On My Own . . . and Letting Go

Today, we hear from a mother-daughter team about what it’s like to head off to college with diabetes. Have you ever been there as a student or a parent? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Rachel and her mom on a college tour

Rachel and her mom on a college tour

On My Own
By Rachel Hopkins, age 17

One of my clearest memories from childhood is of my mother calling me inside from playing with my friends, to have me check my blood glucose. She would ask me to do this repeatedly, each day. And every time, I would feel incredibly annoyed because I never understood why I was the only kid on my block whose mother looked after her so closely.

Now that I look back, I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to have my mother in my life. When I was young, my mother was the beacon of light that guided me through every day of sickness and every hospital stay. After my diagnosis she took on the role of personal nurse, always looking over my shoulder and reminding me of the small aspects of diabetes care that tended to slip my mind, like checking my blood glucose every two hours.

My mother was the reason that I grew up believing I had the power to overcome all of the adversity and hardships that come from having type 1 diabetes. I was not allowed to slide into a state of self-pity. I was taught that managing my diabetes would be the most important thing in my life, the most important part of each day—because managing well would enable me to succeed in other parts of life.

Now I am 17 years old and preparing to go to college. I must begin to learn how to be completely independent—a task that is difficult for most teenagers, but even more so for someone with diabetes. I know that soon my well-being will be on my own shoulders. My mother made sure that I knew how to take care of myself from a young age, but the idea of being completely alone, without her, is very scary.

The transition that we are preparing to make is likely the biggest change that I will go through in my life. The question of how to best prepare for this has been heavy on the minds of my family for the past few years, as the reality of it becomes clearer and clearer. I have been working on finding solutions for problems that I commonly face when I am completely responsible for myself, such as checking my blood glucose regularly and changing my infusion set sites on time. These solutions have included setting reminders in my phone and on my insulin pump. These sound like simple things, but they have made an incredible difference in my confidence in my ability to take care of myself.

We have talked directly with the health staff and dietitians at the colleges I am considering, and we are prepared to place the quality of health care offered as one of the deciding factors in where I will attend.

Rachel Hopkins, age 17, is preparing to enter her senior year at Salem High School in Salem, Ind. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on Oct. 29, 1997, at 14 months old and began wearing an insulin pump in kindergarten. A National Honor Society member, she is involved in three varsity sports and many other extracurricular activities, and hopes to play soccer for Anderson University in fall 2015. Rachel serves a youth ambassador for the American Diabetes Association local office in Louisville, Ky.

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Letting Go
By Jessica Morgan (Rachel’s mom!)

Looking back at the last 17 years, I realize that I have spent the majority of each and every day helping my daughter manage her diabetes. I am proud of who she has become and how she has managed to lead a happy and fulfilling life, despite living with this disease for nearly every day of it.

Rachel was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 14 months old. I have been the one who has constantly reminded her to check her blood glucose six to eight times a day (sometimes more), to count the carbohydrates and to account for the exercise when she goes to sports practice or a game. There have been good days, and of course there have been bad days and some really bad days. Despite all of this, Rachel is an academic honors student who is involved in three varsity sports and also volunteering in the community. She is a busy girl—and that can make her forgetful. So when she is busy, I’m the one who remembers to take care of the diabetes.

Last year I started to step back and let Rachel take more responsibility for her health care, because she will soon be 18 and attending college. In order for that to happen, she has to be able to take care of herself.

It has been a HUGE challenge. Checking blood glucose has been Rachel’s biggest hurdle. I have tried not to remind her, but I still catch myself doing it. It’s a hard habit to break. She has made some mistakes in the last year, like forgetting to give insulin after dinner or forgetting to check her blood glucose before bed. They may seem like simple tasks to someone who isn’t familiar with diabetes, but if you forget to do one of them, you are sure to be sick within a few hours. She has learned from these mistakes and has done much better over time.

As we began the search for colleges, we found it important to look at schools where Rachel can manage her diabetes without being an outcast. Fitting in with peers is an important aspect of life and can be difficult even without having diabetes. We have also discovered that school cafeterias, meal plans and personal fitness areas will be an important part of her daily life.

Rachel has decided that a small school will be a good fit for her. She likes the small-campus atmosphere and she believes that living on a small campus will help her manage her diabetes.

Our next step will be to figure out how to manage daily life without the dependable routine of high school. We will also have to figure out a system for managing her daily supplies.

I look forward to enjoying the last days of Rachel’s high school career, but I am beginning to become nervous about her living on a college campus.

Jessica Morgan teaches high school biology at Mitchell High School in Mitchell, Ind. She also teaches night classes for Indiana University Southeast. She has three daughters: Lindsay, Alysha and Rachel. In her spare time Jessica likes to travel, spend time with her family and work in her flower garden.

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4 Responses to On My Own . . . and Letting Go

  1. Lori Schlosser says:

    Thank you, Rachel and Jessica, for sharing your honest perspectives here. In my 8-year experience interacting with parents of kids with diabetes, it’s a HUGE issue of concern across the board. Now that our son (also juggling T1D) is 16 and beginning to think beyond high school, our family is experiencing similar concerns. Like you, we’ve already begun developing a game plan. Thought it would be helpful to share two important strategies we are employing.

    First, our son has begun using the newest Medtronic continuous glucose monitor and pump with predictive alarms and the “suspend” feature. He is impressed with this new technology, because it helps him reduce finger sticks and the suspend feature gives all of us added peace of mind at night time. Not perfect, but a marked improvement in technology to support tighter blood sugar control AND safety. I am already seeing how these tools (coupled with a really great roommate) will ease many of our concerns about our son living away from home.

    Additionally, if you haven’t plugged into the College Diabetes Network, consider checking it out. CDN offers resources and support that were non-existent even a few years ago. I’ve had several conversations with the young professional women at the helm. They are knowledgeable, accessible and dedicated…and they’ve all traversed the college experience with T1D already. Nothing like the wisdom of these experts!

    Make great memories this senior year! Never lose sight of just how far you’ve come or the ways in which your experience and example will benefit and inspire others. Best wishes to you in this transition, and thanks for shining a light on this very important (but seldom addressed) issue.

  2. Sarah says:

    Getting ready to drive my T1 daughter to a small college 5 hours away from us in Louisville KY. Like you all, I evaluated all the food options on campus, the health center & looked at the nearby hospital (just to see how far it was). I talked to the admissions office at the college she chose & they were very accepting & ready to help. They said the Dean of Students would go to the hospital with her if she needs to go. My daughter plays softball & the coach is also ready to step in & learn. He asked me to send him info & wants instruction on glucagon. I just found out the campus nurse has a T1 daughter, so that makes me even more comfortable sending her there. (The nurse also sent her daughter “away” to school.) Senior year will be a great time for you two to practice things & make a decision you both feel good about. Good luck!

    • American Diabetes Association says:

      Thank you for sharing, Sarah! Sounds like your daughter is poised to have a great college experience.

  3. Pingback: College and Diabetes - Diabetes-Take It On!

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