Sunday, May 20, 2012

Diabetes Hero

So, as Diabetes Blog Week moves inexorably toward its closing hours, today's prompt looms heavy in the mind: Who is your Diabetes Hero?

 First off, Diabetes Hero would be the worst video game ever. There would be so many buttons to press. Why is it the worst video game? See my Friday post to find out.

Joking aside, this question, to me, is difficult to answer. A lot of people have been heroes to me along the way. The easiest answer is Drs. Banting and Best, for their discovery of insulin. The ultimate thing a hero can do, and the most common thing that people think of when the term "hero" is brought up, is saving someone's life. Banting and Best saved my life. I don't care if someone would have come up with it eventually; their brainchild is the thing that keeps me walking, talking, and living every day. It's also the thing that gave me a 2.8 low today, but it's a small price to pay for being alive. I also don't want to forget all the dogs who gave their lives to save the lives of millions of people; the unsung heroes of insulin. That's a huge price to pay for me being alive. Many animals continue to pay that price today, particularly mice, who have provided hundreds of helpful diabetes mice, but that don't translate to humans. I'm sorry, mice, that we haven't come up with a better way. I'm thrilled that, by the time I needed it, insulin could be completely synthesized.

A somewhat apocryphal part of my family history, in that I've never really managed to get all the details, is that I have a distant cousin named Clara who was one of Banting's first patients, and essentially beta-tested (beta-cell-tested?) insulin. It's a piece of my past that I'd really like to get more information on, to know more about her and to find out whether it's true! It would make sense; I'm from Toronto and so is my mother's side of the family, for a certain number of generations back, anyway. The mythical Clara is one of my diabetes heroes.

 My cousin Zack is one of my diabetes heroes, because his diagnosis at age 4 is the reason we found out about me well before I had any symptoms (even if it also was somewhat responsible for my initial misdiagnosis, because it was caught so early). I never would have been tested if not for him; even though the treatment I was put on at 12 didn't work, when I had my serious weight loss a couple years later, we knew it was my pancreas finally giving up; we knew what to do, so I never wound up in the hospital. I have never wound up in the hospital because of diabetes, and I think that's because of him. Seeing someone so young able to deal with diabetes, because it was all he'd ever known, made me feel like I needed to be up to the challenge, teenage rebellion notwithstanding. Ultimately, I am extremely proud of the young man he's grown up to be; not only a relative, but a friend.

My parents are also my diabetes heroes. They took my diagnosis in stride, and let me deal with it in my own way. I definitely could have done a better job, especially initially. But they had the confidence in me to not micromanage, and as a teenager, it was what I needed. I don't think micromanaging me would have had any better effect, honestly; the trust resonates much more strongly.

As I've grown up, I've had a lot of diabetes heroes. My friends have always been helpful and understanding, which means a lot to me. College in particular was an emotional road and people were always willing to listen. I'll never forget the day a friend of mine in freshman year went with me to CVS and, taking advantage of our new, "College Friends Forever!" friendship, got me to pick out a Medic Alert bracelet. Okay, I don't wear one today, but I kept the associated card in my wallet until it was stolen. (The wallet, that is. I doubt anyone wants to steal diabetes.)

In graduate school, my life changed a lot due to the efforts of two people in my concentration - there were only four of us, so we got pretty close. It was really the first time I had spent a lot of time with another T1. I know that's really bizarre, but it's true. I never went to support groups. I never went to D-camp, I just wasn't diagnosed at the right age. I had my cousin, but he's eight years younger than me. I knew a couple of friends from high school who were diagnosed with T2 when I was in college, but not while we were spending lots of time together. In a way, I liked that, because I didn't have reminders of my own condition. In another way, I liked that, because I was "special." There's only so much specialness you can deal with on your own, however. Meeting another Type 1 who was my age, was doing the same graduate work I was, and who even kind of looked like me - was spooky but awesome. It eventually helped me out of denial. She was definitely a "better" diabetic than I was, and for a while I thought I'd just keep accepting my role; I'd still be special because I was the "bad" diabetic. I was such a goody-two-shoes in everything else, but Diabetic Me was the rebel in all black, studded collar and tons of eye makeup, smoking behind the gym before class. But then I watched her journey going on the insulin pump, and that, plus a LOT of nagging (and I say that with love) from another friend made me seriously think about it.

The Diabetes Online Community is my diabetes hero, too. Being able to connect with so many voices made me realize that, in a way, we all think we're "bad" diabetics. That didn't have to be my specialty. It also made me realize that, when you fall off that diabetes horse, eventually you have to get back on if you don't want it to trample you. But the D-OC functions as thousands of helping hands to get you back on. I shocked my endocrinologist, a few months after finding the D-OC. I said, "I want a pump." I didn't have to ask her twice; she was so eager to hear those words that I was on one within a month. That started me on the road toward a decent system of self-monitoring, because the pump demanded it. Now, it's important for me to know how I'm doing. And I'm doing much better, thank you very much. On this journey, a small Diabetes Hero shout-out to the Animas rep who gave me a lifetime discount so that all my pump supplies would be covered by the monthly amount provided by the Ontario government. I know that's because having my business for life is better at a discount than not at all, but not having to pay out of pocket for one thing is great.

 Everybody who has touched my diabetic life is my diabetes hero. It's trite but it's true. Everybody with diabetes is my diabetes hero. If you asked someone to say or draw the first thing that comes to mind when you say "hero," it would probably be a fighter of some kind. A war hero; a soldier. A firefighter. And that's what we all are. We fight every day against odds that sometimes seem insurmountable; in a way, they are. The odds are literally insurmountable. We can't win. The best we can do is try, and see another day the best we can. Bravery is not the absence of fear; it's having the courage to fight in spite of that fear. The definition of hero seems to be a person who fights even when he or she knows he or she can't win, because it's right. That's what we do.

Because we're Big, Damn Heroes.

 So, as Diabetes Blog Week draws to a close, I'd like to thank all the Big, Damn Heroes in my life; family, friends, researchers, people I know from THE INTERNET, people I don't even know yet, but I'm going to. And, would it be too conceited to say that, in the future, I'd like my diabetes hero to be me?

Because I'd really like her to be.



  1. This is a really great post. You should be proud. I really enjoyed this topic and reading about your take on it!

    1. Thanks so much, Alison! This post meant a lot to me, so I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I loved your post. It is so inspiring to see how you've managed to live with this and be so, you know, normal. I'm currently in the process of being tested, and scared beyond belief, but you made me a little less scared, so thank you.

    1. Thank you; what a lovely comment! If you wind up having to deal with diabetes, it isn't much fun, but it's also not the end of the world. And if you want to talk about it, I'm here!