BOSTON — I was 13 years old in November 1999 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a hereditary disease that consists of only 5-10 percent of all cases of diabetes. It is also something I will live with for the rest of my life.
Coming off the bus that day in the beginning of my seventh grade year, I was ready to go to a doctor’s appointment with my mother, but didn’t know exactly why I was going. I had been complaining for the previous couple weeks about always being thirsty, constantly going to the bathroom, and not being able to see the board in school as well. I also lost a little weight, but I wasn’t complaining about that! I didn’t think I was sick, but my mother insisted I see the doctor anyway.
After getting poked and prodded for a bit, my doctor came back with some results and said, “Yep! She has it!” My mother started crying instantly, and I had no idea what was going on. When I asked what she was talking about, and was a little perturbed by the fact my mother was crying, the doctor responded with, “You have type 1 diabetes, your mother was right.” I was left in complete shock. I knew little to nothing about the disease and was caught completely off guard when she announced that I had it. I was also surprised that my mother had suspected I had the disease and never said anything to me!
Of course, my mother was crying uncontrollably by now, which only made me start to cry, too. I honestly was not very scared or upset, but it was one of the few occasions I had ever seen my mother cry, and it had a great effect on me. I told the doctor that I knew a little about the disease because a girl in my grade had it. All I knew, however, was that she had to give herself shots everyday, but of what, I was not exactly sure. My mother knew more about it then I did, which is why she suspected it in the first place. My grandfather had the type 2 diabetes, a different disease, but with similar side affects. My mother just sat there and constantly reassured me that, “Everything is going to be alright. We’ll figure this out.”
My doctor then proceeded to explain the disease to both of us. Type 1 diabetes is a severe and chronic form of diabetes when the pancreas stops producing insulin. It typically appears in childhood, but could emerge at any time. There is no known way to prevent diabetes, since it is caused by a genetic predisposition. There is also no current cure, but there are several approaches under research to find one. In order to treat the disease, injections of insulin, either through syringes or an insulin pump, are necessary on a daily basis. Counting carbohydrates and monitoring blood glucose levels are also required.
After the doctor’s appointment, I had to go to the emergency room with my mother so I could get my body regulated and start the life process of living with diabetes. The doctors there told me I was very lucky that my mother caught on so fast, because I was considered very healthy when I arrived. I spent three days at the hospital learning the ins and outs of living with type 1 diabetes. The nurses taught me how to give myself shots, test my blood sugar, and how to count carbohydrates. The first week home from the hospital, I had a visiting nurse come to my house several times a day to give me my shots. My mother was constantly calling the on-call doctor asking him questions whenever we were confused, which was a lot. For the next six months, my mother was the one giving me my shots.
My life had turned upside down. I had to wake up early just to test my blood sugar, receive a shot of insulin, and get something to eat. I was no longer allowed to go to sleepovers, as my mother was too worried to let me out of her sight. I had to eat specific foods at certain times during the day, which was always frustrating because I started to feel left out with my friends. I couldn’t go and get ice cream whenever everyone else felt like it. I also had to measure everything I ate, carefully checking every nutrition label.
But, the beginning was the worst part, and it only got better from there. After several months, I learned how to give myself my own shots. This way, after much convincing, I was able to stay over at friends’ houses. I also learned how to determine what I could eat without measuring food anymore. After several years, I was able to eat whenever and whatever I wanted due to advances in insulin intake. I still checked my blood glucose levels several times a day, but that, along with everything else, became second nature. Today, I don’t have to give myself shots at all, because an insulin pump is attached to my body all the time, consistently giving me the right amount of insulin. I still count carbohydrates, but barely even notice doing it.
I learned how to deal with so many other stresses in life from living with this disease. I know now that if I can get through something so life altering, I can get through anything. During midterms and finals, I can to get really overwhelmed and sometimes want to give up. I never give up though, because I remember how tough it was being diagnosed with this disease, and I was able to get through that.
My determination and motivation for things I want, and goals I have, are never ending. Type 1 diabetes has brought me to the realization and strong belief that anything and everything is possible. All I have to do is want it bad enough. I wanted to be able to live my life as normally as possible, and the best way to do that was to do everything necessary to take care of myself with the disease I have. I have learned to discipline myself and have gained a tremendous sense of responsibility. Having diabetes has given me a life I could not be more grateful for.
Do you think you, or someone you know, may have diabetes? Some common symptoms are frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability, and blurred vision. If any of the symptoms are present and continue to persist, it is important to be formally tested. It is much safer to be tested sooner than later, because it can be very dangerous to have diabetes unknowingly and untreated.
For those who have been recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, some simple suggestions can help make life a lot easier. One of the most important things to do is to check your blood sugar, and to check it often. There is no such thing as checking it too often. By doing this, it will determine if insulin is needed and how much will be required. Checking blood sugars will also inform whether or not sugar intake is necessary. This is important because if the blood sugar becomes too low, and you are unaware of that, then it can become very dangerous and cause you to faint.
Eating properly, exercising regularly, flu shots, and keeping up with doctor’s appointments are other ways to keep the disease under control. As long as the patient with diabetes is doing everything they are told to do by their doctor, there should be little to no complications. I have always been praised by my doctors for how well controlled I keep the disease. I find it easier to do the simple daily requirements than to go against them. By doing what I’m supposed to do, I feel a lot healthier and happier. If I were to eat too much, or skip an insulin intake, then I would feel sick, and that isn’t worth it.
The American Diabetes Association offers more helpful information. There are message boards for children, teens, and adults to share thoughts and feelings within the diabetes community. Information specific to men or women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is also available. The Web site gives information to parents who have children recently diagnosed with the disease as well. Nutrition, fitness, and other facts are also answered through the Web site.
For more information regarding support groups, nutrition information and helpful recipes, and monitoring blood sugars, please visit: healthcentral.com, diabetesplanner.com, and bloodsugarsolutions.com.