Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic, life-threatening disease that can strike anyone at any age and at any time. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. T1D can be passed on genetically, but can also affect those without a hereditary link. Although most people are diagnosed as children, it is not just a child's disease, and in fact, 20 per cent of people with T1D are diagnosed as adults.
Each day, 50 people across the country are diagnosed with T1D. More than 300,000 Canadians currently suffer from the disease.
Below are accounts from three individuals who are challenged on a daily basis by a disease that preoccupies their thoughts 24/7.
Kenadie, 11, from Toronto, ON
When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea what was happening. I was at the theatre with my mom and had to go to the bathroom many times, which was not normal. My mom has T1D and after using her blood glucose tester, it showed that I likely had the disease. After visiting my doctor, it was confirmed.
I was scared at the beginning, but I felt better after I was taught how to manage my diabetes. Every day, I check my blood sugar level seven or more times, and my mom checks three times during the night. Afterwards, I have to either eat specific foods or give myself an insulin injection. I used to have around nine needles per day, but now I have an insulin pump which is easier and less painful.
When I'm at school playing at recess, I sometimes have to go inside because my blood sugar levels are too high or too low, or someone needs to change my pump site (where the catheter enters the body). I often have to miss recess to do this. During class, if my levels are not right, I have to go to my emergency drawer that has tools, snacks and juice to help manage my sugars. I have to walk up and interrupt the class. I hate doing this, but I have no choice.
T1D is hard to live with, but I would tell people with it to never give up. Never say that you can't do things others can. That will not get you anywhere. Be brave. You have a difficult disease, but you can get through it if you take care of yourself each day.
Aryssah, 26, from Calgary, AB
I was diagnosed with T1D when I was 19 years old. This was at the end of my first year of university. While most people are diagnosed as children, I was already an adult. I had a set lifestyle, and things changed overnight.
You need to start as early as you can after diagnosis to avoid other complications.
I now had to keep an eye on what I was eating, think of my blood sugar levels prior to playing soccer and other activities, and be careful when going out for food with friends.
I am now in my mid-20s and my disease is managed as best it can be. Given that I was diagnosed at such a late age, I am still running into new and challenging situations. For instance, I was seasick last year and I became so dehydrated that I fell into a diabetic emergency. It was scary because I had no idea such a health problem could happen (and so quickly) and I feel that for many adults diagnosed with T1D, there is still a learning curve.
For those with T1D diagnosed at a young age, it is not until you become an adult that you understand the repercussions of not taking care of yourself. You need to start as early as you can after diagnosis to prolong your time and avoid other disease-related complications. Take care of your health and make this a priority both for you and those you love.
George, 56, from Kitchener, ON
I was diagnosed with T1D when I was six years old and this year marks my 50th anniversary with the disease. While the past half century has not been easy, I have learned to manage my condition effectively and have always viewed this as me having the opportunity to be healthier than most people.
I was told that I would not likely live to be 60 years old. My reaction was that I want to beat that statistic.
Although T1D is easier to cope with as an adult, it can still disrupt my day. At work, you can run into problems if you have a meeting which runs late and you have not eaten. You get distracted because you're concerned that your blood sugar might be spiking or dipping. You are mentally unable to be at your best and may be preoccupied while important decisions are being made with your colleagues.
Eating socially is also a challenge. When attending an event and being served a meal you didn't prepare, you have to figure out the carbs and sugars in the food. I often go to restaurants and have to coordinate my insulin injection around when I think the meal will be served. If there is a delay with the meal, which often happens, your body can get confused and a major event can occur. You have to be prepared.
In my experience, the only way for a person to live healthy and happy with T1D is to own the disease. Be responsible and be vigilant. When I was in my early teens, I was told that I would not likely live to be 60 years old. My reaction was that I want to beat that statistic, and by the way I have managed my disease over the past 50 years, I know I will.
You're not alone
For those impacted by T1D, don't suffer in silence. Visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Canada's website www.jdrf.ca for up-to-date information and resources.
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