By Chelsea Wanek-Bedward
“My body produces insulin like a cow produces rainbows. It just doesn’t happen!”
Rewind to August of 1997, nearly 20 years ago. I was 9 years old – a happy, healthy kid. I spent a lot of time with my Grandma who lived on the farm I was raised on, less than a half a mile away. Over a period of just a few days, she became concerned about me and informed my Mom that I was drinking a lot of fluids and frequently urinating. My Mom took me to the clinic she worked at, thinking I simply had a urinary tract infection. However, it was not a UTI. My blood sugar was over 700 and I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, commonly referred to as Juvenile or Insulin Dependent Diabetes.
MY NEW NORMAL
Life changed drastically from this day forward for not only me, but for my whole family. Counting carbohydrates, multiple injections, testing my blood sugar 5 times per day – this was my new “normal”. My sweet Grandma blamed herself. She thought she fed me too many cookies (I mean what Grandma doesn’t always have fresh baked cookies!?).
However, she was far from the truth. Type 1 Diabetes is NOT caused by consuming too much sugar. Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that happens when your immune system attacks and destroys cells in your pancreas called beta cells (beta cells are the ones that make insulin). Its causes are not yet completely understood. It is believed that genetic and environmental factors/triggers are involved. The onset of T1D has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent it and on the flip side, nothing you can do to cure it.
Diabetes can simply only be managed.
THE MISCONCEPTIONS OF T1 D
The biggest misconception people have about Diabetes is that they think we cannot have sweets. This is absolutely false. A person with T1D can eat anything they want. They just have to make sure they “bolus” (take enough insulin) to cover the amount of carbohydrates they eat. Are sweets good for anyone? Nope! But that doesn’t mean that someone with Type 1 Diabetes can’t have them. Moderation is key – just like for someone without Diabetes. Another misconception that people have is that all Diabetics are alike. Wrong! There is Pre-Diabetes, Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes. How can we all be the same? It’s like comparing apples to well, let’s say pizza. Just like snowflakes, no individual is the same. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa.
Let’s just say that over the past 20 years, I have pretty much experienced it all. I was once in DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis) and while in the Emergency Room, I sat up, pointed and told the staff, in true farm girl style, that I wanted milk from the bulk tank. I do not remember this but my Mom tells me that this was the scariest “Diabetes Encounter” that I (we) have ever faced.
SICK ALL THE TIME… DROP OUT?
Throughout my teenage years, I was very self-conscious. I hid having Diabetes. I just wanted to be “normal” and blend in. But, that wasn’t so easy. I missed a lot of school due to having Diabetes. My immune system was low, I was constantly sick and my blood sugars were an absolute mess. I was told by my many teachers and school personnel that I should just drop out of school and get my GED because I would likely never graduate being sick all the time.
Well, let’s just say that I proved them wrong! I graduated with my class, went on to college, obtained two degrees and have a successful career.
Words of advice: Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something, because you can!
THE GAME CHANGER
Approximately 5 years ago, I finally took the plunge (I really don’t know why it took me so long) and got an insulin pump. I am much healthier due to being able to obtain tighter control. I now can’t imagine what I would do without it. My three year old niece, Baelynn recently asked what the tubing hanging outside my pocket was and without skipping a beat, her eight year old sister Lydia said,
“Aunt Chelsea has to wear that so she doesn’t die because her organ doesn’t work.”
I would say that’s a pretty accurate explanation! An insulin pump is by no means a miracle, but life is definitely a lot easier having it.
Don’t get me wrong, Diabetes is a daily struggle no matter how well controlled it is. There are days where your blood sugar will be high or low for an extended period of time for no apparent reason. However, with technology and research rapidly progressing, I am confident that in my life a cure or “near cure”, such as an artificial pancreas, for Type 1 Diabetes will happen.
FINDING MY STRENGTH IN FAMILY
Diabetes is hard not only for myself, but for my family as well. My brothers are pretty much my heroes. They gave up so much for me – whether it was giving up attention from my parents, changing their diets right along with me or sitting with me in the hospital so I wouldn’t have to be alone.
Then there are my parents. All I can say is they are rockstars. They gave up their lives to make sure that I was okay. A friend of mine who is a Mother of a Type 1 Diabetic told me that the hardest thing/biggest struggle for her is not knowing exactly what her daughter goes through and how she feels every day. My own parents would agree.
My husband, Cory, checks on me every morning before he leaves for work knowing that in the early morning hours my blood sugar tends to drop. Funny thing is, I didn’t actually tell him that I was Diabetic until a few dates in. I was scared he wouldn’t“like” me anymore. But I was wrong.
DIABETES IS A FULL TIME JOB
I know there is a reason that I am a Type 1 Diabetic and I am not ashamed of it. By no means do I want people to feel sorry for me. This is the life I was given and I wouldn’t know what my life would be without Diabetes. My goal is to bring awareness to the disease that affects the lives of so many and to someday not have to see any more innocent children be diagnosed and to let others know they are not alone. We’re in this fight together!
A few interesting facts you may not have known:
Jay Cutler (quarterback for the Chicago Bears) is a Type 1 Diabetic, along with Mary Tyler Moore, Bret Michaels and Nick Jonas.
Of the 29.1 million Americans with Diabetes (9.3% of the population), only 5% are Type 1.
Diabetes kills more Americans each year than Breast Cancer and AIDS combined.
Every 19 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Diabetes.
Recent estimates project that as many as 1 in 3 American Adults will have Diabetes by 2050 unless we take steps to stop Diabetes.
Keep your head up! Remember: God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers.
If you would like to find out more about Diabetes, here are some good resources:
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