Just over three years ago I became a pancreas. Yes, you heard me right, a pancreas.
My daughter Emma was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was 3 years old. This meant that my husband and I now needed to add being our daughter’s vital organ to our list of ever growing parental roles. In these three short (but honestly it feels like eternity sometimes) years, I have debunked many myths and stereotypes about type 1 diabetes. What I quickly learned is that there are many common misconceptions about people living with this disease. I honestly don’t mind the questions because it gives me a chance to share our story as well as educate those who don’t know much about the disease.
So, in honor of National Diabetes Awareness month, here are 10 things you should know about my daughter and type 1 diabetes.
1. Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are not the same thing.
I have to believe that this is probably the most common misunderstanding surrounding diabetes in general. When people think of diabetes they think of type 2 diabetes, which is a preventable disease that can be reversed with lifestyle changes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where ones own immune system destroys the cells within the pancreas that produce insulin. There is no way of preventing this disease and there is no cure.
2. Nothing we (or my daughter) did caused this disease.
At this time, there is nothing that can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes. We are often asked “did she eat a lot of sugar” or “did she drink a lot of juice”. The answer to both of these questions is no, Emma actually never drank juice until she was diagnosed.
3. Is she overweight?
I get that in most people’s minds diabetes = being overweight because of the the growing type 2 diabetes epidemic, but the opposite is true for most people with type 1 diabetes. My daughter was underweight and not growing; this is typical for people with type 1 diabetes.
4. She needs insulin to survive.
Since Emma’s own body is attacking the cells that create insulin, she needs to receive insulin by other means. Type 1 diabetes is life threatening, insulin is her life support.
5. Yes, she can eat that.
It is always interesting being at a birthday party and watching Emma chow down on a piece of cake only to be met with eyes of people looking at me like I am crazy for letting her have a sweet! Type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean you have to be on a strict diet regimen like type 2 diabetes. Instead, Emma can eat any type of food she would like, within moderation, just like any other child. We just have and extra step of counting carbohydrates and accommodating by giving insulin for anything she eats.
6. She will outgrow that right?
I wish, but unfortunately no.
7. She wears cool “gadgets” to keep her alive.
It is OK if you ask about Emma’s insulin pump! She has to wear it twenty four hours a day and seven days a week. It is OK if your child is curious and wants to know why we have to pick her fingers 8-10 a day to check her blood glucose. That thing that beeps when we are at the movies, dance class, or at school? It is just her continuous glucose monitor checking her blood glucose to make sure it is staying within a safe range. I thank modern medicine and technology for these devices every day!
8. With diet and exercise it will go away right?
No. Most people with type 1 diabetes are otherwise healthy and active. Exercise is great for controlling high blood glucose but when my daughter has too much activity it can actually cause very dangerous low blood glucose as well. It is a very tricky balance. And, there is no magical pill she can take to control it either.
9. Please don’t call her “diabetic”.
The term seriously irks me for some reason. Diabetes is a PART of who she is but does not DEFINE who she is.
10. She is a normal, happy, healthy, little girl living with type 1 diabetes!
Type 1 diabetes is a lot of work, but with the proper management and medical oversight, Emma (and any other person) living with type 1 diabetes will lead healthy, active, and fulfilling lives!