Graduating with Type 1 Diabetes


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Senior (or 4th) year is coming to a close and as you try and push through finals and perhaps college or employment decisions, (or generally the chaos that is life), it seems like the only thing to think about is your cap and gown. Finally being able to walk across the stage and receive your diploma that you have worked so hard to receive.

As I prepare for the big day, I have spent countless hours searching for the perfect dress, shoes and scoured Pinterest for “Graduation Hair and Makeup” ideas.

And as always you have to think about diabetes. Just when you think you could almost forget about it, there it is, tugging at your sleeve.

At our school, we spend a whole day preparing for graduation. Nearly eight hours are dedicated to just rehearsing for the ceremony that night, so I had to have my supplies, snacks and glucose on hand at all times. Because of this, I had to carry around a purse around for the first half of the morning until I was able to determine which seat was mine in the student section, from there I just left my supplies there and was able to return as I saw fit.

Communicating with organizers

By the end of the rehearsal, I felt like I had already graduated nearly six different times, I was just patiently waiting for the diploma. During this time, however, I was able to talk to my school administrators and we worked it out so that I could leave my supplies at my chair before and during the ceremony, that way I didn’t have to worry about it as much while walking. I would highly encourage you to speak to your school administrators and have a game plan laid out BEFORE the night of, that way you have time to plan for it and know what to expect going into the event.

Avoiding lows

Now, I’ll admit I was a bit worried about having my supplies that far away from me on the off chance that my blood sugar would drop. To avoid any random lows, I wore my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and also made sure to check my blood sugar constantly throughout the day (I definitely checked no less than eight times, just to be sure). It may sound like overkill, but I wanted to make sure there was no way my diabetes could interfere. That night, I also wore a pair of running shorts under my dress that could stash a couple granola bars and a glucose tube if I were to go low backstage.

Pump placement

And on the topic of clothes … Where the heck do you put your pump?! Guys, I’d assume it’s a little easier for you to just slip your pump and CGM into your pants pocket, but girls, we know it isn’t that easy. Typically I clip my pump onto the middle of my bra or I’ll wear it on the inside of a pair of spandex underneath a dress. I have also recently discovered “pump friendly fashion,” such as Anna PS, which makes clothing and undergarments with special pockets specifically designed to hold an insulin pump. I wore one of their boy shorts for prom and my pump stayed in place all night! Or, if you want extra pockets, as I stated before, I will also wear a pair of running shorts with pockets to hold additional supplies.

Dealing with heat

The last thing I had to consider that day was the weather and hydration. I’ll admit, Seattle in June can be a real hit or miss. It’s either 50 degrees and raining, or 85 and swelteringly hot. My year, it was the latter. Something that you have to be extra careful about is how your diabetes reacts to the temperature and understand the importance of hydration. Typically in the heat, my blood sugar drops, but this isn’t the same for everyone! While dealing with warmer temperatures, be sure to check your blood sugar frequently and be aware of low symptoms; sometimes heat exhaustion can look the same as a low blood sugar, such as shakiness, sweatiness, lethargy, etc. In this case, it’s better to check and be safe, rather than sorry. And as always, WATER is your best friend! I am the worst about drinking water on a regular basis, but it’s so important on long, hot days. There’s nothing worse than having a headache or feeling sick on an important day!

As always, diabetes shouldn’t interfere with your night, you just have to take that extra time to plan for it. And with that, I hope that you have a memorable graduation and wish you luck on all your future endeavors. You GOT this!

Read about how heat affects type 1 diabetes.

WRITTEN BY Makaila Heifner, POSTED 05/09/17, UPDATED 10/10/22

Makaila Heifner is 17 years old and lives in a small town outside of Seattle, WA. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 16 months old. Her father also has type 1 diabetes (T1D) and now she has many close friends who also have diabetes. She enjoys playing the guitar and piano, singing, volunteer work, reading, going to museums, golf, snowboarding and hiking. She enjoys a good pun as much as a tasty bowl of soup.