What Would You Say?

When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was a college student. The entire semester was a blur for me, but I do remember some of the comments and convoluted (though well-intended) advice people offered me. There was the classic “my great-great aunt Martha had diabetes.” The confused “so, no sugar for you, right?” And the incredulous “But you’re not even, um, big…”

What I remember the most, however, was the one professor whose class I had to miss in order to attend a diabetes education class. She was one of those professors who you don’t want to mess with. I tried to casual, confident and in control, explaining that I’d just been diagnosed and I would not be in class that afternoon.

Her jaw dropped and she said, “Oh my – I am so sorry. That’s awful.” Embarrassed, I tried to smile and said, “Oh, no, I’ll be okay – so anyway, I’ll look at notes from other people in class and –“

She still looked stunned. “No, really, Dayle – are you okay? That’s quite bad news, you know.”

Whether I considered it to be bad news or not, I wasn’t ready to hear it then, or from her. Instead, I wanted to focus on catching up on the class I had to miss.

History Repeats Itself

Recently, a friend of mine was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Ready to take the bull by the horns, he asked a few questions and shared pieces of information he’d already learned. At first, I felt tongue-tied. I wasn’t sure what to say.

I didn’t want to say that I was sorry for him (I didn’t like hearing that when my professor said it to me).

I didn’t want to start lecturing him (it’s overwhelming enough and it takes time to let information sink in).

I certainly didn’t want to say congratulations (because, well, that’s just weird).

Despite his recent diagnosis, I know that he’ll be able to adjust to the ups and downs that come with diabetes. I am confident that given time – and despite the bumps we all encounter – he’ll learn as much as he can, take the appropriate actions and make the choices that help him in his health.

I knew all of that the moment he told me about his diagnosis. But still, I didn’t know what to say. What would you have said?

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4 Responses to What Would You Say?

  1. Rebecca Gill says:

    Diabetes is not a death sentence. The newly diagnosed need to be reminded of that fact, because for the first few days it is difficult to see past the emotion. The real truth is it is a 100% manageable disease and you have control should you choose to take it.

    I was diagnosed with Type 1 (or Type 1.5) at 35, which was only a few months after my father passed away from Type 2 complications. While I was shocked for the entire day, I recovered. I am a survivor and I can be healthy. My father made a decision to ignore his illness. I pledged to myself and my small children, that I would not.

    I have had ups and downs. I’ve put myself in the ER out of an insulin mix up. But I learned from the error, I made adjustments to my life (the insulin pump), and I am thankful that this incident opened my eyes to new experiences. The week after that incident I quit my job and started my own consulting company. The awakening of life/work balance was due to my illness and professionally, I’ve never been happier.

    It is an inconvenience and there are days when I curse my insulin pump. But for the most part, I am thankful that modern medicine has given me the gift of life. I choose life, I choose my family, and I choose to be happy.

    And the best part is there are millions more people like me in the world. We cope, we overcome, and we live.

  2. Jessica says:

    My girlfriend had diabetes for months and we didn’t know until she got so sick that I had to take her to the ER. She was in ICU from Sunday-Wednesday and they released her for a combo of her birthday/American Idol Season Finale. Besides the fact that we both felt stupid not realizing what was wrong with her (it runs rampant in both our families on both sides of each) I told her that everything would have to change and that I’d change with her. I went home and cleaned out the kitchen and replaced it with things the nutritionist told me would be good for her. Our friends were very supportive. We were moving in less than a week and all of our friends pitched in to help so she didn’t have to do anything but recover. One of our friends bought a diabetes cookbook and cooked supper for us every night that week until we moved. There were questions ranging from “Do you want diabetic socks for Christmas?” to “I couldn’t stick myself with a needle all the time like that” which was not so pleasant for her. She also didn’t like the “Oh God, that’s awful” or “how much does that cost you?” or “I bet your health insurance is really high now” all of which were not necessarily malicious intentionally, but were not nice. Some people were like “Well I am pre-diabetic so we are the same” or “type 2 is better than type 1” or junk like that. I pushed her to join a diabetes study involving stem cells (because I am a scientist, and I told her she’d make a cute guinea pig) and she was pretty resistant at first but she is now happy she joined the trial. It’s been almost two years and she gets ridiculous questions still, but now they are entertaining rather than hurtful to her.

  3. Amanda says:

    Working in healthcare, I’m continually pondering this situation. How should I respond when the person I’m talking with says, “I’ve just been told I have (fill in the blank)”? From personal experience, I’ve not been interested in hearing how sorry anyone is for me, nor how terrible my life will be, how their grandfather dealt with it, etc… Taking all of this into account, I’ve learned that each person needs me to react in a different matter. Some folks could really just use a hug (and I’m all about hugging!!!), some want “just the facts, ma’am”, others prefer not to talk about it or hear anything about it for a “to-be-determined” amount of time. The possibilities are endless! My go-to response, for nearly every situation, has been to listen first, each person determine how I will respond, and then do my best to support them as best I can. Maybe I just need to nod and sit with them, perhaps I can just offer my help if they ever need it… it just depends! Certainly, though, I won’t give pity or tell someone they have a death sentence. Never! We can deal with diabetes and we will do it every day. There will be ups and downs, times of “control” and times we just don’t want to deal with it anymore. It’s life… and we are still part of it. Diabetes is something I deal with, but it doesn’t define who I am or what I can do.

  4. Traci Murray says:

    I think the best, and simplest, thing you can do is just say you understand what they are experiencing (since you are diabetic too) and that if they have any questions or concerns you will be there for them when they are ready.

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