#1. Their ability to learn an entirely new vocabulary overnight and get really good at math, too. Along with the intricacies of this incurable, chronic illness, T1D moms need to become familiar with words like: insulin, blousing, CGM, A1C, and carb counting. Managing a life-threatening disease requires knowledge and round-the-clock dedication. My brother Will couldn’t be discharged from the hospital until mom mastered dosing insulin and giving him his shots. I remember her crying as she struggled with this. He was so young and how do you explain to a kindergartener why he needed several painful shots every day to stay healthy when no one else he knew had to do that. Mom said you never get used to giving shots to your child.
#2. Always being prepared for blood sugar emergencies. Since diabetes never goes on vacation,T1D moms go either even though their pancreas works just fine. My mother traveled with a pouch around her neck or a fanny pack everywhere we went. Like a traveling pharmacy, she always had my vials of insulin, snacks in case we got low, and our blood sugar kits. Because diabetes never goes on vacation, the people that care for those who have it never do either.
#3. Smiling through the inevitable (and hurtful) comments resulting from widespread ignorance about type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is not preventable but many people told my mother that the candy she fed us had caused our diabetes. There’s a perception in our society, that lifestyle choices lead to being diagnosed with diabetes. My mom always took the high road. She gracefully modeled how to handle the ignorance and taught me that the best way to deal with it is through action, not anger.
#4. The ability to function without ever sleeping through the night. Those 2 a.m. blood sugar checks ensure that you never get a full night of sleep when you have T1D kids to care for. Mom was the one who made sure our levels were good and didn’t drop dangerously low. Back in the 90's when I was diagnosed, the insulin available at the time only lasted for a few hours. This required waking up at a certain time and giving an insulin injection first thing in the morning. As a teenager who loved sleep this routine didn’t work very well for me. So, on Saturday mornings she would quietly enter my room, pull one of my fingers out from under the covers, prick it, test my blood, dose and administer the long-acting insulin before kissing me on the forehead and allowing me to continue sleeping.
#5. Never forgetting—and always being concerned—about their T1D kids' blood sugar even when their kids are grownups. Being tasked with the responsibility in those early years to keep track of our blood sugars, dosing our insulin and counting our carbs doesn’t suddenly stop because kids grow up and leave home. I’m 31 and my mom still pulls out hard candy from her purse if she thinks I’m getting shaky. On family outings, like last year when we all went to a Minnesota Vikings football game, mom stashed whole box of fruit snacks in her purse (Will’s go-to low snack). When he got low during the game, she whipped out those fruit snacks and all was well in the world. We may be adults now, but her care and concern for us didn’t disappear when we turned eighteen.
#6. Being able to see the silver lining or finding the positive in the negative. My mom helped me see the positive life lessons that came out of having diabetes including never giving up and that failure wasn’t permanent Without my mom, I would never have been chosen as the National Youth Advocate for the American Diabetes Association. At first I wasn’t selected and felt as being a spokesperson for diabetes just wasn’t in the cards for me. But when the application came around (in my final year of age eligibility) she encouraged me to apply again. After that year traveling with my mom as the National Youth Advocate, I knew that this was the work I was cut out to do until a cure is found. Without my mom, I wouldn’t have realized that, especially at such a young age. It was important to me because the memories of being bullied by kids at school about having T1 never go away. For me to work through those negative experiences, speaking to groups about these comments and what are the facts about diabetes, made me feel like I was helping other people with diabetes. My mother saw the joy and fulfillment that speaking and writing about my disease gave me, and was there to support me every step of the way.