On March 1, 2018 I will have lived well with type 1 diabetes for 52 years. After receiving my 50-year Joslin Medal in 2016, I was enrolled in a closed social network of other medalists. I read a post by a fellow medalist asking the group what our group had in common. What allowed us to survive so long with type 1 diabetes? What helped us to live over a half century with a disease which was expected to dramatically shorten the quality and quantity of our lives?
After all, Joslin Medalists are of different genders, live across the globe, practice different religions, come from different economic groups and cultures.
After a short pause, someone posted “we had good families”. The group unanimously agreed. Tens of thousands of years of collective diabetes experience agreeing in unison. And having a “good family” didn’t necessarily mean having a special genetic advantage. I was adopted. Betty and Jack Ponder submitted the photo above around 1954-55 as part of their application to become adoptive parents. I joined them in the fall of 1956.
My birth mother made a difficult choice to put me up for adoption. I am grateful for that. My adoptive parents accepted me with unconditional love, and no amount of gratitude can repay that act. That love would manifest in countless ways over my youth and beyond.
My parents didn’t give me life, but they gave me a future.
I often meet parents searching for new drugs, new technologies, or new methodologies to improve the lives of their children with diabetes. There is always a subtext of helping their children live a long and productive life. But as I listen to their stories, I often think about how little my parents possessed to help me. Every day, they boiled a glass syringe barrel and plunger, plus a reusable 25-gauge ¾ inch needle. This allowed them to prepare a single injection of intermediate acting insulin (Lente) daily. My parents checked my urine glucose 1 to 2 times daily. A single page sheet was provided directing us what exchanges I could eat.
My parents NEVER missed a scheduled injection and I NEVER went without a meal or scheduled snack. They simply did what was asked of them. I never heard them complain about what they were doing. To them it was implicit in the parental contract they accepted when they took me into their lives when I was 6 weeks old.
Their caring and concern became embedded inside me. I don’t know why or how it happened. It just did. Love is like that I suppose. My message to parents is simple. Love your children with and without diabetes, do anything for them, and accept them for who they are. Never give up, no matter how dire things may seem sometimes. Don't expect your kids to take on self care duties too soon either. My parents gave me ALL my injections until I left for college. It didn't hold me back one bit.
52 years of living with diabetes has taught me there is no "good" or "bad". Try not to judge. And there is no shame whatsoever in hard work.
In closing, my message to parents of children with diabetes is straightforward. What you need to boost your child’s opportunities to live a long and productive life with type 1 diabetes is not going to be found in a lab, factory, or doctor’s office. It’s already there, in your home. Inside YOU. Be there for them, partner with them. Love unconditionally. If you are doing that now, you are already on your path to success and living well with diabetes.
Now...parents go hug your d-kids...or d-kids (however old you are), go hug your parents.
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