I will never forget the look on the face of the nurse who had poked my finger to test my blood sugar when the result popped up on the contraption I would become very acquainted with from that day forward. With wide eyes, she handed the meter to the doctor and put her hands over her mouth. The doctor at that point, rather flustered as he had just frozen a wart off of my little toe, said I believe you have diabetes. It was off to the emergency room from there, followed by multiple failed attempts to place an IV, an admission to the hospital, many tears and an overwhelming fear that I would not be able to bear children due to the movie Steel Magnolias. I was 15 years old and this occurred sometime in May of 1991. In the two months before what I now refer to as my, ‘Happy A1c’ month, I had dropped almost 20 pounds, could not quench my thirst or stop having to use the restroom and was exhausted. My inpatient hospitalization was at a primarily adult acute hospital. That being said I was visited by an endocrinologist then a dietician and my bedside nurse is who taught me how to administer insulin. I was scheduled upon discharge to see an outpatient CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator). In retrospect it is a sharp contrast to the educational approach at Phoenix Children’s Hospital for individuals newly diagnosed with diabetes.
Once home from the hospital I felt lost and very isolated. The tough “front” I displayed while hospitalized had turned into fear of the unknown. I knew only one other person with Type 1 diabetes in high school. My grandmother had Type 2 diabetes but that was a very different world than what I was attempting to navigate in. Then I had the good fortune of meeting Terry. She was the first CDE I met with to learn how to live well with diabetes. Terry had Type 1 diabetes as well and I instantly felt a connection to her. She had shared her story of her diagnosis as well as her experiences living with T1D and at that moment I knew I was not alone. Thanks to her real life wisdom, I realized I would not let diabetes manage me, I was going to manage it. It was Terry who inspired me to pursue a nursing career with a focus on diabetes. I received my bachelor of science in nursing from Arizona State University in 2001, and I obtained my CDE two years later while working at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Over the course of my career I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people ironically due to the misfortune of a diabetes diagnosis. Many have touched my heart but there was something very special about Alexi.
I recall walking into Alexi’s hospital room and instantly, I was struck by how similar our stories were. We were both 15 years old when faced with the devastating knowledge that life moving forward would be forever changed, life with Type 1 diabetes. Both of us were also determined to manage diabetes and not let it manage us. As the diabetes educator, I was hopeful to not only educate Alexi and her family on the technical aspects of successfully managing diabetes but more importantly impart that diabetes would not stand in the way of living life.
We were now bonded in a sisterhood of sorts, we were “betic soulmates.” I shared the story of my diagnosis with Alexi and showed her my pancreas on the outside, my pump, which afforded me the opportunity to enjoy a blueberry muffin for breakfast that morning (admittedly not the healthiest of choices but “real life” nonetheless). I strived for Alexi and her family to see that despite the fact that diabetes royally sucks, it would not stand in the way of living a fabulous life. In fact, it may even result in an aspiring and rewarding career.
Living with Type 1 has not been a cake walk and I have made many mistakes along the way. It is the hard lessons learned from these experiences that I find most valuable in my role as an educator. While an approach far from textbook, I realized that the sharing of such eased Alexi’s mind and offered a sense of empowerment to take the reigns of her diabetes.
As the years went on Alexi and I continued to share our experiences on the journey with Type 1. I squashed the Steel Magnolias fear by having two healthy children and proved that life goes on despite too much champagne on New Year’s Eve and blood sugars that are not always in target.
Having the opportunity to witness the successful, wonderful young woman Alexi has become is humbling and inspiring. I am thankful to have been able to pass on what Terry had instilled in me to Alexi. The diabetes journey has been less than fabulous at times but having people like Alexi in my life makes it worthwhile. Alexi often asks herself what I would do in certain situations and quite honestly I wonder what Alexi would do.
Read Alexi’s story, What would Chanda do?