Nancy W., a 42-year old woman living in Ohio, has type 1 diabetes. She was 10 years old when she was diagnosed as being diabetic. Nancy answered the following questions on what it is like living with the condition.
Nancy, how did you find out you had type 1 diabetes?
I was dehydrated and drinking all the cold water from the water fountains in school and going to the bathroom about 19 times a day. My hair was falling out. My hair brush was always full. I weighed 66 pounds and dropped to 44 pounds in about a month or so.
I was diagnosed just after Halloween, and my initial reaction was that I could never eat candy again. The doctor told me that I had to have shots, but I don't remember having any major concerns about it.
It took a month before I could actually give myself my own shot. I did not test my blood sugars until I was maybe 20 years old. I don't think they had home glucose machines until then. I used urine test strips.
What role did your parents play in diabetes management when you were younger?
Both parents were involved. My dad is an engineer/scientist and wanted everything to be very "precise"... the measuring of the insulin and where I administered the shot. They had me write M,T,W,TH,F,S,S on my legs with a magic marker so I would know which leg I gave myself a shot in the day before. As I recall, I always used a purple magic marker.
My parents thought it would be a good idea if one of my friend's parents, who was a doctor, taught me how to give myself the shots.
How has diabetes impacted your personal/family life?
I am much more aware of healthy eating for myself and my family. I remember eating special diabetic foods like FRESCA and TAB that my mom bought for me only and not my siblings. She also bought me big HERSHEY BARS so I could have "sugar" before gym class. My husband is very supportive of my needs, and understands I have low blood sugar. I feel I revolve my life around my diabetes and always know what impact my food choices make on my health. I usually care quite a bit but sometimes I give up and eat whatever I want and end up with high sugar. Then it starts all over again the following day.
What steps do you currently take to manage your diabetes?
I test my glucose levels 4 to 7 times a day. I get a hemaglobin A1C test 4 times a year. I watch what I eat. I change my diet 3 years ago to eating protein with every meal. I used to eat it maybe three times a week, eating fish or tofu for dinner.
Did you ever have any emergencies, and if so, what happened?
I had very low blood sugar several times and ended up in the hospital on IV. I think maybe 4 times in my late 20's and early 30's.
Do you have any other major "diabetes memories"?
I remember so well my friend's dad coming over every day to help give me my shot. And I remember being in the hospital for 8 days when I became diabetic. One of my aunts came to visit me in the hospital. I remember the nurses teaching me to give a shot in an orange.
What is it like having diabetes now?
I manage my diabetes much better over the last three years than I ever did my whole life. The change was making better choices in my diet that worked better with the insulin I take.
The most difficult thing about having diabetes is when I make poor food choices, like eating cake, chocolate, Sweet Tarts, or lollypops and the reaction is high sugars, and then I feel as though I failed yet another day.
But most of the time, at age 42, I am much more capable of managing things myself than when I was 10 or even 20.
What would you say to someone who was just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
Make the best food choices you can to match the amount of insulin you take, and exercise continuously throughout your life. Listen to the doctor, get a good dietician, a good diabetes educator, and be part of a support group to help you.
Do you have any advice for parents?
Help your kids by giving them good examples, and try to make diabetes as normal as possible by matching the lifestyle the child has to live. Options for kids these days are so much more sophisticated than when I was diagnosed. There are so many different kinds of insulins available, blood meters, and support.
Nancy is right -- the number of options for both children and adults who have diabetes continues to grow. For example, there are numerous products available to help you test blood glucose. Ask your physician or diabetes counselor about these products, and try to find out as much as you can about the benefits and drawbacks of each.
For an overview of some of the different types of equipment, read New and Upcoming Testing Devices.