A Type 1 diabetes diagnosis does not just affect the person living with it. As part of Diabetes Action Month, Jo Walshe shares a parent’s perspective.
My daughter, 14-year-old St Kevin’s College pupil Bridie McGeown, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just 2 1/2 years old.
As a parent, having the experience of being told that your child has a lifelong condition like diabetes is a shock.
For the first few days, you feel as if you have lost total control over your life.
There is the constant swing from feelings of ‘‘I’ve got this’’, to total and utter despair at how you will ever manage to live with the condition.
As parents, we want our children to be healthy and flourish and a diagnosis of a disease like Type 1 diabetes can bring out some strange feelings.
Some family members become concerned they are somehow responsible for it on a genetic level, others feel they want to cure it — and the internet doesn’t help with this. Some struggle to talk about it and others want to support but don’t really know how.
There are myriad responses to news like this that those living with diabetes have to struggle through in the first instance.
There are a number of families in our North Otago community dealing with the challenges of diabetes at any time, but the situation is far from hopeless.
Over the 12 years we have been on the journey, we have found that the challenge it has provided us has been something that has actually been positive in many ways.
I asked Bridie a year or two ago if she would like not to have it. Her reply was that even though it was a hassle and at times she struggled with it, in a way it is so much a part of who she is she could not imagine ever not having it.
I believe it has made her a stronger and more resilient person.
We are also incredibly lucky to be living in a small town like Oamaru where we all know each other. This has made supporting Bridie so much easier.
From having the staff at Oamaru Pharmacy to communicate with about the numerous deliveries of supplies we get, to being able to ring the doctor in an emergency for extra insulin — the ability to know your local community and for them to know you is incredibly helpful.
Bridie enjoys sport, and being able to play sport such as netball, volleyball and basketball helps to keep her physically healthy. This year, Bridie played for the Valley Rata netball team and was fortunate enough to have role models like Rebecca Ryan at trainings with her.
We have also had an exercise and eating plan created for her by Mel Smith from Melissa Smith Total Wellbeing who also has Type 1 diabetes and is not only a role model in terms of health and fitness, but is also someone we admire for her sporting success.
For young people in our community, especially those dealing with the relentlessness of diabetes, the willingness of these people with a public profile to talk about it is so helpful.
There are many exciting changes occurring around the development of technology when it comes to controlling diabetes. Bridie currently uses the Dexcom G6 continuous monitoring system and that is working well to keep her levels under control, even if her friends do kid her that she sounds like a truck backing up when her alarm goes off.
There are equity of access issues around this technology as it is expensive and there is much more work to do in this space in terms of lobbying for more universal funding for this. I would encourage anyone interested to look at this issue.
A couple of years ago, a young woman I know lost her husband to diabetes. The pain and the heartache this caused was incalculable.
Bridie and I spoke about it openly and it was a confronting reminder for all of us of the seriousness of the condition.
At his funeral, his family told their stories of how much he had lived his life to the full. How he had loved his family, and squeezed every single moment of living for all he could get out of it.
For those of us living in the shadow of a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, that is the lesson.
Life is to be lived to the full.
We can easily slip into the morass of thinking about what we can’t do, but the challenge is to find a way to do what we can and to continually push the bounds of what others think is possible.
My final plea on behalf of my own daughter and all of the other wonderful young people living with this condition in Oamaru is to the community to give them a shot.
Don’t hesitate to pick them for sports teams, employ them or cast them in your productions.
These awesome young people are not only courageous, diligent, and smart, they have learned the value of every day cannot be taken lightly.