“I have been living with type 1 diabetes since I was first diagnosed at nine,” Sarah begins. Diabetes affects 29 million Americans and is categorized into two forms: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 has historically been known as ‘juvenile diabetes’ because of its high prevalence in children, while type 2 diabetes usually progresses over time and is more common in adults.
What made Sarah’s diagnosis especially difficult was that there were always factors that explained away abnormalities in her health. “I was almost always lethargic, though I was also very active. I drank a lot of water, but it was hot outside. I lost a lot of weight, but I was also going through a growth spurt at the time. The distinguishing factor was that I became very irritable and crabby, which was unusual for me. My mom is a teacher, so she became aware of the symptoms early on and very fortunately got me to see a doctor.” Unfortunately, mild symptoms like Sarah’s result in diabetes being underdiagnosed, especially in babies or patients with gradually worsening symptoms, which is typical of type 2 diabetes.
Adding to the personal stress of the patients is the change in family dynamics as a result of diagnosis. “Diabetes is a very family affecting situation. Often, it can become a power struggle between children and parents as responsibilities shift. I remember being frustrated and angry at my mom for trying to fuss over me when I was getting really tired of being looked after all the time. We all get to that point where we want to be more independent and gaining the trust from parents to pursue that independence can be difficult.” Despite her frustration at times, Sarah is forever grateful for all the support she received from family and friends that truly made a difference in her outlook on life.
How can people seek opportunities to meet others with diabetes and gain guidance? “Conferences! My parents discovered this conference called Children With Diabetes-Friends For Life, which was an opportunity for both kids and their parents to be educated about not only new technologies and research on diabetes, but also served as a great socializing environment for me. I was introduced to the community in such a great way and I gained a lot of insight from other young adults, families, and professionals who have dealt with diabetes for a long time.” The chronic aspect of diabetes is extremely daunting and can often discourage many people. “Finding support is key! Once I realized that diabetes is manageable and that I have that emotional support to lean on, it became a lot easier for me to deal with my stress and stay positive.”
These conferences that Sarah attended opened the doors for her involvement in diabetes studies and research, ultimately leading to her current research position at Stanford on artificial pancreas technology. “There is a really huge push for automation of insulin pumps: creating a machine that takes data from a continuous glucose sensor along with a patient’s health history to decide the amount and timing of insulin input. What that would do is take a huge mental weight off of patients’ shoulders and pass it onto a machine.” Sarah is currently working as a research assistant, pursuing to become a Physician Assistant and ultimately, a Certified Diabetes Educator. “I wanted to be a part of bringing beneficial treatments rather than sit around twiddling my thumbs. Many people need guidance and support, and that’s what I want to be here for, especially for children. Instead of telling kids ‘if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll go blind/lose a foot/etc.,’ I want to provide them with resources and educate them. With the care standards we have today, diabetes patients can live a normal life!”