Friends For Life is not just for children with diabetes. It isn’t just for adults with diabetes. It is also for parents, grandparents, siblings, significant others, and friends of people with diabetes. Friends For Life is for those who need hope, who need help, and who need reassurance that anything is possible for people with diabetes, whether they themselves have diabetes or not.
Phil Southerland, founder of Team Type 1, lives to prove that anything is possible with diabetes. I’ve seen the presentation of the story of Team Type 1 several times, but Friends For Life was the first time that I’ve seen it directed to parents and caregivers of children with diabetes.
Phil started by introducing himself, and sharing the story of how he and his mom dealt with the reality of the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes when he was a small child. I can relate to Phil’s story, as I was diagnosed at about the same time he was. I was two years old when I was diagnosed, and though doctors tried to fill my parents with hope that a cure was on the way, the reality of the diagnosis at that time, and for me at such a young age, was not as optimistic as it is today.
But Phil and I both made it, and we got to experience the Team Type 1 session at Friends For Life 2012 with one of us on stage, and the other (me) out in the audience observing how parents with the same diagnosis as our parents received about us were trying to figure everything out.
I was so happy to see the room full of orange bracelets (worn by those without diabetes). Friends For Life is ultimately a Children With Diabetes conference, and with the exception of an Adult T1 Track, it is geared primarily to children and their caregivers. For this session, I was actually the one in the room that wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Not really a surprise, as I’m rarely where I’m supposed to be, but still, it thrilled me to see so many parents who were interested in learning that their kids can do ANYTHING with diabetes.
Several of the parents in the room had specific questions for Phil about how to manage their child’s diabetes in various situations, such as while swimming, playing soccer, and other sporty situations. Something I see often with parents, especially those parents whose child is recently diagnosed, is that they want black and white, straightforward, no argument answers about how to deal with some aspect of their child’s diabetes. They don’t want it to be as “bad” as it is.
The truth of the matter is that diabetes is not black & white. It is gray, purple, green, yellow, and every other color of the rainbow. Although it has its tough days, living with diabetes is one of the best things that ever happened to me. If you ask Phil, he will tell you the same. With diabetes, you have to really know your body, pay attention to it, and as a result many people with diabetes (PWDs) are as healthy or healthier than a lot of people without diabetes. I find a lot of strength in that.
The specifics of diabetes varies for every single person. Honeymoon periods (the period of time for some recently diagnosed Type 1 diabetics where their body is still producing small amounts of insulin, which typically decreases as time goes by) last for weeks, or months. Low blood sugar symptoms show up at a BG (blood glucose level) of 110 mg/dl or 45 mg/dl, and sometimes not at all. Every single person with diabetes varies.
Phil’s best advice to the parents, and something I agree with him 100% on, is to let children become the CEO of their own body. Keep focused, but learn and let children learn from their diabetes successes and mistakes. Blame does not breed learning.
If your child has a low blood sugar, it’s not your fault, and it’s not their fault. If your child has a high blood sugar, it’s not your fault either, nor is it their fault. The same applies if you have Type 1 diabetes yourself. That is diabetes, and over three decades of living well with diabetes has taught me that it is critical to remove the emotion from diabetes numbers, such as blood sugar levels and A1C values.
It’s just data, and it isn’t telling you that you are doing it right or doing it wrong. Only a human can assign emotion to math. A blood glucose meter cannot do that. Take diabetes data with the same face value as a road sign or a traffic light: It is a cue that some sort of action needs to take place, whether that action is to make an adjustment, stop, proceed with caution, or keep going and you’re doing great!
The next time your child comes home from school, resist the urge to immediately ask them what their last BG reading was, or how they are feeling, if they need a snack, or how many carbs did they eat for lunch. Instead, ask them to tell you about the most exciting thing to happen to them that day. You may be surprised to learn that diabetes is not the most exciting part of their world, so don’t make it the most exciting part of your world either (unless you’re at Friends For Life).
Life comes first.