I need to give thanks and be grateful. I need to repay some of the kindness shown to us by the local community. After thinking long and hard about how to do this, I decided to make up care packs for the families of children newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in our area. These will be given to the diabetes clinic for them to distribute. They average around fifteen diagnosis a year in this country hospital so it is manageable.
A lovely calico tote bag – useful for carrying all the bits and pieces, such as log books, and spare meters which are needed at clinic and endo appointments.
A hardback notebook- useful as a journal, to write down carb counts for recipes or list the many questions needing to be asked in the early days or even to throw at walls.
A decent pen- who doesn’t like a nice pen?
A symbol of hope or love- just to let people know they are not alone .
Letters of Hope – totally the most important inclusion. To be printed out on nice paper and put in a fancy envelope. Our beautiful diabetes educator is going to ask some people she knows. Messages sent via twitter to many of the amazing people I have come in contact with through #OzDoc and other people who have blogs about their own or their child’s diabetes, have resulted in quite a few offers to contribute Letters of Hope. I feel so lucky to have met these people and I know their contributions will really make a difference to newly diagnosed children and their families.
Writing my own Letter of Hope was such a positive and affirming experience for me and if it helps just one person then I will be happy. Here is my letter.
How are you? Silly question, isn’t it? Your child has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Do you feel exhausted? Are you wondering what your life and the life of your child and family will be like from here on in?
I understand! Not many people will get what you are feeling right now but I have a bit of an idea as my child was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I sat in hospital almost three years ago and could not get my head around my son’s diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.
It does get better and you will survive, please know that! You need to be so strong now and that is hard. Your child will no doubt be looking at you for cues on how to react. Please try to keep it together in front of them. I shed quite a few tears in the Parents’ Room but I really tried my best to keep my act together in front of my son. Right now you are all in this together, learning about insulin, carb counting and trying to get your heads around your new reality. You will learn lots and you will get there!
I have a really vivid memory of being told to fit diabetes into our lives and not the other way around. I have kept this in my head now for almost three years. When my son asks me if he can do something, I ask myself if I would have let him do it if he didn’t have diabetes.
I can honestly say there is nothing he hasn’t done because of his diabetes. He plays multiple sports, he now has a part-time job, he has had sleepovers at friends’ houses, and he has gone on school camps. I would never have believed any of this was possible but it has been and he has enjoyed every single thing he has done.
How have we done this? Since diagnosis, we have worked with the diabetes educator to figure out how to make it happen. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing with the school but I have learned not to give up. I am polite but insistent and just keep asking until it happens. Be kind to other people who don’t get it but when it comes to the rights of your child, the school has a duty of care. The real world, after school, will come soon enough but in the meantime, you need to pull up your big girl or boy pants and stand up for your child. Lots of teachers are fantastic and open to learning. It’s not all bad!
As we have progressed through the years, my son has taken on more and more of the responsibility of his diabetes but I am there in the background, checking how things are going and asking a few, sometimes annoying, questions. He is a teenager; he does make mistakes but I never blame him as I don’t want to lose his trust. We talk about numbers and try to figure out why they might sometimes be too high or too low then we try to fix it. When I first see him after school, despite an almost overwhelming desire to find out what his levels were all day, I ask him about all the other stuff in his life. We keep his diabetes kit on the kitchen bench so I will look at his meter later or ask him about his levels as we get ready for dinner.
Language is weirdly important to me. To me it’s clear that my son ‘has’ diabetes, he isn’t a diabetic. He doesn’t ‘suffer’ from diabetes, he thrives despite it! I try to talking about ‘checking’ his blood rather than ‘testing’ it. It’s not a pass or fail! These are small things but they give me perspective and take the blaming away.
Accepting imperfection is a big part of the deal too! You can have the same set of circumstances two days in a row and get two entirely different results. Don’t torture yourself about that. Life should go on, don’t stop doing things (unless of course the blood glucose levels are really high or low) but do get help from your diabetes team. We have had crazy days with bumpy BGLs but nothing has gone wrong: school is still attended, homework is still done (yeh, it’s a bummer in my house, a chronic condition still doesn’t get you out of doing homework), friends come still around, sport is still played and still no hospital admissions for diabetes.
In the midst of the madness, take care of yourself. You are still an important person in your own right and, as much as it can seem the opposite, you are not defined by your child’s diabetes. I go for walks. It’s free, can be done at any time and as much as I have to force myself, I always feel better afterwards. Initially I had to force myself to go and have fun. I thought I’d never have more than one glass of wine ever again. How could I leave my child to go and do something for myself? Eventually, I did go out, I may even have had two glasses of bubbles and guess what? My son survived and barely noticed my absence.
Not everyone will understand what you are going through. Even your closest family and friends will not get it at times. That feels really hard as your child’s diabetes is dominating your every thought at the start. Over time, I probably did lose a few friends but the friendships I have now are stronger and it was probably better that I didn’t head butt the friend who kept saying, ‘Well, at least it’s not cancer!’. Safe to say, we no longer hang out as much! Saying that, I didn’t know much at all about diabetes before my son’s diagnosis so I try to keep that in mind when people say silly things and downplay the reality of diabetes.
Diabetes is an invisible disease and your child looks horribly normal and so do you! You will become like an elite synchronised swimmer: all smiles above the water but a frenzy of activity below. That’s the gig! Eventually the smile will be real. You will all have fun, you will most likely become a nicer, kinder, more understanding person and so will the rest of your family. In the mean time just keep paddling your legs!
Know too that as you go through what you are doing, there is a whole community of people, young and old, out there who are doing the same things. You might never meet us but we are out there, fighting the good fight, staying strong for ourselves and our kids and turning these heroes into amazing adults with fantastic futures ahead of them!
If you would like to send me you Letter of Hope, please leave a message and I will get back to you.