To The Parents of Children With Type 1


Whatever your worst fears are for your child with type 1 diabetes, I guarantee my parents had (and have) them, too; the only difference is that I lived out each and every one of them. I was an awful child in general (moody, tantrum-prone, stubborn) which made me an even worse child with diabetes.

I rejected any and every activity my parents suggested related to my disease; camps and fundraisers, seminars and play dates. I would lie about blood sugar readings and refuse to give insulin. I yelled at doctors and shunned my parents from annual appointments. If they dared to mention my diabetes in public, I would pout and brood for days.

Unfortunately, this rejection of my diabetes stayed with me through my teens and college years. As a result, I spent the early part of my 20s battling severe diabetic eye complications. It was a terrible period in my life, and an even worse time for my poor parents who were powerless in the wake of my defiance. Perhaps that’s why we were all equal parts shocked and amused when, at the age of 23, I was offered a job at JDRF.

Twenty three was a turning point for me both professionally and personally; I’d ignored my diabetes for the better part of a decade and was certainly reaping the consequences. Yet the year prior, I’d made a quiet but stern decision to do better. I’d been working hard to relearn how to live healthily with diabetes and trying desperately to heal the damaged parts of myself still capable of healing. I reasoned that part of that healing process meant I had no choice but to accept that job offer.

During my first week at JDRF, I came across some historical donation data and, for fun, decided to look up my mother’s name. What I saw not only shocked me, but instantly brought tears to my eyes.

Listed neatly in chronological order were dozens of small $10 and $20 donations to JDRF made in my name spanning from 1991—the year I was diagnosed—to the year I was hired. There were years where many donations were made and others with only one or two, but there was never a year where some form of support wasn’t given.

I immediately called my mom and tearfully asked why she’d never told me about all of these modest, but numerous donations.

“Every time I was scared or worried for you I would make a donation in whatever amount I could spare—it made me feel like I was making a difference.”

“I knew that knowledge wouldn’t mean anything to you when you were so wrapped up in your suffering. But I also knew that, when the day came when you finally decided to take ownership of your disease, I’d have played a small role in getting you closer to a cure,” she said.

Page after page after page. I flipped through the records of these donations and pure, earth-shattering, time-stopping, overpowering love for my mother erupted in my heart. Of course, I’d always known that my mom cared for me, and I’d always known that she worried, too. But I’d never considered all the tiny and enormous sacrifices the people who loved me had made over the years to ensure my future was happy and healthy. I especially didn’t consider it during the times when I didn’t care about my own health or happiness.

So to the other moms and dads of type 1 children out there: I certainly hope it doesn’t take your child two decades, like me, to see how amazing and strong and courageous you are. But for the record, there will absolutely come a time in their lives when they will understand and appreciate all the little things you’re doing now to ensure their futures are healthy, happy and beautiful, and I promise that moment is going to make all the stress and worry and sacrifices completely worth it.

PS Also for the record, my eyes are doing just fine now, which is good, because they look just like my mom’s.

For more by Samantha Willner read Seeing Clearly or a funny piece A Tale of a Type 1 Diabetic in Turkey.

WRITTEN BY Samantha Willner, POSTED 09/11/15, UPDATED 09/20/22

Samantha Willner was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1991 when she was just one year old. Since then, she has played an active role both personally and professionally in the diabetes community, previously working for JDRF International as a donor relations director and chairing the JDRF mentor program in NYC. Samantha also holds a B.S. in Communication from Cornell University and recently earned her MPH from Yale, where she conducted original research on barriers to insulin access affecting U.S. adults with type 1 diabetes. Currently based out of Philadelphia with her T1D husband and fellow GAC member, Ryan Campbell, Samantha is passionate about being a role model and inspiration for type 1 children and teens. For more insight into her life with T1D, you can follow her on Instagram @samanthawillner.