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Andre Brown is a revolutionary. Better known as Doctor Dré, he is credited with introducing rap music to the wider culture in the USA.  He is a pioneer. Originally from Long Island (as opposed to the West Coast producer and rapper) Doctor Dré was the D.J. for the Beastie Boys, a member of the hip-hop group Original Concept and a co-host of “Yo! MTV Raps” in the 1980s and 90s.  He also has appeared in television, and movies.

At 55, Doctor Dré has been living with diagnosed type 2 diabetes since 2007, and he has faced many health challenges.  Today he is visually impaired and legally blind.  With a never giving up attitude, he’s fine with being seen as the extreme example for others at risk for or living with diabetes.  “I want to show people they can do better; they can beat diabetes.”  One way he wants to do this is to revolutionize health and wellness for people facing a life battling diabetes.  Currently he is working on many projects including a book about his life and diabetes, coming out in early 2020.

When did you first remember hearing about diabetes in your life?

The first time I heard about diabetes was when I was a little boy. I heard about a man in our neighbourhood who was “stricken” with it. We heard whispers about it, but no one really spoke directly about it. We called it the sugar disease.  Everyone had to be careful of it.  You couldn’t see it, not until someone had an amputation.

Did you think it was serious when you were growing up?

It was serious and it wasn’t.  Like looking at an open wound. It might get better, but it might not.

When were you diagnosed?

I was first diagnosed officially with type 2 diabetes in 2007. I had an accident at home.  I did the thing I told my kids never to do which is don’t walk around in your stocking feet. And I was going up the stairs to get my son or my daughter and I stepped on what’s called a carpet nail that was sticking up. I couldn’t see it, but I felt it. I went downstairs and took my socks off and I saw a little tiny hole.

So, I put antibiotic cream on it and a band-aid around it. Eventually it just kept getting bigger and bigger.  It became infected to a point where I was getting sick and feverish. I didn’t understand why. So, then I went to the doctor and he said,

“Your foot is really infected. We’re gonna have to cut your toe off. And, also, you know, you’ve got type 2 diabetes.”

I said, “No, no way. No way.” And that’s what got me on started on learning more and more about diabetes. That’s how it started for me.

What were you thinking about the new diagnosis, and what he said?

Well, my blood sugar was 383 mg/dL and the doctor also told me I was borderline to having a diabetic stroke or coma and that we’d have to bring my blood sugar down immediately and chop off my toe. And I said, “No, that’s not going to happen and he told me my toe would never heal.” Of course, I don’t fault the doctor for his words. My toe had an extreme infection.

Where you frightened about the diabetes diagnosis?

No, I wasn’t scared. You know what I did? I said to myself, “OK, you need to make a big change Dre! You let this part of your life go out of control for whatever reason, whatever’s bugging you. It’s time for you to change. I needed a self-revolution!”

It’s time to take over and turn the type 2 diabetes crisis into a health and wellness revolution.

You blamed yourself for your diabetes diagnosis and the infection?

Yes, I blame myself because no one else was there when I was doing the things that put me in this position. I told myself – I’ve got to stop eating crappy food and drinking soda.  I’ve got to eat better. None of this stuff, sugar or sugar-free was good for me.  It just was perpetuating this thing you can’t see called diabetes.  Today, I drink water. People see me now and say, Don’t feel bad for him, he did it to himself. You know, I’m the first one to raise my hand and say, yes, I did. Now I’m going to do better with the help of other people.  More importantly, with the knowledge I’ve been gaining, and with the research that we’re doing, I want to show people they can beat diabetes, too.

Is healthy food the biggest concern for you?

The one thing we don’t do in the world, we don’t make healthy food cheaper. Bad food – fried, fatty, sugary – is cheaper. There’s no fast food that’s truly healthy.  There’s no healthy food in poor urban neighbourhoods, or any poor neighbourhood for that matter.  We need a food revolution alongside the diabetes health and wellness revolution.

How do you think race plays a role in the type 2 diabetes epidemic in the United States?

Race plays a critical, monumental, insurmountable role.  It is a part of type 2 diabetes. However, race plays a part in all diseases around the world. Survival is a part of that, too – especially for people of colour like me.  My mother’s family was from South Carolina and my father’s side is from Jamaica, West Indies.  A part of the race issue is food and our history.  You’d be surprised how many people eat the wrong thing because it’s a comfort food. That’s the problem. Especially when it comes to race, whether it be African-American, Latino, or Asian culture.  In fact, all cultures have this issue with food, because food is the thing that people eat and create for comfort.  We all like to fill up and feel good. Many foods that African Americans eat were used for our survival, because those are the foods that were given to us when we used to be slaves. Today, our food has been so damaged. People do not get full nutrients, minerals and things to help your body cure itself.

Why do you think people ignore type 2 diabetes?  Even if they are told they are at risk?

Because they don’t understand an epidemic around them, about 70 years ago, the epidemic was called polio and people said, we’ve got it under control. Let’s bring it down and people liked how that happened. But this thing called diabetes, it’s different.  The outcome of the condition is based on the individual and how a person is doing metabolically.  Are they eating right? Exercising?  And people ask, what is going on? Why does this person have this?  Why all these complications? No one is looking at modern culture.  Why can’t they see the cakes and creams and potato chips and fried foods all on display in the food stores? Kids aren’t eating fruits, and vegetables.

Do you think that there is a stigma associated with type 2 diabetes?

I think there’s less of a stigma because there’s more education about it. I think there’s less of a stigma because with type 2 diabetes, there’s ways to reverse the effects of it.

Many people might argue with you because they feel stigma is still a huge problem, what do you say to them?

I believe the stigma has decreased, because, again, that’s one of the reasons I feel empowered to help show people with type 2 diabetes how we can succeed and do better together. Let me be the extreme example. If people can see me do it, if I can inspire some seven-year-old kid with type 2 diabetes, that’s a real accomplishment. That’s why we have to talk more about it. Once we normalize diabetes, it becomes easier to treat.  We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to discuss type 2 diabetes just like we discuss breast cancer and even something as simple as the Flu.  It’s time to take over and turn the type 2 diabetes crisis into a health and wellness revolution.

Speaking of revolution, you recently  tweeted #Insulin4all which is an advocacy action group fighting for affordable insulin in the USA. What inspired you to do this?

Well, what I like about #insulin4all is the fact that it’s trying to help people who need insulin more than anything else.  It’s their lifeline. And it’s important for us to support this because here in the United States, we have the resources to do this.

It’s that important because I don’t want to see or hear of any child or adult that can’t get the proper care, including insulin treatment, that they need because they can’t afford it or it’s not in their insurance plan

I depend on insulin for my diabetes. #Insulin4all is a major call to action because insulin should not have a price tag. Healthcare should not have a price tag.

Thank you, Doctor Dre.

Doctor Dre’s book, Doctor Dre: Episodes 1989-1995 will be out early 2020. Find him on twitter @DoctorDre39

 

Elizabeth Snouffer is Editor of DiabetesVoice.org

 

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