Hugging the Cactus Turns 5!

Yesterday, October 4, 2022, marked this blog’s fifth birthday.

How wild – five whole years of writing on this blog, connecting with the diabetes community at large, and gaining invaluable insights from fellow people living with diabetes.

Proudly donning my cactus cap and diabetes devices.

It’s a humbling experience. Any time someone tells me that they’ve read my blog, I’m truly honored that they’ve taken the time to check out my little passion project. And when someone visiting this site turns into a neat opportunity, such as appearing on a podcast, I’m beyond thrilled and appreciative that I get to use other media to reach out to our community.

When I think about where I was five years ago, I marvel over how much has changed not just for me, but for the world. We’ve experienced a global pandemic. We’ve undergone times of enormous celebration, as well as those of great contention. It’s kind of an imperfect metaphor for what it’s like to live with diabetes – it’s filled with ups and downs, triumphs and tribulation – and it takes strength, determination, and resilience to get through it all.

My plan today is to quietly celebrate that, as I reflect on my blog’s birthday as well as the true privilege I have to be able to work professionally within the diabetes space. I am proud of Hugging the Cactus. I am proud of the nonprofit I work for, which has recently experienced its own rebirth into The Diabetes Link. I am proud of all the people with diabetes in my life who live courageously and healthily with diabetes.

And I’m proud of myself for my blog’s milestone, as well as my nearly 25 years of life with diabetes.

Pumpkin Spice: A Very Nice Diabetes Treat

This post is adapted from something I wrote and published on Hugging the Cactus on October 1, 2018. I decided to revisit it as a reminder of the many ways pumpkin spice can be enjoyed this time of year that won’t wind up making my blood sugar spike!

Since pumpkin spice manifests itself in many carb-laden treats this time of year, you might be wondering exactly how I can get away with enjoying a mass quantity of the stuff. And no, my method doesn’t involve dosing tons of insulin so I can down endless amounts of pumpkin spice M&Ms, ice cream, Oreos, yogurt, muffins, or any other kind of pumpkin-spicy product you can imagine (including the dearly beloved pumpkin spice latte).

I love a pumpkin spice latte, but I don’t love what it does to my blood sugars…so I find a way to enjoy the flavor that’s carb-free.

It’s much simpler than that – all that I do is make it my mission each year, right around mid-August, to find as many carb-free or low-carb pumpkin spice products as possible, buy them, and revel in them for the following three months. I’ve been a bit behind this year, but I’m stoked to stock up on favorites from the last few years which includes… gum, tea, coffee, butter (yes, pumpkin spice BUTTER), peanut butter (with pumpkin spice literally swirled in it), English muffins…the list can go on and on, and it does, considering that the gamut of pumpkin spice offerings only increases year after year.

I’ve hunted down foods that have both pumpkin spice and a lower carb count, like Halo Top Pumpkin Pie ice cream or FiberOne bars (ugh, they’re so good it’s not fair). I’ve even mixed it up by combining pumpkin spice with some more manageable carbs, such as plain oatmeal. I just can’t get enough, especially since this is a seasonal offering that plays pretty nicely with my diabetes.

Spare a Rose and Save a Life this Valentine’s Day

The world has turned upside down in the last couple of years, but some things remain the same. For instance, we still celebrate holidays and special occasions with those we love. And today just so happens to be a holiday that’s all about love!

Valentine’s Day…whether you adore or abhor the day, it exists. It’s a day that’s synonymous with chocolate, love, and flowers; more specifically, a dozen red roses.

A dozen red roses is a classic Valentine’s gift. But what if you received 11 roses in your bouquet, instead of 12? What if you knew that a rose was spared because the value of that flower helped provide insulin to someone who needs it to live?

I bet you wouldn’t mind getting one less rose in that case. And it might just make you like the holiday a little bit more!

Who knew that the value of a dozen roses could pay for a child with diabetes to live another year of life?

A little bit of history: Nearly 10 years ago, folks from the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) started the Spare a Rose campaign for the organization Life for a Child. This campaign was able to give insulin and diabetes supplies to children and young adults with T1D in under-resourced countries. Starting in 2022, these individuals looked at how they might be able to support all people with diabetes, seeing as the need for insulin and related supplies and care lasts well beyond childhood.

Thus, Spare a Rose, Save a Life was born! Donations to this campaign go to Insulin for Life, a charity that provides resources, education, and advocacy to many of the same under-resourced countries that were supported by the original Spare a Rose campaign.

It’s an absolutely wonderful idea that will positively impact – and save the lives of – even more people living with diabetes who need access to vital medication, supplies, and healthcare.

I’ve written about the Spare a Rose campaign for the last few years on this blog because it’s a beautiful way to celebrate a day that makes some swoon and others sick to their stomachs. A common complaint among people in this day and age is that too many holidays are all about raking in the dough for companies like Hallmark; in other words, most holidays have lost their original meaning and have become too commercialized.

So here’s your chance to bring back some significance to Valentine’s Day. In the light of the health challenges the world has collectively faced in the last couple of years, it’s more important than ever that we do all that we can to help people with diabetes access life-saving supplies and care.

Learn more about Insulin for Life, Spare a Rose, and donate here.

My 24th Diaversary

My 24th diaversary shall be known as…the one I almost forgot.

My diaversary, which falls on Christmas Eve, has never been something that I actually actively celebrate because I’m always too busy celebrating the holiday season with my family. And that’s exactly what happened this year: I was living in the gift of Christmas present (there’s a pun in there, I know) rather than reflecting on that fateful one 24 years ago.

My 24th year of living with diabetes…my, how time flies when you’ve got a broken pancreas and robot parts on the outside of your body.

It feels fitting, really, that I didn’t remember my diaversary until a couple weeks after it came and went, because this Christmas Eve was extra special in a different way. It was the first significant holiday since the pandemic hit that my entire family could be together. And I mean my entire family – I saw both my mothers’ side and my fathers’ side, and even my big brother was able to come home from Nashville for the week. So I was spending the holidays really rejoicing in the fact that we were all able to safely see one another for the first time since Christmas 2019, rather than dwelling on my diabetes diagnosis.

After all, it’s the people who surround me that make something like diabetes manageable. My supporters – family, friends, partner, dogs – are the ones who motivate me when I’m experiencing diabetes burnout. They’re the ones who let me cry on their shoulders when diabetes is too much. They’re the ones who high-five every diabetes triumph that I experience. They’re the ones who remind me that my life is not defined by diabetes (despite how much I talk about it). So with that in mind, I can get behind doing what I did this diaversary: celebrating them instead of my diabetes for every Christmas Eve to come.

Happy New Year from Hugging the Cactus!

2022 will be here in a few short days and the prospect makes my head spin. Where did 2021 go?!

Me, looking comfy as I casually ponder where the eff 2021 went.

As we approach the new year, I’m feeling several different emotions – the most prevalent one being gratitude.

Amid all the chaos of the past year that was filled with so many literal and figurative highs and lows, I can’t help but feel grateful for the many people and experiences that kept me calm in the storm. My family, my boyfriend, my friends, my dogs. The roof over my head. The opportunity to start a new job at a diabetes organization, which in turn reunited me with old friends and helped me make new ones. The chance to travel across the country and go on several weekend trips to closer-by destinations. And as often as I gripe about having so little time to myself, I’m also grateful to have such a jam-packed schedule that keeps my both my mind and body active and well.

With everything in the world feeling uncertain lately (oh, how unnervingly familiar it feels to merely say that), it’s helpful to remind myself of these things that make life so rich for me. I’m looking forward to carrying this reminder into 2022 with me and likewise, I can’t wait to continue connecting with the greater diabetes community in the coming year.

Happy New Year, Cactus Huggers – may you be healthy, well, and happy in 2022 and beyond!

Carbs, Christmastime, and a Conundrum

I can’t believe Christmas is just a couple of days away!

It feels like the Christmas season just started, but really, I’ve had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head a whole lot longer than 23 days now.

Not just sugar plums, though. Christmas cookies. Homemade caramel sauce. Spiked hot chocolate. Reese’s trees (and bells, and nutcrackers, and any other shape Reese’s comes in)…

Conundrum: I love baking. I love Christmas cookies. I love tasting Christmas cookies that I’ve baked. As such, the above image of my Irish cream cookies is very tempting to me.

Needless to say, I feel like my sugar consumption is at an all-time high lately, no doubt due in part to the endless array of seasonal treats that seem to be readily available to me. This is partially my fault – I always have a stash of Reese’s in my home, and baking is one of my favorite hobbies (I feel obligated to try my creations before doling them out to friends and family, y’know, for quality assurance purposes). I should know better because I am very aware of the fact that I have little self-control, but said self-control is completely lacking lately.

So my conundrum is: Do I consume all the carbs this Christmastime and just have a “IDGAF” attitude about it? Or do I go ahead and enjoy all the delicious, carbohydrate-laden sweets of the season with minimal guilt?

I think the solution lies somewhere between those two extremes.

I won’t deprive myself of carbs, but I’ll be deliberate in how I go about eating them. I’ll pre-bolus so sugary spikes won’t appear as often in my Dexcom graphs. I’ll look up carb counts when I can. I’ll enjoy things in moderation, eating one treat at a time or sharing with others when I can so my carb intake gets automatically halved. And I won’t stop baking – it’s one of the things that brings me joy in life, so I know better than to cut out that entirely.

Besides, the Christmas season is so fleeting. I should indulge a little here and there and remind myself that it’s not just about the carbs and blood sugar spikes that cookies cause…it’s also about the holiday traditions associated with cookie baking and the memories made when eating them (and all the carbs). That fuzzy feeling makes me feel a whole lot better about my carb conundrum; coupled with my plan on how to approach carb consumption, I’m actually looking forward to eating many more Christmassy confections over the next few days.

A T1D Christmas Craft

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on December 16, 2020. I’m sharing it again today because this was a fun and festive (if not messy) craft that I did with an insulin vial that I saved. Currently, I have about a dozen or so empty insulin vials set aside and I’m wondering what kind of craft I should do next…

I love Christmas, crafting, and some might argue that I love T1D (that’s mostly false, but when you’ve got a chronic illness, you’ve got to learn how to love some aspects of it…otherwise, you’ll be miserable).

So I recently *attempted* to combine all three of these things and do a little DIY project with an empty insulin vial.

And I learned a few things along the way…

  1. do not recommend messing with a glass vial without safety glasses, gloves, and a trash can nearby. I was lucky enough to avoid any major glass breakage, but some did happen, and I could totally see this craft getting wicked messy and potentially ouchie without taking the proper precautions.
  2. Insulin vials are stable AF…they are not meant to be tampered with.
  3. Glitter cannot be directly injected into an insulin vial. Period, bottom line, don’t even try it.

Okay, so now that I’ve got my disclaimers/lessons learned out of the way, let me tell you why I decided to fill an empty insulin vial with gold glitter.

For years, I’ve seen DIY projects floating around online involving old diabetes supplies. They range in the level commitment and skill involved, but there’s no questioning the creativity of our community when it comes to recycling supplies we’d normally throw away after using.

One project that I’ve seen over and over again is transforming an empty insulin vial into a Christmas ornament: Simply stick an ornament hook into the insulin vial’s rubber top, hang it on a Christmas tree branch, and bask in its beauty. I decided to take this concept to the next level by putting gold glitter into the vial because insulin is often referred to as “liquid gold” within the diabetes online community. What better way to represent that than to make it appear as though the contents of a vial were truly liquid gold?

In order to do this, I set aside a vial once I was finished with it/sucked every last drop of insulin out of it. Then, I made a sad attempt at combining glitter with water and using an old syringe to transfer it to the vial (needless to say, I had no luck). So I came up with a new strategy: Pierce the rubber stopper and try to funnel glitter in…and that didn’t work. It became evident that I’d have to remove the top entirely, so using my nifty new toolkit that my father just purchased for me (thanks, dad), I set about the task. I used a razor to carve the rubber stopper up and out, and then pliers to get the metal maroon covering off completely. I broke off a small piece of glass in the process – whoops – but using those tools did the trick for me…all I did after that was take the cap from a new vial of insulin and glued it to the top of the glitter vial to ensure most of its sparkly contents would remain inside.

And voila, here’s the end result:

Despite the glass breaking off, this DIY came out better than I expected.

As I held the glittery vial in front of my Christmas tree for a few photos (if I didn’t take pictures, then it didn’t happen), it occurred to me that there’s a strong likelihood that many families will have to make a difficult choice this holiday season: Give a special gift to a loved one, or use that money to pay for insulin instead. Or even more seriously, to have to choose between making this month’s mortgage/utilities payments, or getting life-saving medication.

The thought shook me, as nobody should have to make a choice like that ever.

And so I thought of something to add to my Christmas wish list: affordable insulin for all.

How I Managed to Avoid High Blood Sugar on Thanksgiving

2021 marks the most triumphant Thanksgiving celebration of my life.

No, it wasn’t because of the accolades that my tasty apple bourbon pie received (though that was for sure among the highlights of the day). It was because, for the first time in recent memory, I avoided high blood sugar the entire day. I got up to 164 at one point, but that was a brief high point in an otherwise wonderful day of smooth blood sugar sailing.

How the heck did I do it?!

Good blood sugars all Thanksgiving-day-long makes for an extra grateful Molly.

Well, for starters, I did my best to follow the tips I outlined in this blog post. But I figured it would be helpful to describe exactly how I went about following these tips and to explain what did and didn’t work. So here’s the method behind my blood sugar success:

  • I started out my day with a walk and an English muffin for breakfast. The exercise made me feel slightly better about all the calories I’d be consuming later in the day, and the small breakfast kept my appetite satisfied until I sat down for my first real meal of the day. I knew exactly how many carbs were in that English muffin, too, which helped me not only dose for it perfectly but also kept my blood sugar steady in the low 100s right up until mealtime.
  • For my first Thanksgiving meal of the day (yes, that’s right – I was lucky enough to attend two feasts), I kept the portions on my plate small and mostly carb-free. I had a bit of turkey, a scoop of brussels sprouts, carrots, and a few pieces of cubed sweet potato. By my estimation, I had no more than 25 or so carbs on the plate, but I bolused for just under that amount because my CGM was alerting me to an oncoming low.
  • There was only an hour and a half between my first meal and my second, and I knew I was going to load up on carbs for my second meal. So I took my next bolus a few minutes before sitting down for food in order to give my insulin a head start. I loaded up my plate with all the good stuff – more turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, a roll, etc. I calculated that I was consuming at least 60 carbs (though I definitely ate more than that) and chose to wait an hour or two after dinner before taking more insulin because I was drinking wine and didn’t want to run the risk of the alcohol/insulin combo making me go low.
  • After the second meal, I spent the next couple of hours assisting with cleanup and chatting away, eyeballing my CGM every so often to ensure that my blood sugar wasn’t skyrocketing – and feeling very proud when it didn’t!
  • The final food event of the day was dessert at a relative’s house. Even though a few hours had lapsed between then and the second meal, I wasn’t as keen as I usually am to hit up the dessert table because there were far too many yummy looking options in front of me. I knew there was no way I could try every single item, so I settled for the two things I wanted the most: a pie of my pie and a cannoli. This time, I was aggressive with my insulin intake, bolusing for about 45 carbs for both desserts (I cut a smaller slice of pie and wound up splitting the cannoli with my boyfriend). I also decided to set a temp basal increase out of fear that my complex carbs from earlier in the day would catch up to me later in the evening.
  • Fortunately, my proactiveness worked like a charm and I actually went a little low by the end of the day! I couldn’t believe how well I finally executed my own advice.

All of that, and I didn’t even have any exercise after dinner or dessert. But I felt 100% in control the entire time because I chose exactly what I wanted to eat, I was familiar with all of the foods, and I didn’t make it a priority to consume as many pieces of pie as I possibly could. It felt awesome and it made me that much more grateful for the fact that I was surrounded by the people I love all day long.

And now that it’s December, I’m especially excited to see repeat success during the holiday gatherings happening throughout the month!

T1D and Haunted Happenings

Halloween is just a few days away, and even though I don’t have any specific plans, I’m really looking forward to it.

Now that I’m in my late 20s, Halloween is less about the candy – though I still very much enjoy that part – and more about having fun dressing up, even if it’s just for my own entertainment. But this is also my first Halloween at my condo, so I hope that I get to see a decent number of trick-or-treaters and cool costumes.

Diabetes can’t steal my joy on a day like Halloween.

Thinking about Halloween as an adult got me thinking of Halloween and haunted happenings from my childhood, and I’ve got to say, T1D never once got in the way of my enjoyment of the spooktacular holiday. Sure, there were plenty of other things to do besides trick-or-treat – I watched the Charlie Brown Halloween special (and still do) every year and I almost always make a point of carving a pumpkin or two each October – but collecting (and feasting) on candy was still a key component of Halloween for me that diabetes couldn’t take away. In fact, I think that it helped me feel a little more “normal”, like I had something in common with my peers without diabetes.

I’ve seen posts over the years about treats that T1D kids can be given in lieu of candy – things like pencils, sugar-free sweets, fruits or vegetables, and stickers – and that’s perfectly okay. But I think it’s also totally okay for T1D kids to have a break from worrying about diabetes and how it makes them different from everyone else every now and then, especially on a night like Halloween. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m really grateful that I always had super positive experiences around Halloween throughout my childhood that were never tainted by memories of anyone telling me I can’t eat a piece of candy or that I shouldn’t partake in the holiday because of my chronic condition.

So that’s why I’m excited to celebrate it just as I always have this Halloween weekend…though maybe with the added trip to the store the day after to see how much of a discounted low blood sugar/emergency candy stash I can accumulate.

Happy haunted happenings, Cactus Huggers!

Hugging the Cactus Turns 4!

Today is this blog’s fourth birthday.

Four whole years of Hugging the Cactus! I can hardly believe it.

As I think about 1,460 days of running my blog, other milestone numbers related to it come to mind:

  • 605 blog posts that I’ve written
  • 595 comments from readers (you guys are the best)
  • 51,276 unique visitors – WOW
  • 71,662 total views – OMG what
  • 100 dollars earned (one month ago, WordPress paid me my first $100 for featuring ads on my blog. The honest-to-goodness truth is that I never intended to earn money from my blog, but the fact that I have is pretty cool considering the following bullet point…)
  • INNUMERABLE HOURS spent writing new blog posts and coming up with graphics to accompany them – if I even attempted to calculate the amount of time, then I think my head would explode

It’s not surprising I’m thinking of the numbers behind Hugging the Cactus; after all, diabetes is a chronic condition based on numbers. People with diabetes spend all day long monitoring, calculating, and thinking about numbers. So it feels pretty natural to me to think about the numbers that have built Hugging the Cactus from a tiny little passion project to a bigger, more meaningful passion project.

And I can’t help but feel extraordinary gratitude for the numbers of people that have motivated, encouraged, and supported me and this blog – people who read this blog daily, weekly, or every once in a blue moon all fuel my desire to keep maintaining this blog and keep proving to me, time and time again, the power of the community that diabetes created. It’s a very special thing to be a part of.

With that said…here’s to four years, and plenty more to come.