Two teens talk Type 1 Diabetes

Taylor Evans' painting of the "Kadish artificial pancreas" - taken from the original 1960's photo. "The bags we carry" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Taylor Evans' painting of the "Kadish artificial pancreas" - taken from the original 1960's photo. "The bags we carry" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Suddenly, you're just "dragging yourself" through the day.  Your sofa or bed becomes the resting place of choice - for hours on end.

Your eyes won't focus on the computer screen. Words blur out while reading the newspaper.

You can't stop eating, you're constantly grazing and looking for something to eat. What's this? You might be losing weight while you're eating all those carbs?

And oh my gosh, the number of trips to the bathroom are matched by the number of times you drink something throughout the day. You're feeling pretty darned crabby and irritable.

You're just so tired and can't seem to recover. You might even have a slight fever. you decide to visit your physician.

What's going on?

The introduction

I met Taylor Evans and Luke Robinson this past March.  Both teens were diagnosed approximately two years earlier with type 1 diabetes. Taylor and Luke knew they each had a story that could help others, especially teens.  They were willing and excited to share their stories.

Type 1 Diabetes is NOT the same as Type 2

It's important to define our terms before we meet Taylor and Luke.

The cause of type 1 diabetes is basically unknown.  For some reason, a person's own immune system mistakenly destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. And insulin is what moves glucose into the cells for energy.  No insulin means glucose accumulates in the blood stream and can produce life threatening complications. Thus, the person with type 1 diabetes requires insulin provided by injection, or by a pump, to move glucose into the cells.

(The person with type 2 diabetes has functioning cells to produce insulin, but may not produce enough. Or, the person's body has become resistant to insulin. Several health issues can be related to the development of Type 2 diabetes, including lifestyle habits, a family (genetic) history, and environmental factors. More information, here.)

Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5% to 10% of all diabetes cases. The numbers of persons diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is estimated between one to three million.

It is not uncommon for more than one child in a family to have type 1 diabetes.  Some infants have been diagnosed within months of birth.

You may have heard the words "Juvenile Diabetes". That's the old name for type 1 diabetes. Once upon a time, it was believed that only children were affected. Now we know children are not the only ones to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

Adults are also affected.

Meet Taylor Evans

Taylor is reflective. She is an artist and a writer. She has played softball for eleven years.  The last two have been since her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Taylor is reflective. She is an artist and a writer. She has played softball for eleven years.  The last two have been since her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Taylor is now 18 and completed her senior year of high school.  She is planning to pursue a degree in Art Therapy at "Mizzou", (University of Missouri for those of us who don't follow college sports). 

Her diabetes was diagnosed at age 16.  She started feeling tired. Her vision kept changing, affecting her school work. She lost weight and was always drinking. Her tiredness reached a point where she just couldn't move and only wanted to stay in bed. One day, she developed a fever and couldn't get off the couch.

A trip to the physician's office found her to be dehydrated. Her blood sugar levels were dangerously high.

Next stop?  The hospital...and a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

On any given day, Taylor feels like most other people. She goes through her daily routine and completes her tasks at hand.

"Type 1 only affects a few things.  Obviously, I must check my blood sugar at meal times and count how many carbs I will be eating during the meal. I use that information to figure out how much insulin to give myself. My blood sugar is still fluctuating throughout the day. Some days it's running high and some days it's running low.  I use the information to manage my disease better. So, although it might affect my performance on a strange occasion, I like to think that I seem pretty normal otherwise."

Sometimes, she thinks back to the 16 years of her life before her diagnosis, when she could eat whatever she wanted at meals. In those moments, she wants to throw a "pity party" for herself. She misses the years before diabetes. Taylor knows that diabetes is just part of her life now; she doesn't have these moments often.

Meet Luke Robinson, 15

"I was so tired I fell off the chair in my mom's office and I couldn't get up.  I just thought I had fainted." His diabetes was diagnosed because of his tiredness.

He freely admits the toughest thing for him is checking his blood sugar three to four times a day.

"I play basketball for my high school, play the saxophone in the band, have a lot of friends and love to play on my Xbox. So, I'm often busy and don't think about always testing my sugar when I should. I'm much better about doing it now because I see the importance of knowing if I'm high, low, or just right."

He checks his blood sugar first thing every morning. His doctor wants him to eat breakfast every day, but Luke has never been a breakfast eater. The compromise that seems to be working is if Luke's blood sugar is low, he must eat something even if he's not hungry.  If his sugar is within range, he will wait and have a mid-morning snack at school. He always carries a snack and a water bottle in his backpack. (Preventing dehydration is essential for the person with type 1 diabetes.)

The next blood sugar test is right before lunch and he usually does it right in the classroom. If basketball practice is on the agenda, he'll check his sugar before practice to determine if he needs another snack before two hours of running and drills. Two more tests are in order for the day; one right before dinner and the last at bedtime.

"I've learned that checking my blood sugar is part of my life and isn't a big deal to do several times a day."

Luke reflects about memories of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Luke reflects about memories of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Dear Health Care Providers

Both Taylor and Luke are grateful to their providers for the care, the teachings and concern expressed by the doctors and nurses. And, they both want the providers to know they are more than their diabetes. As Taylor stated so clearly, "no one wants their disorder or disease to become their central character trait."

Luke mentioned Dr. K "gets on me when I let my sugar get a little high."  Dr. K. lets Luke know "he cares about me and wants me to live a long life."

 

He continues to play basketball for his school, as well as playing saxophone in the band.  Luke discovered one of his basketball team mates also has type 1 diabetes. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

He continues to play basketball for his school, as well as playing saxophone in the band.  Luke discovered one of his basketball team mates also has type 1 diabetes. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO.

Let's talk symptoms

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Bedwetting in children who previously didn't wet the bed during the night
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Irritability and other mood changes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • In females, a recurring vaginal yeast infection

While these symptoms are "classic" for diabetes, the one that really stands out in my mind, is "fatigue and weakness".  Both Taylor and Luke had "tiredness that just wasn't me." Luke was so weak he couldn't get up after he fell. 

I know adults who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. They also complained of extreme fatigue and weakness. 

The biggest clue seems to be extreme fatigue.  And this makes physiologic sense.  If glucose is not getting into the cells for energy, then ALL the cells in the body would be attempting to function on "fumes" or an "empty gas tank".

Insulin pumps from the very first backpack pump to the smaller pumps in use today. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO. Taylor is grateful for today's smaller pumps. Luke's pump is powered by Bluetooth technology.

Insulin pumps from the very first backpack pump to the smaller pumps in use today. (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016. Kansas City, MO. Taylor is grateful for today's smaller pumps. Luke's pump is powered by Bluetooth technology.

Final words to newly diagnosed teens

Taylor and Luke want newly diagnosed teens to know they are still the same person they were before diagnosis. Diabetes doesn't have to change who they are and having diabetes isn't their fault.

Yes, newly diagnosed teens will have to make changes in their lives.  Yes, they may have moments of self-care burnout or feelings of self-pity. It's to be expected when life changes so abruptly.

Yes, they may have moments of challenging the new requirements of their post-diagnosis lives. They eventually learn the ill health and extreme fatigue that follow are not worth the rebellion.  Some learn the lessons more quickly than others.

They probably become a little more vigilant about their health a few years sooner than teens without diabetes.

I am grateful

...to Taylor and Luke for sharing a small part of their journey with me.  I am deeply honored to tell their stories so that other teens (and adults) newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can feel encouraged and hopeful.

And...if you find yourself, your children, or your loved ones experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, please seek medical attention immediately.

As always

Please share this post as many times and in as many places as you can.  You could help someone you know!

Expect the best. Anything else is an adventure

Rebecca

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