Julia’s Story: Not What Dreams Are Made Of


I remember being a happy nine-year-old girl. I enjoyed playing with my friends at recess, kicking around the soccer ball with my local rec league and watching Lizzie McGuire on Disney Channel—dreaming of having the same wardrobe and cartoon narrator describing my innermost thoughts. 

Something changed within me

Julia Flaherty Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis Story
Julia Flaherty, age 11, Christmas 2005

Months before my tenth birthday, a shift in my personality sparked some concerns among those closest to me. At my elementary school, I was part of a junior achievement program that allowed me to be a mentee to my school guidance counselor for a select period every week. I did this with another student, Abby, who was one of the first to notice a personality change in me. 

At the time, I thought Abby was tattling because I had a poor attitude—I was easily angered and overly emotional. I wasn’t singing freely as much as I used to. I was nine–it definitely wasn’t puberty. So what was going on?

My guidance counselor reached out to my parents after Abby approached her. My mom and dad were worried. I was embarrassed and upset. 

Noticing the signs

At home, I was drinking a considerable amount of water, craving snacks at irregular times and losing weight. My parents recognized something was off. I should’ve been ecstatic—I had recently celebrated my tenth birthday, followed by Christmas and then rung in a new year with my family. It was 2004. Less than a month after I turned 10, my mom decided to take me to the doctor, where my life changed forever.

My parents told me later that my mom was asked if I was safe at home. Because I was going to the bathroom so much, doctors first questioned if I was being abused. Thankfully, this was not the case. 

After being reassured that my home life wasn’t compromised, they questioned whether I had type 1 diabetes. I didn’t know what the doctor was thinking or doing then, but I recall their next step was administering a blood glucose test

I didn’t like the idea of having my finger pricked. Still, I did it willingly because I felt miserable and wanted to be myself again—a 10-year-old happily pretending to draw Mickey Mouse ears in the air and remind viewers to watch the best Disney Channel shows. 

After pricking my finger, the doctor left the room. We sat looking blankly at the fluorescent white walls for what felt like hours when she returned, approaching us calmly. She began to explain that I had type 1 diabetes, gave us directions to the hospital and told us how I would have to live thereon. 

Her words felt a bit like a blur. After hearing the word hospital, I tuned out. I was scared I was going to die.

The beginning of my T1D journey

There are few moments I remember from my childhood as vividly as my type 1 diabetes diagnosis story.

I remember my dad driving to the doctor’s office with my younger sister, Sarah, to pick my mom and me up. We all went to the hospital together. Sarah was crying in the backseat. She, too, wondered, “Is Julia going to die?” I felt numb waiting for the answer. My mom turned to her and assured us I wouldn’t.

My blood sugar reading was slightly above 500 mg/dL. (For reference, a healthy fasting blood sugar reading of a person without diabetes falls between 70 to 99 mg/dL.) Luckily, I was not in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which could’ve been life-threatening. At the hospital, I was hooked up to an IV and began to learn all about my condition over the course of a five-day stay. I learned how to administer insulin on an orange, count carbohydrates, test my blood sugar, etc. 

Early diagnosis saved my life

Julia Flaherty Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis Story
Julia Flaherty (right), age 11, with her 5th-grade teacher (left)

Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 10 was a lot to take in, but I am so grateful I was diagnosed in a timely manner. I was diagnosed early enough that I didn’t suffer severe complications like DKA. The people around me, who recognized that something was off, saved my life. 

Abby, my school guidance counselor and my parents were pivotal in getting me to the doctor. Once I was diagnosed, it was easier to look back and identify the signs. My family and I didn’t know they were signs leading up to my diagnosis, just that something was wrong. I share my story now so everyone can see the signs early and get the help they need. 

No one’s life should be over because of type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to dictate your life outcomes, and when good people support you, I assure you—you will sing again too. I did—loudly at my fifth-grade talent show to none other than Lizzie McGuire’s “What Dreams Are Made Of.” 

Type 1 diabetes is certainly not a dream, but knowing the signs and acting on them means it doesn’t have to be a nightmare, either. 

WRITTEN BY Julia Flaherty, POSTED 03/15/23, UPDATED 03/15/23

Julia Flaherty is a published children’s book author, writer, editor, award-winning digital marketer, content creator, and diabetes advocate. Find Julia’s first book, “Rosie Becomes a Warrior.” Julia finds therapy in building connections within the diabetes community. Being able to contribute to its progress brings her joy. She loves connecting with the diabetes communities, being creative, and storytelling. You will find Julia hiking, traveling, working on her next book, or diving into a new art project in her free time. Connect with Julia on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.