Parents Talking Type 1: Geraldine Schafer

Name: Geraldine Schaefer, mother of Laura, age 19, diagnosed at age 14

Location: Paso Robles, Calif.

Sometimes difficult life events roll over us without previous warning. Sometimes the hints are subtle before you find yourself caught by them.

I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable person; I have two university degrees and experience in the medical field. Despite that, I interpreted the signs of my daughter’s type 1 diabetes as wrongly as I could. It could have cost her life.

About five years ago at age 14, Laura was eating a lot but losing weight. She was drinking water all the time and she showed me how thick her saliva was. I was busy between work, my two kids and my recent engagement to my now-husband. I thought she was swimming too much and just adjusting to the idea that we were coming to live in the United States.

It was my mom who insisted I take Laura to see a pediatrician, as something was just not right. In Brazil, where we are from, family members pay attention to each other. If my mother hadn’t done this, I probably would not have noticed what Laura really had until it got much, much worse.

The visit to the doctor and the diagnosis were heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe my ears, and my mind was blurry for days after it was all confirmed. I cried in the shower for many weeks.

Laura listened carefully to how her life would be from that day on. She was as gracious and as collected as anyone can be under these very disheartening circumstances. She insisted she would inject herself from the first day onward, saying that she needed to accept her “new” life.

We were blessed in many ways for having family and good friends around to support us, but also for the fact that we were not used to eating a lot of sugar in our diet. It has been a constant adapting and re-evaluating of things ever since.

We have lived in California since 2009. Laura, a college student now, exercises regularly, watches her diet very closely and is very hard on herself in many ways. Her A1C is 6.0, and she has cut back on basically all carbs in her diet, which is not ideal either. We have gone through a lot of question marks and different doctors and dietitians. More questions will likely arise as some answers are found.

We still wish there were more low-glycemic foods available and that the costs for health care for people with diabetes were lower. We surely wish that there was more being said and clarified about people who have type 1 diabetes—because people tend to link diabetes with obesity, type 2 being much more common.

As a parent, I can only say to all of you out there: Educate people around you every chance you have. When Laura asks for anything sugar-free or asks restaurant waiters about the sugar content in menu items, I make sure to comment that she has diabetes. Because she is so slim and pretty (she has been photographed as a model), I don’t want people to think she is only being vain.

May we all do something to pass the message forward. I once wrote to a local supermarket chain congratulating them for having sugar-free cookies. It could be meaningful. We just have to keep on trying.

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10 Responses to Parents Talking Type 1: Geraldine Schafer

  1. Rose H. Smith says:

    As the mother of a daughter who developed Type 1 diabetes at age 5 and is now 53, I can tell you that diabetes care has dramatically improved. She now calls it “the dark ages when no one knew very much about diabetes other than it cost Type1′s their life at an early age. Your daughter probably doesn’t feel lucky but she now has the tools to be able to live a long and healthy life – if she chooses to use those tools. She will no doubt have down days when she is doing things right but her blood sugar is either higher or lower than she expects it should be. At this point technology hasn’t been able to mimic a fully functional pancreas but that too may occur in her lifetime!
    Educating people about diabetes – whether Type 1 or Type 2 or gestational or even Pre-diabetes is important because of the epidemic diabetes is now. Educating herself is always best because because your daughter is the 1 to live with diabetes for the rest of her life. It is hard to be a mother and watch your child endure the fingersticks, the shots, the blood tests, the low blood sugars and the frustrations that go along with having diabetes. The best advice I got back in 1964 was when the pediatrician told me, “don’t make her a cripple” I wasn’t sure what he meant but time has proven him right – hovering will smother your daughter and your relationship with her. Ask her what she wants you to do to help her. When you tell the waiter your pretty daughter has diabetes, you think you are being helpful but from experience I have learned my daughter doesn’t want people to know she has diabetes. She wants to be treated like everybody else so telling a waiter she has diabetes “ensures that waiter will watch what I eat and tell people about the diabetic who ate only carrot sticks or maybe had a piece of pumpkin pie” etc. Communicate with your daughter – find out what she prefers in those situations. No doubt she will tell you – mine told me about her friends’ parents embarassing her by making a big deal of her diabetes and she refuses to go out to eat with them any more.
    Trust me it will get easier and you will make mistakes along the way but that is part of the growing process and as long as we are alive we are all growing. My daughter and I laugh now over past mistakes we have both made – Good luck to you and your daughter!

    • Geraldine says:

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt comments.
      Laura, as I have just answered to another post, is very comfortable telling people what she has. She has already given speeches about it, discloses it very openly and, she is very concerned that people serve her salad dressings, beverages, sauces, etc which contain sugar.
      We communicate a lot about it all.
      As you said, she has to educate herself as much as she can and, we all do the same.
      Good luck to all of us! Happy holidays to you and your family!

  2. B says:

    Don’t worry about what other people think. You need not explain that your daughter is diabetic. Most of the public carries inaccurate assumptions about diabetics, especially type 1′s. Your daughter is 19. If your daughter wants to tell people, than that is her business, not yours.

    • Geraldine says:

      Thank you very much for reading!
      Well, it was not only my decision alone. She is fine with the disclosure and she talks about it openly herself.
      She thinks that people SHOULD know and we even found out once that a waitress herself was Type 1 diabetic anad they carried on a long conversation about it.
      Laura has been served with food or beverages that contained sugar, which was due to people’s not paying attention to her request. She says that there’s no need to feel embarrassed for something which is not her fault. She has already presented lectures about being Type 1 and feels that people should know more about it.
      I understand that for many, disclosure can be a problem. Each one has a different way to react to their personal burdens.

  3. Rosaly says:

    Hi,
    This story touches me deeply inside because Geraldine is my loved sis and Laura, besides being my niece, is also my wonderful goddaughter.
    The impact of Laura´s diagnosis, at a time when other painful events were happening in the family, was very tough for us all, family and friends. But Laura was a brave heart and a very mature young woman!! When I think back of the way she accepted her diagnosis and all the changes that she would have to make in her life from that day on, I think we were really blessed. We ALL were, not only her, for her own sake, but all of us, family and friends, who love her so dearly. And that at an age when, as a teen, we know that what they crave mostly for is being just like any other peer, and that includes eating all and to satisfaction. And they tend to rebel. But she didn´t and she doesn´t.
    On the other hand, Geraldine, though heartbroken and in tears at the beginning, gathered all her strength and was, and has been, a very supportive and loving Mom. And, as she says, she never lets a chance go by now without raising awareness of the existence of Type 1 Diabetes. Most people think of diabetes as the illness that can affect only older people (Type 2).
    Thanks for sharing Laura´s story from her Mom´s perspective. Hope it´ll help other parents and families feel that they´re not alone.

  4. paul evans says:

    It took my oldest sons proding me to take my youngest daughter to the er. she was 11 at the time. She was life flighted to primary childrens hospital and spent 5 days there learning everything she could about her new life style. My then wife was back and forth betweeen our other 3 kids and there. i stayed the whole time. missing work and putting everything on hold for her. its amazing how well she does. i continually hear horror stories about other children and how the rebel against the drs orders. But she foolws as best a 13 year old girl can. shes the toughest kid i know!!!!!!!!!

    • Geraldine says:

      Wonderful that she is coping well.
      It’s a hard thing for the whole family…
      Thank you for your comments.
      Happy holidays!

  5. Lorena says:

    Geraldine,
    Minha filha de 4 anos foi diagnosticada há 8 meses e acredito que até hoje não consegui assimilar o fato de que ela terá que conviver com isso. Ainda choro no chuveiro! Foi muito bom ler seu depoimento, pois eu mesma não gosto de falar para as pessoas o que ela tem, pois todos a olham e sentem pena. Acho que também sinto isso, mas tento não mostrar e o fato das pessoas falarem ainda me incomoda. A professora dela disse que em nenhum momento na escola ela mencionou o fato de ter diabetes, de aplicar insulina. Pergunto-me se o que ela entende de tudo isso, será que ela vê na escola um espaço livre das insulinas, glicosímetros, etc.? ou será que ela convive normalmente com isso. De qualquer forma, achei a postura de sua filha muito interessante. Espero que a minha filha Cecília consiga lidar bem com todas essas questões também.
    Um abraço,
    Lorena Zanlorenssi
    Paraná- Brasil

    • Geraldine says:

      Querida Lorena,

      Muito obrigada por ter lido o depoimento e, sinto-me feliz se consegui de alguma forma te ajudar.
      A sua filha ainda é tão novinha! Imagino que num mundo de tantas outras decobertas para ela, o processo de aceitar o fato do que está acontecendo, demora. Imagino que, como todos nós, tentamos a certa altura deixar que a vida flua sem ter que racionalizar a todo momento que somos presos, como pais e o filho diabético, a uma situação que é um fator permamente, involvendo possîveis complicações de saúde se não houver monitoramento alimentar correto e da aplicação de insulina.
      Laura acha que para ela foi melhor falar abertamente sobre isso.. Ela não gosta que sintam pena dela tampouco, mas encontrou muito mais compreensão e apoio dos outros quando assimilou que ela não tem culpa pelo que ela tem. Além disso, ela sabe que pode,, eventualmente, num caso de hipoglicemia, precisar de ajuda. A escola aqui, principalmente, teve o cuidado de avisar aos professores sobre os sinais de hipoglicemia e, quando se sentia tonta, ela sempre tinha um aluno escolhido para acompanha-la pelos corredores até a enfermaria…
      Para Laura, falar sobre a diabetes, tornou-se parte de aceitar a si própria.
      Cada um encontra o seu caminho ao seu modo. É um processo para todos… Enquanto estão no seio da família, torna-se um trabalho de equipe, não é?
      Acho que quando Laura fala, ou alguém da família o faz , torna-se mais fácil para as pessoas entenderem, evitando inclusive, que insistam que ela coma doces, etc.
      Consultar nutricionistas e terapeutas em momentos de crises e reajustes pode ser de grande valia!

      Um grande abraço para você e a sua famìlia. Estamos aqui para conversar se quiser trocar idéias!

      Muita saúde, paz e amor para vocês.

      Geraldine

      • Lorena says:

        Geraldine,
        A estória de sua filha chamou-me atenção para o fato de ter que trabalhar a aceitação, desde já, com a minha pequena. Sinto-me mais fortalecida e amparada ao ver atitudes positivas em relação ao diabetes!
        Obrigada pela atenção e apoio!
        Um abraço!
        Lorena

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