My experience with type 1 diabetes began in January of 1998, when my mother was first diagnosed at the age of 47. So, when my four-year-old son was diagnosed 13 years later, I thought I knew everything there was to know.
I watched my mother take brisk walks to bring down her high blood glucose levels. I watched my father attend to her when her levels were low. I watched her test her blood glucose many times each day. She was a perfectionist, and her control was excellent. What I missed were the dangerously low levels, the battles with food, and the period of adjustment when she had to learn to manage her diabetes and give herself shots.
In the summer of 2011, when my son Patrick lost a bit of weight, asked for drinks frequently and was in and out of the bathroom regularly, my mom knew that he had type 1 diabetes. I swore that it was just the summer time. He was thinner because he was out playing all day. He was thirsty because he played so hard. He urinated frequently because he had so much to drink. I had myself convinced that he was just fine, but my mom was relentless. When my husband Paul made an appointment with the pediatrician so we could get my mom off our backs, we got the surprise of our lives.
Those four days in the hospital were quite a whirlwind. We met with doctors and nurses and nutritionists. The amount of information we left there with was overwhelming. We learned to stick Patrick’s finger for regular blood glucose checks and draw insulin from a vile before giving him a shot. (That was scary!) We learned how to count carbohydrates. But there was still so much to learn. Living our “new normal” was not easy for any of us.
We are blessed that Patrick is so strong. From the first day of his diagnosis, Patrick was a champ. He rarely complains, and he has accepted his diabetes as part of his life. He has taken such ownership of it. He explains to anyone who will listen what it means for him to have it: his pancreas doesn’t work, he needs to take insulin, he has to count his carbohydrates and he can’t always eat what everyone else is eating. It takes forever to get through the grocery store with him because he reads nutrition labels on everything! He checks his own blood glucose and has even learned to bolus himself with his pump. He makes us so proud every day.
For as proud of Patrick as Paul and I are, our hearts break on a regular basis. His diabetes interferes with so much. He can’t always eat like the other kids at parties. He is pulled off the soccer field for blood glucose checks. Sometimes he can’t take the bus to or from school because his levels are too low. Once he was unable to leave school with his class for a field trip because he was low. He misses class time because of frequent visits to the nurse’s office. His fingertips are calloused from all the finger sticks. No matter how much he eats (and he eats a lot!) he doesn’t seem to gain weight.
Within weeks of Patrick’s diagnosis, my family became involved with the American Diabetes Association. We formed Team PB&J and walked in Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes. We continue to walk and stay involved because we hope that someday Patrick, and the thousands of other kids like him, will not have to live with diabetes anymore. We walk to spread awareness. We walk for an easier life for our son. We walk in hope of a cure. We walk to support the millions of people who live with diabetes every day.