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Quinn's Tribute to T1D Moms: The Ever-Vigilant Guardians of Blood Sugar

quinn and her momMy mom and me eating lobster last summer. Mom taught me that my road would be harder. But harder isn't impossible, it's just harder. I was 13 years old and in the 7th grade when I received my first official athletic accolade. I had been looking forward to the end-of-season cross-country ski banquet for weeks. Though I’d never been much of an athlete, I placed higher than I’d ever placed in the past—setting a personal race best. Filled with anticipation, I arrived early and found a seat in the front with my friends and fellow teammates. My mother sat in the back of the cafeteria to cheer me on. She watched along with the rest of the parents as we went up to receive our awards. And she watched something else too…

Again and again she saw me drink from the water fountain to quench my thirst and use the restroom repeatedly. Her heart sank with dread because she recognized the symptoms she had hoped she’d never see in me. My younger brother, Will, had been diagnosed with type 1 a few years earlier but she thought I might be spared. Wasn’t one in the family enough?

Moms are always the first people to notice when something isn’t right with their kids. Since my mom was already keenly aware of the symptoms of hyperglycemia courtesy of Will, when we returned home from the banquet she insisted I check my blood sugar on Will’s glucose machine. I pitched a fit of course, but mom did not back down until I learned the unfortunate truth.

The 30 seconds counted down and the meter displayed, “HI”, indicating that my sugar was more than 600, the meter’s top reading. I immediately dissolved into a puddle of sadness and self-pity. I was a teenager after all, and nothing could convince me that my life from here on out wouldn't be terrible. As the older sister of a T1D, I knew I had an incurable, life-threatening, chronic illness and in that moment, it felt as though my life was over. I went into a state of mourning. I shut down and cut off everyone. I elected to be mad at the world. Why was I the one who had to have a broken-down pancreas?

During my pity party, I was snarky and moody and absolutely no fun to be around. My worst behavior was always directed at my mom but she understood. She patiently drove me and my bad attitude to school. She lovingly waited for me to get off the school bus and gently asked about my day. Through my locked bedroom door, she responded to my complaints and negativity with encouragement.

A Parent's Hardest Job

Just in time for summer, mom heard about a place called Camp Needlepoint and suggested I go. It did not go well. There was yelling and screaming and, yes, more whining: “This is not the life I wanted. You can’t make me go to a diabetes camp for a whole 7 days!” I angrily protested. With a calm and steady voice mom made it clear that this wasn’t a choice. Like it or not I’d be at that camp. For the duration of the 4-hour drive there, I sobbed and told her I’d never forgive her for me subjecting me to such misery.

When Mom returned a week later to pick me up, she was met by a different daughter. I told her she was right. Seeing other teenage girls get on with their lives (unlike me before going to camp)—in spite of the challenges—was transformative. I left camp realizing I could view my diabetes either as a hurdle to overcome, or not. It was my choice. 

That camp changed my life. To this day, I’m thankful that my mother didn’t give in to my teenage desperation. Mom knew exactly what I needed and when I needed it. She listened to my deepest fears about my diagnosis and reassured me that I wasn’t alone because she’d be right there holding my hand every step of the way. And she never, ever made me feel ashamed of my behavior or my disease. Instead she respectfully acknowledged my anger and taught me that the harder road isn’t impossible—it’s just harder.

Choosing Education Over Anger 

One day after middle school my mom noticed I was more depressed and angry than usual. A boy in my history class had learned I had type 1 and asked the teacher to have his seat moved. He believed I was contagious. The teacher agreed and moved me to the back corner. I was devastated and didn’t know what to do.

When I shared the story at home, mom didn’t pick up the phone to chastise the teacher or the boy and his parents. Nope. She wiped away my tears and thoughtfully instructed me how to respond—with compassion and purpose. "I feel badly for individuals like the boy in your class. He must not feel very good about himself to embarrass you in public like that. Self confident people don't need to tear others down to feel good about themselves," she said. "We know he's wrong but he's afraid because he really believes you're contagious. All you can do is tell your story and the truth about why you have type 1 diabetes when you’re ready.”

In that moment, mom taught me that responding to bad behavior with name calling or other bad behavior wouldn’t make me feel better but sharing my story and educating others about what life is really like with type 1 diabetes—including the myths and the facts—might make a difference. I couldn’t control what others said about me or to me but I could make sure they understood my condition.

From then on, sharing my personal perspective became my motivation. At first I didn’t think anyone would be interested in listening to me. I wasn’t a medical professional, health expert or celebrity after all. But I was wrong about that. My mom encouraged me to follow this path and work hard to educate others about diabetes. She thought I'd make an excellent diabetes ambassador and encouraged me to apply to be a National Youth Advocate for the American Diabetes Association.

Although I was devastated at not being selected the first time I applied, when the application came around—in my final year of age eligibility— my mom encouraged me to go for it again. This time I was picked! Spending time with my mom as my travel companion during my year of service was a wonderful experience. It helped me find my calling and know that this type of work is something I'll pursue until a cure is found. I have my mom to thank for pointing me in this direction.

Living Life Selflessly

t1d moms never stop worrying about blood sugarEven though I'm 31 my mom is still prepared for my lows. She never fails to produce hard candy when she thinks I'm looking shaky. Looking back after all these years, I have gained some perspective and realize now that even though my mom was mourning my diagnosis, she accepted her reality and didn’t waste any time. She knew that to keep my brother and me alive, she had to be the person committed to the daily management without falling to pieces. 

My mother wrote about her feelings after my diagnosis in an excerpt in my book. “The good news was, we knew how to live with diabetes. The bad news was, we knew how to live with diabetes. I cried out to God, convinced that I had flunked His first test, requiring a retake at Quinn’s expense.”

Like other T1D moms, she chose to live a life of selflessness. She never missed the chance to empower us to make the best decisions for our health, and refused to allow diabetes to limit our choices. And she found ways to celebrate the diagnosis with us, too.

This may sound strange, but every year my mom celebrates my Dia-versary. On the date of my diagnosis, we eat dinner out and celebrate like it’s my birthday. Mom couldn’t take the disease away from us, so instead decided to acknowledge the determination it takes to walk through the challenges of diabetes every single day.

At my parent’s house, you’ll find a family calendar marked with my D-Day and Will’s, too. Those important dates are right there alongside everyone else’s birthdays and wedding anniversaries. My family never viewed the diagnosis date as a painful reminder of all the time we’ve lived with diabetes. My mother wanted us to view it in a positive way instead. Our D-Days remind us how far we’ve come and the valuable life lessons we’ve learned along the way.

I’m forever indebted to my mom for her wisdom and positive influence on my life. The job she was given was tough, expensive, unrelenting, and filled with blood, needles, doctor's appointments and tears from a young daughter uncertain of her future. By her actions, she showed me that persistence, compassion, faith, humor, and love would carry me through any challenge I would encounter.

Thank you Mom and thank you to all the T1D moms out there. Happy Mother's Day!

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