Fearless—A T1D Teen Travels the World
All my life I’ve moved around and experienced other countries and different people. (And yes, that means meeting new diabetes doctors everywhere I go!) I was diagnosed at age 7 through the TrialNet study, right before we moved to England from America. After we moved to England, we went to the local doctor and told him that my blood sugar was beginning to climb and he said, “Let’s just wait for her to get really sick and then we will start her on some medicine.”
WHAT?! Needless to say, we went to another doctor who started me on shots right away. When living in England, I wrote a poem for Nick Jonas’ Simple Wins Foundation about living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and got the chance to attend a Jonas Brothers’ concert in Manchester, England. It was AMAZING to meet all of them and I remember screaming as I ran down the hallway after handing them a bag of Christmas presents that I’m sure they threw away.
After that I figured that life with T1D must be pretty easy, what with getting to meet celebrities and whatnot. However, my 9-year-old self didn’t quite understand the tricky situations diabetes can cause. Nevertheless, I kept plugging along as I learned to go to camp and take care of all my shots, how to adjust to the insulin pump, and how to survive a health & science class in Germany, where my teacher told everyone how it was my “fault” that I had T1D and she could understand because she also had T1D. Oh wait, did she say TYPE 1 DIABETES? Well, she meant type 2.
Anyway, plenty of uninformed teachers and several treatments later, I found myself to be a world traveler and an explorer of four continents, dropping test strips and plastic reservoirs everywhere I went. For example, as I was exploring a Buddhist temple/snake farm in Thailand, I began to hear a loud beeping sound coming from my arm and my bag at the same time. One might be concerned at this, but not to worry, I am a diabetic robot. The screeching sound was nothing but my OmniPod Personal Diabetes Manager (PDM) failing right in the middle of Asia!
My dad and I desperately tried to get it working, since we had tons of Pods, but no spare PDM’s in our travel backpack that has saved my life several times. Finally, we called the control center back in California and chuckled (and cried just a little) as they told us not to fear as they would send us a spare one to our address in the U.S.A and it would arrive in a few days. I told them that would be fabulous, except for the fact that we were in a jungle in the middle of Thailand and our home was in Ankara, Turkey … The silence on the other end of the phone told me it was time to whip out the shots and give myself some Levemir to kick-off the day.
Needless to say, traveling with an uncooperative pancreas has led to many things: site changes in Bedouin camps in The Kingdom of Jordan, cure fundraiser walks with a 102° fever, and times spent trying to show people that type 2 is different from type 1 and yes, I CAN eat that. It requires that you bring candy and granola bars with you to the Czech Republic (and everywhere else) rather than juices because the airport security won’t allow it. It results in an endless number of lows in Greece or high blood sugars in Poland. It leads to the understanding that there are people everywhere, in every country that live with this disease and deal with its dramas every single day. Whether you are in Brazil or South Korea, Australia or Belgium, Namibia or Finland, T1D exists and I bet you that those dealing with it are also changing the world.
Getting to meet incredible people at the JDRF Children’s Congress in D.C. changed my perspective and inspired me to live gratefully and laugh a lot because what is life without humor? Well, me dropping an entire bottle of precious test strips on the train tracks at the London tube is pretty uncomical, but you get the point. So, if I were to give any advice to those with type 1 diabetes, it would be to travel. See the world! Do not let this struggle prevent you from visiting the Eiffel Tower (just make sure to bring a jacket and extra glucose tablets if you do) or standing inside the Colosseum. Don’t be afraid to try new foods; chances are you will figure out the carbs almost instantly. I am only 16 and I have had the privilege to see amazing things and yes, it can be hard to deal with everything that comes with T1D. But it’s a beautiful ride on this roller coaster, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. (P.S. Never forget your test kit in Jerusalem; you will spend the whole day walking to find it.)
Read more stories on Travel. Check out Samantha Willner’s A Tale of a Type 1 Diabetic in Turkey.