Making the Most of My Chronic Illness
“You have type 1 diabetes and there is no cure.”
At the time, I did not quite understand these words, but I had heard them before. Three years prior, my little sister Olivia had received the same news.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 8 years old. From that day forward, I realized my life would never be the same.
And I was right.
My life was different than before, there’s no doubt about that. But not necessarily in a bad way. Immediately, I decided to make the most of what I would have to deal with for likely, the rest of my life. After all, Olivia had always handled her diagnosis with confidence and taken everything in stride, so I decided to follow in her mature footsteps. During meal times, we would both get out our needles and give our shots of insulin. Getting a few pokes here and there isn’t so bad when you have a friend to do them with. Even now, my sister is my best and closest friend that I will ever have.
When it was time for me to go back to school after coming home from the hospital, my teacher at the time told me she was always there for me if I ever needed anything. She was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes, so when it was lunch time, we would test our blood sugars together. Since then, she has continued to support me as both a mentor and a friend.
Everything seemed to be alright after I was diagnosed. My parents helped me so that I never felt ‘weird’ or ‘different’. When I got an insulin pump a couple months later and I was nervous about the various medical sites on my body, we purchased fun patterned stickers to lay over them and soon enough, all the non-diabetic kids at school were jealous. I felt proud to be a person living with diabetes. It was like I instantly became a member of a brand-new club. In fact, before leaving high school, I started a club to welcome students to learning about diabetes.
By the time summer rolled around the following year, my parents told my sister and I to start thinking about what we wanted to pack for camp that summer.
And that’s when I came to the realization that now I could attend Camp Midicha and be a real camper! Camp Midicha is a YMCA camp that, with the help of the American Diabetes Association, was designed to allow kids with type 1 diabetes to attend summer camp. Even though I did not have diabetes, I got to be my sister’s ‘plus one’ the previous year and support her during the day at a non-diabetes portion of the same camp. We did endless fun activities from zip lining to snorkeling to water balloon fights. This is a pretty big deal in the eyes of an 8-year-old. I mean, come on, this is a big deal in the eyes of an 18-year-old. And now, I could come back every summer to the place I had such a fun time at with Olivia.
Fast forward to the present, I recently graduated from high school at the top of my class. I returned back to Camp Midicha again this summer—but this time as a counselor. I was able to volunteer my time and help young campers try new things. For the past two weeks, I have helped 8 and 9-year-old girls with type 1 accomplish all of the goals they had set for themselves. For many of them, it was their first time away from home and away from their parents. I was so proud as some of the girls gave themselves their own shots for the first time or completed a new infusion site by themselves for the first time. I have never felt so honored to be a person living with diabetes because otherwise my campers and I would have never even crossed paths. I would have never been able to meet such remarkable young people. I know that this next generation of kids will continue living positively and paying it forward is truly one of the best things we can do.
Turning the page
Now, as I begin the next chapter of my life, I will be attending Michigan State University and I have already signed up to be a member of the school’s College Diabetes Network chapter (now called The Diabetes Link). I’ll be able to meet other college students living with diabetes and create even more friendships. I’m determined to make a community that supports our need to improve care, advocate and share support, no matter where I end up.
Not every moment of living with diabetes has been a breeze. There have been nights where the fourth juice box in the middle of night just does not sit right. Or when you catch a cold and your blood sugars are sent soaring. But in the end, I wouldn’t change a thing about my diagnosis. I have been honored to meet some extraordinary people who I otherwise wouldn’t have had the privilege of meeting and I have been lucky enough to do some once-in-a-lifetime things. Not to mention, I have some pretty awesome-looking stickers I get to put on my infusion sites. So yeah, I would say it’s all worth it.
Reece is a 2019 scholarship recipient and member of Diabetes Scholars, a program of Beyond Type 1.