A few years ago I became friends with a girl when I worked in the theatre. She had Type 1 diabetes, and over the course of our first few weeks together, she told me a little about it. Specifically, she told me about her first symptoms that led to a friend of hers recommending she visit her doctor right away.
I’m glad I listened carefully to what she said. It never occurred to me that several years down the line, I’d be seeing exactly the same symptoms in my son.
The first signs that something was going awry with Alexander were the emotional ones. He’d fly off the handle at the slightest little thing. We couldn’t understand why. Was it something we were doing wrong as parents? Was there some kind of bullying happening at school? We spoke to his teachers, who were already seeing his tempers vary to extremes. My little boy was on the edge of being branded a ‘difficult child’ in school. Then we came to the summer break, and with it, still the temper tantrums, often followed often by exhaustion. Summer went on, and then over the course of the final few weeks, other symptoms started to appear – the raging thirst, and the need to drink what seemed like gallons of water, followed by endless visits to the loo. We went to a movie – he visited the loo immediately before, during, and right after the show. Major alarm bells started to ring, as I remembered my friend’s symptoms. I made notes. Over the course of three days, my son drank an average of three litres of water a day and visited the loo thirty-three times. Armed with this information, we visited the doctor the next day. His words were, “You know what it is already, don’t you, Mum?”
Yes, I did. My son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
His life - our lives – changed in that moment. I’d heard my friend’s story, but I didn’t really understand what diabetes was all about. Now I do! Put simply, as I’m not a medical person, it occurs when your body stops producing its own insulin, which is the hormone that regulates your energy levels. No-one fully knows what causes diabetes, but it certainly isn’t caused by ‘eating too much sugar,’ as I’ve heard people say. The body’s blood sugar levels have to be regularly checked, which might be where the confusion arises. In order to do this, my son (and others like him) pricks his finger with a machine containing a sterile lancet, and he applies a drop of blood to a test strip attached to a meter that translates the information into figures. We use those figures to determine if he’s within the optimal blood glucose range, and also to establish what insulin he needs to take. This is balanced and calculated along with the food he eats at every meal or every snack. By doing this, we hope to prevent major, harmful drops or gains in his energy levels – the ‘hypos’ and ‘hypers’ you might have heard about.
I’ve mentioned insulin a couple of times. Alexander injects himself with insulin four times a day. Yes, I said he injects himself! He began to do his own injections about nine moths after diagnosis. Up till then, I’d done it, or his father had. Giving your own child an injection is not easy; neither is watching them inject themselves. But if it didn’t happen...well. You can’t think about the consequences of that too much. You just get on and do it. I should add – insulin is not a cure for diabetes. At this time of writing, there is no cure for diabetes, and it can have far-reaching and potentially harmful consequences, including damage to the eyes, heart and kidneys.
You’d think that by maintaining a routine of testing, eating and exercising well, and keeping up the insulin injections, everything would be perfect. That’s not always the case. Sadly and frustratingly, diabetes isn’t always easy to control.
My son is a very bright boy. He loves theory and reasoning, and can understand most things that can be explained and proved. He knows how his body works, and he knows what he has to do to stay well. If he asks a question, we can usually find the answer somewhere. But there are two questions we can’t answer for him – why this has happened to him, and how things might change for him in the future. Right now, all the signs point to the fact that my son will not outgrow diabetes. It’s a life-long condition, and may involve all kinds of complications further down the line.
But this could change, and research is happening all the time to find a cure. Even in the few years Alexander has been diagnosed, things are moving along. I can’t take the diabetes away and have it instead of him, though like most parents in this position, I’d do that in a heartbeat. But what I can do is help the organisations working towards a cure.
That’s why I’m going to double and donate every penny I raise from the sale of my contemporary love story ‘A Different Kind of Honesty,’ to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. If you buy the book, not only will you get a jolly good read out of it -
I’m also lending my support to Brenda Novak’s wonderful on-line auction for diabetes research! I’ll be donating a book and a basket of organic aromatherapy products to that, and she has some stunning goodies to bid for! Please do take a look.
So that’s it. If you’d like to know more about me, please visit my website. I’m also running a contest to celebrate the release of my book; all the details are at the site. And if you want to drop me a line, please do. I’d love to hear from you.