My son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) in June 2007, the summer before he entered kindergarten. When it happened, I knew nothing about the disease, and was deep in the throes of a first-class pity party thinking it would shorten his life or limit his activities. We quickly learned it meant checking his blood sugar 8-10 times a day (including when he’s sleeping) and counting every carb he consumes so we know how much insulin he needs.
Today, Nicholas is a thriving fifth-grader. If you didn’t see the insulin pump in his pocket or share a meal with him, you would never know of his life-threatening chronic illness and bravery all day, every day.
In honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month, I’ve compiled a list of things that have been said to us, by those who didn’t know any better, in hopes of educating others.
1. When it happened, was he eating a lot of sweets?
No, his pancreas shut down, seemingly overnight and his body no longer produces insulin. There is no known cause or cure.
2. Type 1, is that the bad kind?
There is no bad or good kind. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that makes you insulin dependent. Type 2, the most common form, often caused by lifestyle issues, can sometimes be managed through diet and exercise.
3. Do the doctors think he will grow out of it?
This isn’t temporary and there is no cure, yet. Until then, there are insulin pump upgrades and the possibility of an artificial pancreas.
4. That must be a nightmare! How do you deal with that?
When it’s a matter of life and death, and it’s your child, it’s simply not a choice. The better question is: How does Nicholas deal and the answer is “like a champ.”
5. I could never give my child a shot or prick his finger. Have you considered hiring a nurse?
I didn’t think I could either but, as a mother, you step up. We do not need a nurse. At this point, Nicholas is self-managed except for a little carb-counting help.
6. I’ve never met your son. Is he extremely overweight?
There’s that confusion between Type 1 and Type 2 again. Nicholas doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him and by growth-chart standards is a perfectly normal 10-year-old.
7. Poor thing can’t eat sweets, can he?
Ironically, diabetics probably eat more sweets than most because that’s how they boost low blood sugars.
8. He must eat a lot of fruit!
Some fruit is loaded with sugar and not always the healthier choice for anyone. It’s all about the carb count.
9. My aunt had diabetes and went blind. Are you worried that will happen to Nick?
Eye disease is one of the most common complications of T1D. Nicholas sees an eye specialist annually.
10. It’s great he got it when he was young so he’ll never know what he’s missing.
With a younger sister and friends who don’t have the same restrictions and responsibilities, he is painfully aware of what he’s missing. Since everything depends on keeping his blood sugar stable, he can’t snack, play a sport, take a test or go to bed without checking it.
While I hate that my sweet boy had to grow up so fast because of diabetes, so many kids get dealt much worse hands. I’m just thankful that this is manageable.
With 15,000 children diagnosed with T1D every year, you will likely encounter a diabetic parent at some point. When and if you do, please proceed with care and impress them with some of your newfound knowledge.
Colleen Brannan is a mom, small-business owner and JDRF Charlotte board member.