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.
Also on HuffPost:
Over the years, there's been a lot of debate related to diet and longevity. But most experts agree that a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-williams-phd/best-diets_b_2268460.html" target="_blank">diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates is best</a>. And some studies show that eating a traditional <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN84_S2%2FS0007114500002701a.pdf&code=a4a2995aa69a094808c095f29250a990" target="_blank">Mediterranean diet</a> can add years to your life.
Just like high blood pressure, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-lower-cholesterol-risk" target="_blank">high cholesterol can also increase your risk of heart disease</a> and stroke. Therefore it's a good idea to have your cholesterol checked to see whether you need to undergo certain lifestyle changes or even possibly take some kind of cholesterol-lowering medication. For more information about cholesterol and saturated fats, go <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats-full-story/" target="_blank">here.</a> Eating certain foods, such as beans, which are rich in fiber and antioxidants, can help lower cholesterol.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/whitney-houston-prescription-drugs_b_1280439.html" target="_hplink">Even drinking wine with dinner and then taking prescription sleep aides can be a lethal combination</a>. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found 5.8 percent of people age 50 to 59 used illicit drugs in 2010, up from 2.7 percent in 2002.
The number of Americans with <a href="http://www.diabetes.org/" target="_hplink">Type 2 diabetes</a> is expected to rise from 30 million today to 46 million by 2030, when one of every four boomers -- 14 million -- will be living with this chronic disease, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. <br /> <br />Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and clogged arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes. The test to determine whether you are diabetic is a simple blood test; you should remind your doctor to include it in your annual physical.
More than one out of every three boomers -- more than 21 million -- will be considered obese by 2030. Already, we are the demographic with the highest and fastest-growing rate of obesity. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we burn fewer calories -- if we don't alter our eating and exercise patterns, weight gain is inevitable. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/the-dieting-10-percent-club-losing-weight-after-50_b_1440729.html" target="_hplink">Losing just 10 percent of your body weight</a> has health benefits, so consider that as a goal.
No chest pain doesn't mean no heart attack. <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/her-guide-to-a-heart-attack" target="_hplink">Women having heart attacks</a> frequently report experiencing a feeling of indigestion and extreme fatigue, while some men say they feel a fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest, which may spread to the neck, shoulder or jaw. When a diabetic has a heart attack, the pain is often displaced to other areas such as the lower back.
Try as you might, you just can't stay asleep, right? You pass out before "60 Minutes" is over, but then wake up around midnight and count sheep until the alarm goes off. If that sounds like you, you aren't alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5842a2.htm" target="_hplink">boomers report not getting enough sleep between one and 13 nights each month</a>. Is it life-threatening? In itself, no. But as soon as you slip behind the wheel bleary-eyed, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Your reflexes are slower, you pay less attention and you could become one of the more than 100,000 Americans who fall asleep at the wheel and crash each year. And the <a href="http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/" target="_hplink">National Highway Traffic Safety Administration</a> says that's a conservative estimate, by the way. Driver fatigue results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
AARP says the minimum you need to stay healthy are muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week, plus 2.5 hours a week of moderate activity like walking or 75 minutes a week of a more intense activity like jogging. Exercise is also good for your memory: Just one year of <a href="http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-02-2011/keep_your_memory_strong_by_walking.html" target="_hplink">walking three times a week can increase the size of the hippocampus</a>, the part of the brain that's key to memory.
We're talking about stress with a capital S. Boomers are the sandwich generation, caught in the middle of caring for our parents and our children. We were deeply affected by the recession and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/midlife-crisis-depression-is-ok-the-new-good_b_1470958.html" target="_hplink">boomers have the highest rates of depression</a> by age demographic. Unless we unload, we are going to implode.
It isn't just our extra weight; it's where we carry it. An excess of visceral fat causes our abdomens to protrude excessively. We call it a "pot belly" or "beer belly" or if the visceral fat is on our hips and buttocks, we say we are "apple shaped." Cute names aside, scientists now say that body fat, instead of body weight, is the key to evaluating obesity. And guess what? It's all bad.
<a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/128183/smoking-age-baby-boomer-bulge.aspx" target="_hplink">Gallup found that baby boomers between the ages of 44 and 54 reported higher levels of smoking</a> than those immediately younger or those who are older. Hard to imagine that they haven't gotten the word yet about the risks cigarettes carry.