Four months ago, as I loaded my life into the trunk of my car to drive to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), I was beyond excited and had no idea what my first semester as a college student would hold. The promise of engaging in classes that interested me, working towards a meaningful degree, meeting new friends, exploring new opportunities and interests, and embarking on a new chapter in life - it is still both overwhelming and exciting at once. Front and center in my trunk was the tall, standing, plastic, three drawer dresser that I had beautifully decorated the outside of in order to hide its contents of four months supply of practically every diabetes supply that my family could think of.
I could tell from the very first day that college would be a lot of work! Almost right away, I was spending hours in the library, running from here to there for clubs, projects, study groups, class, and...oh yeah, friends and some rest too! Immediately, my time management skills, mental and physical health, education, social life, and ability to live on my own were put to the test. Like every freshman in college, I had to adjust to having a roommate (she quickly discovered that meter test strips somehow land everywhere, despite my best efforts to contain them on my side of the room), making new friends, having new classes, and more! Although it took a week or two, I eventually fell into the groove of things and began to truly enjoy every minute of this experience. In one semester, I was exposed to the works of Socrates and Boethius, learned some french (oui, oui!), joined a multitude of clubs that I am passionate about, went to a concert and Homecoming with some amazing new friends, added a second major onto my goals, and much more!
I was always one of the most excited out of my friends in high school to go away to college, but to be perfectly honest, my diabetes had never been so much of a burden or so out of control as it was the second after I said “so - long” to my parents. And, I had not expected this curve ball to be so hard to hit.
As much as I like to think that I was completely independent in my diabetes care when I lived at home, I was not. At college, every decision and responsibility for my care falls entirely on me. I knew from day 1 that I had to be vigilant. If I wanted to have an easy transition to college, I needed strict control of my blood sugars. I tried my absolute hardest, but my blood sugars were ranging from 50 to 400 in a day...something I had never experienced for weeks at a time in all 12 years of my living with T1D. As much as I tested my blood sugar, I could not decode the strange carbohydrate counts in the mysterious dining hall food, of which I had no idea of its ingredients or portion sizes. I had different stressors, a different exercise routine, and a new life to adjust my diabetes to. No longer could I totally hide that dresser of supplies. After less than a month it was obvious that I was going to have to wear my Continuous Glucose Monitoring Device 24/7 from then on, and I started a club to connect with fellow students living with T1D in college. Similar to Penpals United support groups, we met and talked about our experiences. (some of my closest friends without T1D who I had told my diabetes even came too for support, which was so empowering!). Finally, just like every other part of my life, I began to control it.
Adjusting to college was a huge change. When you throw diabetes into the mix, both aspects end up complicating each other even more. Through some trial and error in both regards, I adjusted to college, maintained better control of my diabetes management, and have learned immensely about myself after just one semester. I cannot even begin to imagine what the next years will bring!
Visiting the doctor. For some, this is a scary sentence. For others, it's a day to be proud. Sometimes, and I'll admit that I am sometimes guilty of this, people are afraid to visit or talk to their doctors in fear that they will be scolded or looked down upon because of their most recent blood sugar readings or the way that they have been taking care of themselves.
Sometimes, when I go to to the doctor and I know that my A1C is going to be high, I could be nervous, but this is a fear that I have to conquer. I think that for some, your doctor is someone you feel that you have to please - someone who evaluates your blood sugars. However, in reality, your doctor is the opposite of that. They do not evaluate and grade your levels. Instead, they examine and improve them! If your blood sugars were perfect, your doctor would probably be suspicious! You are not going to the doctor, and the doctor is not making your blood sugars better, so that they are pleased...you are both working so that you feel the best that you can feel.
My doctor has never once been mad at me if my blood sugars have been high or if she sees that I messed up some days in controlling my levels. Instead, we work together to try to correct these errors and make my numbers better for the next visit. After every visit, without fail, my fears are always gone and I stride out of the office motivated and confident that I will maintain better numbers from then on.
My doctor's policy is that we go into her office about every 3 months to meet and discuss my levels, and that we email her my records every two weeks so that she can make any changes if necessary. I think this is such a good policy because it keeps everyone constantly updated and we are always in touch with each other. However, constant communication does not supplement meeting with my doctor in person. That is the time when we are able to have long conversations, she is able to evaluate me, and we can have more open discussions.
Before each doctor's visit, my mom and I come up with any questions we may have or topics we specifically want to make sure to address during the visit so that we know we will not forget. Being prepared to go to the doctor is important. If your doctor is ready to work, you should be ready too. A typical doctor's visit for me usually starts off with my doctor downloading my blood sugars and insulin dosages off of my insulin pump, and with an AIC blood test. Then, she examines my height, weight, etc. and makes sure everything is OK. Next, we discuss my blood sugars. Instead of my doctor telling me exactly what to change or do, I explain certain circumstances, we talk about certain days in my record, and we work together (with my mom who is at every visit also) to come up with ways to improve my blood sugar.
Of course, my mom and I listen to my doctor with regards to just about everything she says, but if there is something we do not agree with, have questions about, or would like to understand better, we are able to have a conversation with her until all three of us agree on a plan. We also go over ways that I can better take care of my diabetes that may not involve changing my insulin dosage. For example, when I was younger, I was stuck in the habit of giving my insulin after I ate meals rather than before. My doctor had to talk to me about why I should not do this, and at every visit she still makes sure that I give my insulin before I eat.
Your doctor is one of your greatest advocates. It is so important to tell your doctor about your faults in your care. Faults are not anything to be embarrassed about or ashamed of, but rather opportunities for you to prove that you can improve. However, you will not improve unless you discuss these very faults. It is also important that your doctor knows about your life outside of diabetes. For example, my doctor knows that I run every day, so my daily insulin dosages basically account for me exercising every day. Therefore, instead of making a plan for when I exercise, my doctor and I decided to make one for the days that I do not exercise. If she did not know that I was so active, we would never have had come up with this idea! Talking about your every day life and working with your doctor is an extremely valuable part of your doctor's visit.
Visiting the doctor. This is not a statement that you should feel anxious about. Instead, recognize this as a day that you should prepare for and as a day that will leave you feeling better, more confident, and more motivated to have even better blood sugars by the time of your next visit!
Revolutionary things can come from a community of people working together and uniting for a common cause. Even within small settings, a community of teachers can change a school, a group of parents can change a community center, and so much more, if and only if everyone works together. Now imagine a community of people with a common goal working together worldwide? That is what World Diabetes Month is about.
November, World Diabetes Month, is a time for literally everyone in the world with Type 1 Diabetes to come together. It does not matter where you are from, where you live, what your background is, what language you speak, how much money you have, or what you believe in. If you have type 1 diabetes, you are one and the same. You are part of a community of people who care about each other. These people not only share and live with the the same struggles, celebrations, and challenges as you, but they struggle, celebrate, and are challenged with you. Almost everyone you encounter in the closely-knit type 1 diabetes community cares about each other and is willing to help each other whenever is needed.
It is just as important to understand that more than just helping each other, the community of people with type 1 diabetes can work together to help raise awareness and understanding of type 1 diabetes. If everyone with type 1 diabetes worked within their own community to teach what type 1 diabetes is, what it entails, and why it is important to learn about the condition, the entire world would understand diabetes. It is important not to be shy about sharing your experiences or knowledge, because it is the only way to improve life for the encouraging diabetic community you are a part of; a community that is counting on you. It may seem impossible, but a community of people who truly believe in their work and refuse to give up, working hard together, can accomplish goals that may seem impossible to outsiders. World Diabetes Month is a time for everyone with diabetes around the world to come and work together to change the world.
Just today, I was called down to the nurse's office in my school to help a fellow student with diabetes because his insulin pump broke. Together, we were able to fix his pump so that he could deliver his insulin. The other day, I lent another girl with diabetes in my grade shoes to wear for gym! Even the diabetes community within my own high school works together, diabetes and non-diabetes related, to help each other out!
To me, the symbol of World Diabetes Month, a blue circle, signifies the unity and never-ending bond of people with diabetes around the world. However, it also shows that our struggle is not over until the entire world accepts and understands type 1 diabetes. In many places around the world such as in India, diabetes is not accepted by many people in the community. It is up to people with diabetes all over the world to work together to support people with diabetes in these areas and to help people without diabetes in these areas to better accept and understand the condition. Therefore, it is important that World Diabetes Day is a day we celebrate every day. Wear your blue circular pin or sticker or t-shirt (or whatever you have with a blue circle on it!) on other days of the year too, not just November 14th! If we want the world to understand and better accept type 1 diabetes, we must work together, year-round, world-wide! As Philip Pullman said, "You cannot change what you are, only what you do." We cannot change that we have type 1 diabetes, but by embracing the supportive community and working together, we can raise awareness of type 1 diabetes, one day at a time.
Christopher Robin said it to best to Winnie the Pooh when he said "You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.". Sometimes, other people's encouragement and support is all that is needed to lift one's spirits, and there other times when motivation must come from somewhere deep inside one's self, and often times that inspiration is hard to find. My coach said this quote from Winnie the Pooh to my team one day before a hard race when he wasn't sure if we would win or lose. Obviously he applied it to running, and encouraged us to push ourselves harder than we thought we could during the race. However, the message he sent to us about our race seemed to apply to the rest of my life and the quote stuck with me so much that ever since then, anytime I have doubted myself, thought about giving up on something, or have just been in bad spirits, I try to think of that quote to encourage me. It implies that there is more to yourself than you even know, meaning that you can accomplish more, reach higher, improve by working hard at whatever you set your mind to, or just overall be a better person. I think that if everyone has one person, or one quote, or just one thing to motivate them to do better than they ever believed they could, anything is possible.
In America, ask any typical high school student and they will admit that junior year, the year I began about one month ago, is the most stressful year of high school. With standardized testing, challenging courses, and the looming idea of college, it is difficult to manage school work, extracurricular activities, and a social life. Add in diabetes management and fundraising, and my year is booked. Even before the school year began, I knew I would have to keep a level head on my shoulders if I wanted to accomplish more than simply make it through the year. If I wanted to truly learn from my academics and make the best of every opportunity that presented itself. I knew that it was solely up to me, and only me, to keep myself motivated, work hard, and stay positive during the year. Nobody else can do my homework, study for my tests, compete in my races, or hangout with friends for me...it's all up to me. Therefore, not only for this year of high school but for the rest of life, believing in one's self is one of, if not the absolute very most, important things one can do. Staying positive can affect your mood, physical appearance and health, social life, school/work efficiency, and so much more (including your blood sugars!) With a positive and upbeat attitude, almost any situation change go from bad to good. It’s easier keep yourself healthy, focus on schoolwork, and devote time to what matters when you keep a positive attitude. Believing in yourself and being sure that you can do anything you set your mind to can lead you to amazing places in life. Take a look at our past celebrity guests, Gary Hall and Sebastian Sasseville. Before they came along, nobody thought that someone with type 1 diabetes could win gold medals in the Olympics or climb Mt. Everst, so their motivation must have come from within themselves…they needed to believe in themselves in order to succeed. Sustaining a good attitude may entail different things for different people – some may benefit from meditation or yoga, others may find comfort in receiving good grades in school, while others may simply need 20 minutes a day to relax. Whatever it is - keeping yourself calm, motivated, and positive can lead to tremendous things, some that you may have never even believed you could accomplish.
Racing up that last hill during that tough race, the only thing going through my head was a quote said from Winnie the Pooh, a child’s cartoon. I told myself that I could do it…I could run faster...it’s as simple as that. And just like in life, when climbing up the hardest hill you can imagine at the time, believing in yourself should be as simple as Winnie the Pooh makes you think.
Over the past years, I have seen tremendous advancements in the treatment and management of type one diabetes. However, I have also seen countless ideas and inventions that never make it out of the lab or to the general population. Of course, it takes years and an amazing amount of funding for an idea to make it to the lab, and even more work for it to reach the general public. That's why when an advancement looks promising; I can't help but get excited!
Encapsulation is beta cell therapy implanted into a patient that would "cure" the patient of type one diabetes for up to two years. This treatment is beginning human clinical trials within the next few months, and has already shown promising results. A packet inserted into the patient would hold new beta cells that would read the amount of glucose in the body and automatically and immediately release the exact amount of insulin as necessary. These beta cells would be covered by a protective yet permeable barrier (process shown in above diagram), therefore they would not be under autoimmune attack, which was the major problem in original islet cell transplants. In other words, no toxic immunosuppresive drugs would need to be taken by the patient. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has led this research and partnered with other research organizations to perfect and market the idea.
With encapsulation, a patient can almost feel "cured" of diabetes for up to 24 months. They would not have to test their blood sugar, deliver insulin, wear an insulin pump or carry around syringes, or feel the effects of high and low blood sugars. Advancements such as these make me believe even more that there will be a cure one day and that the treatment of type one diabetes will continue to grow better and easier. I can barely even imagine a life free of type one diabetes, but with encapsulation, it could become a reality.
Summer is a time to have fun, grow, and learn, and with this being my first year since I can remember that I wasn't going back to camp, I knew it was time to find another way to occupy my time. Of course, I would have running, friends, the beach, and so many more summer activities. But, being that I am almost 17, I knew I also needed some responsibility. So, I got a job.
I spent a good amount of my summer waitressing at a local grill that opened about 2 months ago. This was my first real job, so I had lots to learn. First off, I learned how to work a cash register, how to talk to customers, take orders, serve food, clean, and so much more. However, aside from all that, I had to keep my diabetes in mind. Of course, I made sure that my boss knew right away that I have diabetes, and told me that if I ever needed anything, to take a break and manage my blood sugar. Thankfully, there is a soda machine at the restaurant, so if I ever feel my blood sugar dropping I can easily pour myself some soda, which I have done multiple times. Waitressing is a very energetic job. I am on my feet all day and constantly moving around, carrying things, and talking, and it's hard to stop in the middle of a shift since people are waiting for you. I can easily and quickly go very low and be too preoccupied to treat my blood sugar, but I know that it's important to stay in a good range. I know that I need to stay healthy, and I also know that if I don't feel good, I won't be as good of a waitress, so in a sense, keeping my blood sugar normal while at work contributes to my performance. So, if I ever begin to feel my blood sugar dropping, I immediately stop what I am doing to treat it. I know I can't go low at work and that I will be moving around, so keeping my blood sugar under control is difficult and sometimes stressful but it is an extremely necessary task.
Having a job this summer helped me mature and handle my responsibilities and time. I learned a lot about a work environment, handling money, and time management. Additionally, I also think I can better relate to controlling diabetes in a work situation; it's much different than managing diabetes in school or with friends, because you feel a greater responsibility and pressure to always be working your best, and your blood sugar plays a major factor in that. However, I also realized how important it is to keep your blood sugar in range while at work and the importance of telling your boss about diabetes. I have had a great summer waitressing so far, and I know that I learned so much about jobs and about myself.
Over the years there have been immense advancements in the treatment and management of diabetes. In my 10 years with diabetes, I have witnessed the development of treatment and devices I never even imagined were possible when I was first diagnosed. Since I've been diagnosed, the insulin pump has grown tremendously, the continuous glucose monitor has been advanced to near perfection, glucometers have improved, new types of insulin have been introduced, and much more has been advanced. I remember that when I was about 8 years I was part of a trial to test one of the first continuous glucose monitors. I had to carry a large device around with me and I was connected to a long, thick tube for 3 days. I even had to cover the device in a plastic bag since it wasn't waterproof and take it in the shower with me. However, now, most continuous glucose monitors are wireless, waterproof, and barely the size of your palm. At this point in time, it's hard to imagine what is next. Talk of an artificial pancreas, smart insulin, and much more has been rumored for a while now. However, a few days ago, the development of the Bionic Pancreas seemed to be promising.
The definition of bionic is "having superhuman strength or capacity." The bionic pancreas has more strength than the inventors could have ever imagined, simply because of the way it could change the development of diabetes management from now on. The bionic pancreas consists of two insulin pumps, one that delivers insulin and one that delivers glucagon; basically one to lower and one to raise your blood sugar. A continuous glucose monitor is also attached to the patients. Finally, a single smartphone app is used to control all three devices. The bionic pancreas was tested for 5 days on 32 teens aged 12-20 at a diabetes sleep-away camp, and 20 adults in their normal life. When compared to 5 days on an insulin pump, the bionic pancreas lowered the teens average blood sugar 19 mg/dL and lowered the adults average blood sugar 26 mg/dL. It also lowered the amount of time spent with a low blood sugar from 7% to 4%. No extreme low or high blood sugars were reported during the test, and everyone tested would have an A1C below 7, the ideal A1C (3 month blood sugar average) for a non-diabetic patient, if they remained on the bionic pancreas for 3 months. Researchers hope to conduct an outpatient trial incorporating all three devices into one monitor within the next 18 months.
Although the bionic pancreas is a while from being on the markets and available to the public, every other major innovation we use today was also a long time from reality at one point in time! The bionic pancreas has the ability to change the lives of everyone living with type 1 diabetes forever. Simply inserting one site every few days could replace the burden of managing my blood sugars, counting carbohydrates, adjusting for lows and highs, waking up in the middle of the night to test my blood sugar, and so much more. Although it is not an end all cure, it is a step towards one and it would make daily life with diabetes much more enjoyable. With constant innovations and research like the bionic pancreas, I think that there is always hope for a better tomorrow with type 1 diabetes.
When I was young and first diagnosed and just learning how to adjust to diabetes, I used to tell my mom that God gave me diabetes so that I could spare someone else from having it. I guess when I was 6 years old, I thought there was a finite amount of diagnosis's to be made, and that I was sacrificing living with diabetes so that someone else didn't have to. Although my six year old brain had an appealing idea, that is unfortunately not the truth. As you grow older, it is sometimes hard to stay as optimistic as you were in first grade. It's disappointing to accept the truth that as you begin to face the real world, "Everything happens for a reason"s and "I'll be here for you"'s are nice, but they sometimes aren't enough, and that there will always exist instances in life in which, no matter what anyone says or how greatly anyone consoles you, you will continue to question "Why? Why me?" From the simplest of questions to the most complex pondering, it is sometimes hard to accept that there are some occurrences in life simply out of your control. However, questioning them is a natural and completely normal response.
This past fall during cross country season, I got injured with a stress fracture one week before my team's first championship race. After months of training, I was devastated that I wouldn't be able to race, and watching from the sidelines every day for the next few months was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Of course, I constantly questioned myself and everything I possibly could have done to prevent it, but most of the time I asked myself the question 'Why?". I could not seem to understand why, more than how, this had happened to me. Now that I am finally healed and the stress fracture is behind me, I think I can finally safely say that I will never find the total answer to either questions, but I do know for sure that I grew as a person and learned from the time. Perhaps, the why was to bring me closer to my teammates who were there for me, or to teach me specifically how to cope with disappointment in sports. It wasn't until I learned to accept the injury that I was able to finally start to physically heal and train to get back to running. Either way, the question was always there in the back of my mind, and I had to learn how to deal with it and try to find an answer for it.
Specifically relating to diabetes, I remember personally that it was at first extremely difficult for me and my whole family to come to terms with my diagnosis. It took a long time for us to adjust to life with diabetes. Everyone had to deal with the life changing event in their own way. While I had to learn to handle diabetes in school, my parents had to learn to let me go and lead as normal of a life as I could at the time. Everyone did what they had to do, but the news was a shock, and it was hard to figure out why we were forced into these new lifestyles. Even today, nearly 10 years later, on any given day, one of us could talk about diabetes and wonder why I was diagnosed. Now, I am not merely referring to the genetics or science of the diagnosis, but mostly the morality of it. My family and I think we are good people! This didn't deserve to happen to us! After repetitive finger pricking and insulin deliveries, questioning why it has to be yourself that this happened to is annoying, but it is also natural. Sometimes, my family and I get frustrated about this, but we then however begin to think and realize that we almost wouldn't be able to imagine life without diabetes. Then, we think about all of the great relationships, events, and opportunities that came with diabetes. Although paired with the needles, highs, lows, carb counting, boluses, and the bitter scent of insulin, the experiences and lessons we gained from diabetes sometimes proves true the cliche "Everything happens for a reason".
It is important to talk about your emotions and how you feel when you begin to question these sort of complex topics, especially if you begin to question diabetes. I know that if I don't talk about what I am thinking while I am questioning these sort of topics, I get very stressed and overwhelmed. For me, my go-to-person is usually my mom or best friend, but it is important to know that you always have your family and friends (and PPU team!) there to support you, and to know that your doctor is there, to help you deal with strong emotions. Talking about your feelings about diabetes and anything else in life that frustrates you is almost just as, if not as important as, managing your health and blood sugars. Everyone feels stressed or confused about occurrences in life that can frustrate them, but it is how you manage these feelings that truly matter.
"We're good people, why did this have to happen to us?!" is probably a common phrase heard in families everywhere about almost any situation in life, not just regarding diabetes in the Anolik household. However, maybe my first grade brain was on the right track. Maybe I did in fact get diagnosed for a certain reason, even if it wasn't to spare someone else from the disease. Maybe I was diagnosed as a way for me to grow, as a way for me and my family to learn to grow closer during times of stress, or for me to better learn how to take care of myself. Even though I may never know for sure what the reason was, I know that I will always have my family and friends by my side to support me and that I have tried to make the best of diabetes.
Although being a teenager is challenging, there are many perks and benefits you get as you grow up. Going out without your parents for the first time makes you feel like a superstar. When you step into high school on your first day you feel like a big kid. When you start to drive, you feel like an adult. In New Jersey, you get your permit at the age of 16 and your license at the age of 17. When you are 16, you need an adult in the car with you at all times and you need to complete a "Behind the Wheel" instructional driving program and pass a written test first. For most teenagers, this is a fun and exciting experience where you begin to gain more and more independence and responsibility. In fact, today, I received my permit! I immediately wanted to take my mom on a ride and drive around my town. However, before I turned the car on, buckled my seatbelt, and put the car in drive, I had one extra step that most teenagers do not have to worry about. I had to check my blood sugar.
Driving with diabetes is very serious and requires total cooperation. Before driving, it is important to check your blood sugar and make sure that it is in a good range. It is also important to make sure that a glucometer and juice packs or snacks if your blood sugar goes low is also within reach in the car. If your blood sugar is too high or too low when you are driving, you may not focus as well and you run the risk of possibly passing out from hypoglycemia while driving. Personally, I know that when my blood sugar gets very very high, my vision becomes blurry, which would not be a good thing while driving! Every second and decision matters when driving, so it is important that your blood sugar is good so you can concentrate on the road.
The second time I went driving with my instructor, I had been in the car for about an hour after school, when I started to feel shaky. I was apprehensive at first because I was so new to driving, but I decided that it is better to be safe than sorry. I told my instructor before we began driving that I had diabetes and what I would need to do in the event of an emergency. Right away, I told my instructor that I felt my blood sugar dropping. I pulled over, checked and saw that my sugar was 90. So, I took a juice and waited a few minutes to check again and make sure that my blood sugar rose to an appropriate number. If I had not stopped and pulled over, I know that my blood sugar would have continued to drop until I was very low. It was important that I was listening to my body while I was driving, or else I might have been in a dangerous situation.
With growing up comes more and more responsibilities for every teenager. Although these changes and experiences are exciting, it is sometimes difficult or stressful to manage so many new responsibilities in life for anyone, and with the added challenge of type 1 diabetes, those new experiences can be even more difficult to handle. However, as long as you are able to control your diabetes and listen to your body, you can do anything you want. I had to make sure that I informed my driving instructor of my diabetes and that I had my glucometer and juice packs with me, and now I can drive! With appropriate control, cooperation, and management, you can conquer any new challenge that life throws at you.
Hello everyone! I'm Hannah! I'm 16 years old and have been living a normal life with type 1 diabetes for 10 years! I'm so excited to share the journey of Penpals United with you through our blog!