor! The doctor says OK, you’ve had thirteen years to get it together, but it hasn’t happened. So this conversation continues with the doctor saying Ok I’ll give you another month, but it will be the same diagnosis – you still have diabetes and we’re still going to recommend injections. I’ve learned to do whatever it takes to be healthy to manage this disease.

DV: Was there a point in your diagnosis that you had an epiphany and was there someone who was key in your life for support during that time?

Anthony Anderson: Dr. Anne Peters is my doctor and has been for 15 years and she’s more than just a doctor to me, she’s a friend. In terms of someone in my life that encourages me and helps me get beyond and through my diabetes, it’s my doctor. In terms of a wake-up call or epiphany, there were a few events taken together that had an impact. The list is long. Losing my father to complications of diabetes 10 years ago had a huge effect on me and my need to take diabetes seriously. There are other things, too. Having friends whose family members develop kidney disease and are on dialysis and then my friends who’ve lost family members to diabetes. All of these losses made me take stock of my own situation with diabetes. There’s also my good friend who lost his big toe to diabetes but he was so nonchalant about the fact that he lost a toe. I told him No! We are not OK with you losing an appendage to diabetes. We should never make light of diabetes. All of these things were a wake-up call. I didn’t want to end up as a picture on the wall or a memory for my family. I want to be there for them and in order for me to be there for them, I need to take care of myself, even if that means kicking it up another ten notches. Diabetes is nothing to play with.

Am I doing all that I can to live the healthiest life possible? This is the Get Real campaign message. People with or without diabetes need to ask themselves that question.

DV: Where did the idea came from for featuring a diabetes story on your show Black*ish?

Anthony Anderson: Essentially, I was looking for a partner to bring greater awareness to our community about type 2 diabetes. I sought out Novo Nordisk and the integration of diabetes with my character Andre on the show. It’s the first integration of its kind where the main character I play is diagnosed with a disease that the lead actor – me – actually lives with for real. We wanted to talk about Andre’s challenges publicly to bring greater awareness. That’s why I want to talk about diabetes on Black*ish. I wanted to show how diabetes has affected me personally, and how devastating its effect can be. I applaud Novo Nordisk for wanting to partner with me, and for giving me the platform and for backing me on wanting to bring diabetes to the public’s attention through the show. We also developed the Get Real About Diabetes campaign. There’s a Facebook page where people can go to get information and to encourage them to go to a doctor and get checked out to see where they are in terms of risk for developing the disease. We want people to be informed and know how to live with diabetes, manage it and not die from it.

DV: Were there any misperceptions about diabetes that you wanted to dismantle?

Anthony Anderson: Yes, this idea that young people are not at risk or that it’s an old people’s disease. I am 47 years old now and I was diagnosed at age 32—the prime of my life! What I want people to understand and realize is that these commercials that feature older people like Wilford Brimley or Patti LaBelle or BB King talking about diabetes don’t work and I certainly didn’t identify with them. People assume diabetes is an old person’s disease, but I don’t represent that. Type 2 diabetes can and does develop in younger people and I knew how important it is to add a new face to type 2 diabetes. I want the public to understand this isn’t just an old person’s disease or an obese person’s disease but that diabetes affects everyone – young, old, skinny, fat, white, black, Hispanic and so on. This is another reason why I wanted to get out in the forefront and share my story so people like me would relate instead of saying Oh diabetes, that’s like my granddad’s problem or that’s something my great Auntie has to deal with. I want people to understand that diabetes can develop at all ages.

DV: Do you have a message for all the people out there reading this?

Anthony Anderson: I think people need to understand how important it is to take care of themselves, to get checked for diabetes and manage it well. They also need to be honest with their doctor and have a real discussion about their diabetes. More importantly, I think people need to be honest with themselves. Am I doing all that I can to live the healthiest life possible? This is the Get Real campaign message. People with or without diabetes need to ask themselves that question. We owe it to ourselves and to the people we love in our lives to be responsible. We owe it to the people in our lives because they depend on us! We need to make sure we are the healthiest we can be.

Thank you to Anthony Anderson for sharing his perspective with Diabetes Voice.


Elizabeth Snouffer is Editor of Diabetes Voice

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