November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and according to the American Diabetes Association, more than 200,000 American children are living with juvenile diabetes today. For me, this statistic hits especially close to home.
When my son was diagnosed with type-one diabetes, the whole family went through a period of adjustment. Suddenly there was a new dynamic in the house, a new level of caring, and a new level of worry. What parent wouldn't trade places with their afflicted child, carrying the burden themselves in exchange for a child's health?
As a pediatric specialist and mother, I understand how and why parents strive to do everything they can to help their children. I also appreciate how dealing with a sudden and serious illness can bring on feelings of powerlessness.
Many moms and dads dive into research and read everything they come across. There is no right way to handle news of this nature. The moment illness strikes, life becomes split into two sections: before and after. And it's normal to yearn to get back to before. Before was a time of blissful unawareness.
It's not possible to go back to before, of course. The power is in the after, which is the present and the future. Life does go on, and eventually your family's new normal feels just that way... normal. Here are my tips for facing and conquering this transition:
Finding A Supportive Community
For me, meeting other parents of children with diabetes was so beneficial. I learned helpful tips like the best snacks to pack for vacations and how to better help my son regulate his insulin. Although every diagnosis and journey is unique, the knowledge that no one is alone is a powerful force and integral to coping with serious illness.
Joining a support group made us both feel that we were not alone. Not only did we share tips and resources, we also became a group that could comfort one another, whether with laughter or tears.
Not Who I Am, Just One Part of Me
This new invader in our family became another thing in the background. Sure, my son's health will always be at the top of my priorities, but our lives didn't have to revolve around it. We could still be ourselves and live our lives. Diabetes became a part of my son's identity, but it didn't become his whole identity.
My daughter, too, has a new part to her identity. She's participated in several diabetes fundraisers, and she underwent a needle stick of her own for TrialNet, a type one diabetes clinical trial that is helping to determine risk factors in family members as well as studying prevention, delay, and reverse progression. (If you'd like to get involved, there may be a clinical center near you that is conducting the trial. Visit diabetestrialnet.org to learn more.)
Understanding medical information is crucial for children who are living with a disease like diabetes. Knowledge is power, and as girls and boys learn more about their illnesses, they become empowered to live with confidence and without worry.
As a doctor and a mother, I know that it can be hard to cope with your feelings as a parent of a child with diabetes. Don't be afraid to ask for help and to utilize your support systems. It will get better. It will get easier.
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