Dear Little Purple Pancreas


Editor’s Note: Julie was a member of Beyond Type Run‘s 2017 TCS New York City Marathon Team sponsored by Medtronic Diabetes. Learn more about the 2019 Beyond Type Run team here.

Dear Little Purple Pancreas,

You came into my life when I wanted nothing to do with you. I was halfway through my grad school experience and was drowning in diabetes burnout. A year earlier I had made the decision to return to the “simplicity” of injections, of the disconnected type 1 diabetes (T1D) life. No part of me wanted to reattach to a device, but I was convinced by my doctors and my financial situation to take advantage of the year-end opportunity to upgrade. I found myself in my educator’s office for pump training for you, my Minimed 530G. I dreaded the moment of connecting to you.

I worried about how to hide you—I didn’t think a pump, infusion set and sensor would help me feel like I was normal, or help others see me that way. I hated your alarms. You were so needy—always reminding me that I was high, that I was low, that I was ignoring my diabetes because it was time to calibrate, that your battery was running out, that your insulin reservoir was low … it went on and on. I resented you.

My doctors told me that you would help me gain control, but I only felt more isolated and incapable of reaching the control I wanted.  Then, out of pure necessity, I connected with the T1D online community through a variety of networks, and I started to see that you weren’t my enemy —you were on my team. You required care and attention to function, but your sole purpose was to keep me healthy. You also could enable me to get back to the outdoor adventures that I loved, if I decided to work with you.

So, I did. I still got frustrated with you, but I also learned to value your reminders. I used your temporary basal feature to climb mountains at home in Montana. I used your sensor features to get back into skiing and hiking and biking, and I found joy in these endeavors.

You gave me the independence I needed to move to a new state. You helped me manage the unpredictable schedule of my new job as a residence hall director.  You gave me back my ambition—to go farther, to climb higher—because you helped break down the limits I had imposed on myself.

You were there with me when I completed my first (and second) 52-mile Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike in the Grand Canyon. Because of your sensor data, I was able to complete the entire hike—all 11,000 feet of vertical gain and loss—without a single low blood sugar reaction.

You were there when I skied and hiked my way to the top of Mt. Humphreys, the tallest point in Arizona. I kept you warm under my layers of clothes as I started up the mountain in the pre-dawn darkness, and you vibrated to alert me of my rising and falling blood sugars.

You were there when I solo trekked the Laugavegur trail in the highlands of Iceland. Traveling to a distant country by myself to complete a self-sufficient week-long hike was only possible because I felt assured that you would help keep me going. When I reached Skogafoss after fording waist-deep glacial rivers in my underwear, camping with new friends each night from around the world, and midnight-hiking over Fimmvorduhals pass, I knew that I could not have completed the trek without you.

You were also there paying attention to my diabetes at times when I could not —particularly when I was asleep. Your alarms woke me up the night that I was so low, I stumbled headfirst into my dresser and split my forehead open trying to find sugar to eat. After some glucose tablets, a few stitches at Urgent Care and a couple of hours, I was back at it.

Other nights, you suspended my insulin when I didn’t wake up to any of your low blood sugar alarms, saving my life when I was unable to. I do not know if I would be alive today without you.

You gave me the confidence to say “Yes” to something I didn’t know if I could accomplish—running the TCS NYC Marathon with Beyond Type 1.  You were there every step of the way through training for this marathon.

I’m now back in my new diabetes educator’s office, disconnecting from you for the last time. I no longer have any resentment—only gratitude.  You helped me defeat the worst diabetes burnout I’ve ever had, and now I am transitioning with bittersweet joy to the Minimed 670G.

Purple pancreas, although you will not be attached to me when I cross the finish line at the marathon, I owe that success to you.  My new pump is not purple and it is unfamiliar to me so far, but the confidence you gave me makes me excited for the future on this new pump, with even more features and fail-safes to keep me thriving in all of my upcoming adventures.

Little purple pancreas, I am a different, stronger, more-driven diabadass because of you—thank you, you will be missed.

To learn more about the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon Beyond Type Run team here.

WRITTEN BY Julie Robertson, POSTED 10/10/17, UPDATED 10/17/22

Julie has been adventuring with type 1 diabetes since 2005, and can’t decide whether she likes her touring bicycle, hiking boots, or backcountry skis the most.  She grew up in the mountains of Montana and has since lived in four states, climbing peaks in Glacier National Park, exploring the coastal trails of Oregon, earning her master’s degree in Utah, and training for a marathon in Flagstaff, AZ.  She will be running the TCS NYC Marathon with Beyond Type 1 on November 5th, 2017.