My kids are grownups. They are ages 29, 26, and 21. And, as many know—the two youngest have type 1 diabetes. They've had diabetes for a combined total of over 30 years. Sucks, yeah I know. And, surely my kids would agree. Thirty years is a long time to have a disease that never takes a vacation.
As they grew up and left the nest one by one, you might be surprised to know that I think about their diabetes today just as much as I did when they were living at home. But then something marvelous happened.
I became a grandfather.
I know what you're thinking: "Tom's too young to be a grandpa". I agree, I think I’m too young as well, but here I am. The baby is beautiful and healthy. We are happy and grateful for that. But my anxiety is off the charts. I simply cannot stop thinking about this child's future.
What if my first grandbaby has diabetes, too?
Though the genesis of type 1 diabetes isn't clear, we do know the chances of being diagnosed with the condition seem to be greater if/when a close relative has diabetes. The worrying started when our middle child and only daughter, Kaitlyn, was diagnosed. There was much discussion about having another child and what that would mean for the child and for us. Afterall Kaitlyn was only two when we received the devastating news. Would her older brother get it now as well? And, if we did have another child, what would the odds be for the unborn sibling?
As it turned out, the odds did not work out in our favor. Our youngest son, Rob, was diagnosed when he was 13. Looking back, if I knew he would be diagnosed, would we have opted not to have him? Not in a million years.
As much as I would not wish this disease on anyone, our family is a living example of the benefits of education. We have made it our life's mission to educate ourselves and our children about the importance of good blood glucose management and all other aspects of the disease.
Both of our kids with diabetes have way too much to live for but because they are empowered with education, their dreams have never been compromised by their diagnosis. Sadly, many families living with diabetes are not well educated. You see, being educated is not about being involved in an organization; it’s about taking in every piece of information you can get your hands on. Education is what it’s all about because if your kids do not care enough about managing their diabetes when they're young, no cure worth a grain of salt matters unless they are ready to receive it. Education makes that possible. All children need their health and education about their health gives them the best chance of being healthy.
But what about my grandchild? Lets call the baby ‘C’ for now. Will ‘C’ have every chance if a diabetes diagnosis is in the future? ‘C’ is not my child; ‘C’ is my son's child. It's up to him and the child's mother to make sure that every ounce of education is sought out so that if (God forbid) their child winds up with a broken pancreas, the child will have a fighting chance against type 1.
When my son recently sent pictures of ‘C’ (stay tuned for them in a future post), I just kept wondering if the diabetes lineage would stop with Rob and Kaitlyn. Or, will it be our family's legacy? According to the Joslin DIabetes Center if an immediate relative (parent, brother, sister, son or daughter) has type 1, your risk of developing it is 10 to 20 times greater than the risk of the general population.
What if it is passed on to our new grandchild? Should I stop thinking about college saving accounts, baby booties and first steps? (That is what any new grandfather would be doing, right?) Should I try and absorb all of that joy in spite of my fears?
I will try my hardest to be optimistic, I will. But in the back of my mind I can't help myself from wondering if diabetes will rear its ugly head again? I know the reality of the disease. Diabetes just doesn't care.
I hate that I have these thoughts. It’s just not fair…is it? All I want is just to enjoy the experience of grandfatherhood. I’m already a diabetesdad.