diabetes -> a family affair

This week’s blog features an article that my Mom wrote last year for the Lakes Country Jounal on what life is like with having two children with type-1 diabetes.

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It just up and quit. No reason, no warning, no explanation. Will’s pancreas stopped producing insulin. One day our five-year-old son was sliding down the snowy hill behind our house and the next he was in the hospital learning how to live the rest of his life with diabetes, an incurable disease.

Life as we knew it was over. The first time I put a hypodermic needle into Will’s sweet soft arm, I sobbed my heart out. I cried for Will and for our family and for a future that seemed beyond bleak. And then we kept going because the only options were life or death.

I asked our doctor if we should be concerned about our two older children. With no family history of diabetes, he told me we would be on the cover of the New England Journal of Medicine if we had another child with diabetes. Three years later, our thirteen-year old daughter, Quinn, was diagnosed with diabetes.

The good news was that 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. He came down close in those dark days, reassuring us of His love and faithfulness.

Life rolled along in a new normal way. Insulin shots and blood sugar checks four times a day were wedged among school, church, friends, skating and sleepovers. Will and Quinn managed their own insulin doses. Thor, our oldest child, was the odd man out – the only kid who didn’t have to take an insulin shot before meals.

We got involved with the American Diabetes Association and put together a team for the annual Walk for Diabetes. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our families and friends. When Will was diagnosed with diabetes, Quinn pledged to work the rest of her life to help find a cure. Now as a bonafide diabetic, she redoubled her efforts, pulling the rest of us along in her considerable wake.

Will and Quinn joined other young diabetics across the country in Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for increased funding. They began to believe they could make a difference.

On the third anniversary of being diagnosed with diabetes, sixteen-year-old Quinn was named the National Youth Advocate for the American Diabetes Association. She traveled across the country speaking at conventions, advocating for increased funding to find a cure for diabetes and improved care for those living with the disease. She was invited to the White House and became a regular visitor on Capitol Hill. The best part of her year was visiting diabetes camps where she talked to kids about living with diabetes.

Quinn and Will found heroes. Will met Gold Olympian Gary Hall, Jr., the fastest swimmer on earth and a diabetic. Quinn became friends with Nicole Johnson, the only Miss AMerica with a chronic disease, diabetes. Our kids also became heroes. Quinn developed relationships with younger girls in our community with diabetes, cheering them on and challenging them to make the most of their lives. Will was a counselor at a diabetes camp. He helped boys understand that diabetes only limits life if they let it. He urged them to take control of their disease by managing their insulin shots and blood sugars. He showed them how to have crazy fun despite diabetes.

Will went off to college, packing his bike, laptop, sports memorabilia, and a large box of needles, insulin, and blood-testing supplies. I calculated how fast I could get to Texas in an emergency. “Don’t worry,” he repeated. “Diabetes isn’t that big of a deal.”

I had to agree. Diabetes is a footnote in our family, not a headline. It has brought us close as a family. Our faith deeper and our understanding of God clearer. Our children learned compassion. They know how it feels to struggle and they’re willing to reach out to others. They don’t give up easily. They’ve learned that the harder road isn’t impossible, it’s just harder. And in the scheme of things, diabetes really isn’t that big of a deal.

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