What Every Parent of a T1D Child Needs to Know

I may not be the parent of a T1D child, but I am the T1D child of my parents. So I have a unique perspective on the concerns and fears that a parent of a T1D child might have.

I also have a little more insight on these concerns and fears through my interactions with many parents of T1D children over the years. These parents had children of all ages: from toddler to teenager. Their children ranged from newly diagnosed with diabetes to multi-year veteran of T1D. Despite these differences in ages and years with diabetes, they’ve all had something major in common: An intense fear over the day when their child would make the transition from living under their roof to living independently, on a college campus or in another living situation.

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The mere thought of their beloved son or daughter going through this was enough to make some of these parents on the verge of tears. It was heartbreaking, but also somewhat confusing to me. I understand the unconditional love that parents have for their children, so naturally, they were terrified at the thought of their children feeling alone as they made the transition to young adulthood, or frightened by the prospect of their children suddenly not wanting to take care of their diabetes anymore. But what I didn’t get was why they automatically assumed the worst.

What if their child thrived in this transition? What if their child found a wonderful group of people, such as the College Diabetes Network, that helped them through this period in life (like I did)? What if their child was ready to manage everything on his or her own? Certainly, it would be a source of pride for a parent to witness his or her child do well and embrace independence.

On the flip side, if a young adult with T1D struggled to make the transition smooth…well, I told many of these parents that it’s okay. Because I struggled. A lot, actually. But I made it through. The longer I spent away from home, the more I realized that it was time for me to hold myself accountable in terms of diabetes management. There was never really any big “aha” moment for me. It was more of a slow-and-steady recognition of the fact that the shitty blood sugars I was constantly dealing with could only be changed by me, and me alone. So I took the steps I needed to; naturally, with the support of my parents.

I guess that’s kind of the two-fold message I’m trying to convey here to worried parents of T1D children: 1) Have faith in your child’s ability to adapt to change, and 2) Never underestimate how your support, in any form, can mean the world to your child. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with him/her so you can get on the same page and understand how you’re both feeling about this new life stage. That way, you can find out exactly what kind of support you can offer to your child that he/she will find most helpful.

The bottom line: Parents with T1D children, it’ll be okay. Just like people with diabetes know they’re not alone in their struggle against it, you should also know that there are many other parents out there who probably feel the same as you.

In that way, we’re never truly alone when dealing with new challenges or changes in our lives. Once that’s realized, it becomes a million times easier to figure out the best way to tackle them with your support system by your side.

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Diabetes in Pop Culture: Is it Really That Hard to Get it Right?

I used to be an avid fan of the cultural behemoth, The Walking Dead. Imagine my delight and surprise when type 1 diabetes actually made a cameo in one of the episodes! T1D, in the zombie apocalypse! What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot. A minor character in the show’s sixth season passes out, only for a main character to flock to her side just in time to give her a shot of insulin. Within moments, she’s totally fine, though – spoiler alert – she gets attacked by zombies and doesn’t survive at the end of the episode.

What’s wrong with this scenario is that if a person with diabetes passes out like that, it’s more than likely that their blood sugar is low, and the last thing that they need is more insulin. I can’t imagine her blood sugar being high seeing as it’s the ZOMBIE FREAKING APOCALYPSE and supplies are scarce. I doubt she’s eating, well, anything, let alone substantial meals. And how the heck does insulin stay fresh during the end of the world, anyways? I don’t necessarily expect a TV drama to explore that in a tight 60-minute time frame, but these are things to consider, as well as details that leave unusually informed viewers like me a little bemused and irritated.

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And it’s not just The Walking Dead – it’s a LOT of shows that make mistakes or omissions that can be eyebrow-raising. A few shows that come to mind include The Big Bang Theory, Hannah Montana, and even my beloved soap, General Hospital. The errors have been to varying degrees, but a common theme among countless television shows is perpetuating the stereotype that all types of diabetes are caused by a poor diet; specifically, consuming sweets. It’s always an extremely cheap joke, and one that’s gotten stale in its overuse.

Surprisingly, reality TV doesn’t help dispel any myths, which is a bit ironic. Recent episodes of Southern Charm and one of the Real Housewives franchises spread diabetes misinformation that was just ludicrous to me. In the former, a licensed anesthesiologist implied that his girlfriend shouldn’t eat a pastry because it’ll cause diabetes (insert eye roll here) – last time I checked, an anesthesiologist does not know the intricacies of the endocrine system, so who is he, as a medical professional who ought to know better, to say something like that? And in the latter, one woman was scolding her T2D husband over not taking care of himself. She explained his condition in a confessional…but did a really rotten job of it. If I didn’t know anything about type 2 diabetes, and I “learned” about it from this source, then I would be seriously misled.

I’m not trying to be oversensitive here, but it is hard for me to understand why pop culture struggles to get certain aspects of diabetes right when it appears in various story lines. There’s a wealth of correct information out there that writers could rely on. It’s a shame that they don’t, because whether they mean to or not, all it does is add to the confusion and general misunderstanding of all types of diabetes.

Needless to say, pop culture in this day and age has a long way to go when it comes to the portrayal of diabetes.

 

Diabetes Checks into “General Hospital”

Soap operas: Many people scoff at them and the heightened drama that defines them. I get it. Betrayals! Infidelity! The mafia! Murder! Secret children! Evil twins! Name a ridiculous plot point, and I can virtually guarantee that it’s been explored on a soap.

But that’s precisely why I love soap operas. They’re the epitome of escapism. They’re so bizarrely over-the-top that it can be comical. And tuning into the absurdity is the perfect way for me to unwind after a long day.

My soap of choice? Why, it’s been the same one for years; in fact, since I was the tender age of nine years old…General Hospital. In the last 17 years, I’ve (mostly) kept up with the citizens of fictional Port Charles, New York. Their wild lives fascinate me. I think I’ve always been especially intrigued by the show because it centers around…well, a hospital. As a result, characters experience a myriad of maladies, everything from infectious diseases to totally invented my-memory-got-stolen-from-me-and-it’s-all-on-a-flash-drive-that-I-can’t-access sort of conditions.

So imagine how my interest piqued when longtime character Barbara Jean “Bobbie” Spencer got diagnosed with diabetes a couple weeks ago by her doctor son, Lucas (who has type 1 diabetes, himself).

The Minimal Lists
Diabetes is on the long list of medical conditions that GH has attempted to tackle over the years.

This plot line was…interesting. And somewhat concerning to me, because by the time the story wrapped, I’m not sure how much it did to raise diabetes awareness. Let me go over the good and the bad.

The good: Bobbie is a very petite woman who was diagnosed with type two diabetes. The character was in utter disbelief over this because she thought she practiced a healthy lifestyle. I can appreciate that the writers chose to diagnose her with type 2 to make viewers aware that obesity is not the only risk factor when it comes to developing it. And speaking of awareness, the writers chose to focus on the fact that people with diabetes are more susceptible to heart conditions. This is something that I like to pretend to not know sometimes, but it really is important to not be ignorant of complications.

The bad: Very little distinction was made between type 1 and type 2 diabetes with this new diagnosis. I can imagine that viewers who are unfamiliar with diabetes might be confused by what the difference is, especially considering that Bobbie was diagnosed by her son who has T1D. I feel like that should have been better explained or clarified. I also didn’t like how the whole plot line made diabetes seem very easy to treat and manage. I’m pretty sure the only things that Lucas told Bobbie to do was get her hemoglobin tested every 3 months and remember to take her medication (no mention of what kind, whether it was an oral drug or something else). Really? Frequent blood sugar checks, doctors appointments, and structuring a new daily routine couldn’t have been mentioned?

It’s just a bit frustrating to me as a person with diabetes. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to live with type 2, but I know all too well about what goes into managing type one. And it’s not something that can be explained in a short story arc on a show like GH. Now I’m just curious as to how long the writers will prolong the diabetes diagnosis – will Bobbie’s condition be mentioned often, or will it only be swept under the rug until it’s a convenient time, story-wise, for it to come up? Time will tell.