Finding My Thumbs Up

WRITTEN BY: Anissa Gamble

I can vividly remember being pulled out of the pool during a grade 3 field trip to be rushed to the hospital and later being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Upon being released from the hospital on Christmas Eve, I went to a hockey game later that week and knew at a young age of 8 years old, everything was going to change. When I heard the word diabetes, I knew what it meant, I knew it meant my grandmother died due to diabetic complications before I was born, and it was a scary realization that I had the same disease.

I’m extremely lucky to have parents who let me learn to control my glucose levels by emphasizing the effect it entails on my performance on the ice.  I would communicate with my mother in the stands with a simple thumbs up, which meant I was playing well and my glucose levels were good or a thumbs down to indicate I was not playing to my potential and I needed to test my sugar. Throughout minor hockey, the thumbs up signal was a big anchor in my game and my glucose management, and it wasn’t until I left home at the age of 15 that I had to be more diligent with my diabetes.

When I attended boarding school half way across the country, my main focus was improving my hockey and academic skills, but I was at a disadvantage from my fellow classmates because attempting to control my glucose levels was certainly not an easy task. Let’s just say, I wasn’t always getting a thumbs up. I knew if I worked hard every day and continued to put one foot in front of the other I would achieve my goal of playing in the NCAA.

I accomplished my goal and played Division 1 hockey in the NCAA for Robert Morris University. Early morning practices, late night games, long road trips, while being a university student certainly presented itself as a new challenge for managing my diabetes. Only diabetics can relate waking up in the dead of night in a full body sweat, weak and attempting to drink or eat some form of glucose due to hypoglycemia. It’s extremely scary. On the flip side, waking up multiple times during the night and having to go to the bathroom and drinking a gallon of water due to a hyperglycemia is also scary. It’s a vicious cycle that may occur multiple times during a night, leaving you with a few hours of sleep and still waking up for 7 a.m. practice and having to perform to your best ability.

Even worse is being hyper-or-hypoglycemic during physical activity lends a whole new meaning of fighting through adversity. What angered me the most, was diabetes would sometimes defeat me, where I would have to miss part of practice due to my glucose levels and not having control over my body. I once passed out during conditioning because I forgot to set a temporary basal. Mentally, I always felt like I was letting down my teammates when I couldn’t control my blood sugars. My teammates would never understand that diabetes is 24/7 responsibility that can’t be simply controlled with insulin and juice boxes. It’s a disease that’s essentially killing you slowly physically and mentally.

This being said, I give the thumbs up whenever possible, because I know I’m privileged to be where I am today. This year was the first year I’ve stopped playing competitive hockey because I have a new goal of becoming an endocrinologist or dentist. I want to help others with diabetes realize we are united and extraordinary people. I want my future patients to know you can do anything you set your mind to. It may be more difficult than the person beside you, but I can help you realize you can do it with a thumbs up.

This year I paired up with Connected in Motion, which gives a breath of fresh air for diabetes education. In August, me and 13 incredible Type 1 diabetics are embarking the North Coast trail to promote awareness, funds and self-discovery. To me, it’s incredible to see programs like Connected in Motion or Beyond Type 1 who bring together the diabetic community and promote healthy lifestyles and positivity. At times, being a diabetic is scary, lonesome and strenuous, and it’s the diabetic community that gets you through those hard days both physically and mentally. So next time you give a thumbs up, remind yourself, you are alive, you are healthy and be grateful.

Follow our team as we take on the North Coast Trail this summer and learn how you can help.

Want to find others who understand Type 1? Join the Beyond Type 1 app!

Anissa Gamble

Anissa Gamble has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 8 years old. She grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, where she left home at the age of 15 to attend school in Ontario called Appleby College. After high school, she played Division 1 NCAA hockey at Robert Morris University situated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Today she's doing a master's degree in experimental surgery at the University of Alberta researching islet cell transplantation. Her goal is to take her knowledge and experience in the field of diabetes and help other diabetics fight this disease.