When in Doubt, Change the Pod

I’d only been wearing my new pod for about an hour when my arm brushed up in exactly the wrong way against a chair. Riiiiiiiip!

My pod tore right off – not from my arm, but it lifted up from the adhesive that it was glued to and dangled precariously from the still-intact adhesive stuck to my arm.

9121BF44-6E91-4DCE-865A-5401B59A7CA5
Would you have kept the pod on, or changed it?

After cursing loudly, I asked my mother for her opinion. I wanted to know if she could see the cannula, because that was the component that made me most concerned. As long as the cannula was still stuck under my skin and delivering insulin, it shouldn’t matter that my pod was a little loose – right?

She tried to peek under and around my site, but it was virtually impossible to tell whether the cannula was where it should be. I thought about it for a few moments, and decided that it would be wise to just change out the pod. The notion of tossing one that had only been in use for an hour was unappealing to me, but I know myself pretty well, and I know for damn sure that I would’ve been super paranoid about the pod functioning properly for the following 72 hours. I also figured that it couldn’t hurt to try calling Insulet to see if they would replace the kaput pod. The odds were slim, but why not try?

So after I changed my pod, I dialed up Insulet and described the situation to the customer support representative. And…I got a replacement! I was pleasantly surprised by the rep’s empathy towards the situation and how easy it was to get my replacement. She reaffirmed that I did the right thing, noting that if she’d been in my shoes, she would have called it in, too. It goes to show that when in doubt, change the pod – and don’t hesitate to call for a replacement.

Hugging the Cactus is One Year Old!

October 2, 2017: The day that I hit the “publish” button and Hugging the Cactus went live.

I can’t believe it’s been one year (and one day) since this blog was officially born. So much has happened in my life in the last 365 days, both related and not related to my diabetes.

HTC Birthday

And this blog has gone through so many changes in that time span. From aesthetic to logistical, it’s been a (welcome) challenge to figure out the best way to write and run Hugging the Cactus. I’ve learned so many new things along the way and I continue to learn more on practically a daily basis.

Although I wish that diabetes wasn’t a part of my life – or anyone’s life – I’m grateful that I’ve mostly made peace with it after 20 years of living with it. Actually, scratch out the “living with it” and replace it with “thriving with it”. I used to think that was totally cheesy, but that phrase really does encapsulate what it’s like to be undeterred by diabetes.

I’m also grateful for you, the reader. There are times in which I question why I write this blog. Those times are fraught with self-doubt, writer’s block, and listlessness. But then someone reaches out to me – directly through the blog, via social media, or even in-person – and they offer support or let me know that my writing has resonated with them in some way. And that, right there, reminds me why I write this blog: to connect with others, to remind people in the diabetes community who deal with this isolating chronic illness that they’re not alone, and to raise general awareness of T1D. There are many people in this amazing tribe of ours who write better blogs, take prettier pictures, and impact a larger audience than I do, but like them, I’ve found my own voice that has allowed me to channel my experiences with diabetes in my unique, storytelling way. And I plan on continuing to do so for a long time to come.

So thank you, reader, for stopping by here three times a week and supporting my mission. I hope that you enjoy the next year’s worth of Hugging the Cactus. For now, let’s celebrate today by reminding ourselves that we’re more than our current blood sugar values or A1c levels. Celebrate by choosing to do more than just live: thrive.

‘Tis the (Pumpkin Spice) Season

Let me begin this post by saying that I do not believe I can be categorized as “basic white girl”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “basic white girl” in the Urban Dictionary sense of the word, it can be defined as:

A female who conforms to her surroundings and claims she is unique. She often drinks Starbucks, wears Ugg boots in August, and posts selfies on social networking sites every. single. day. Also uses hashtags that don’t have anything to do with the picture itself.

Basic white girl starter kit includes: Uggs, Starbucks, leggings or yoga pants, pumpkin spice, every social media platform ever created, etc.

– Urban Dictionary

I’ve never owned a pair of Ugg boots. I only drink Starbucks every once in awhile, but I don’t order froufrou “bevvies” when I go – usually, I just stick with an iced coffee, black. And I certainly don’t have enough self-confidence to post a selfie on social media every damn day. That sounds exhausting.

But if an undying love for any and all things pumpkin spice scented/flavored qualifies me as “basic”, then I guess I’m gonna have to take my pumpkin spice coffee and run with it!

Pumpkin Spice

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.

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 pumpkin spice products as possible, buy them, and revel in them for the following three months.

You’d be surprised to learn how easy it is, too. Here are just a few of the pumpkin spice products I’ve stocked up on in the last few years: Gum, candles, tea, butter (yes, pumpkin spice BUTTER), hand sanitizer, soap, peanut butter…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.

So if that makes me basic, then I’ll wear the label proudly, just as I do with my diabetes.

I Know, I Know: I Talk Too Much About Diabetes

Diabetes is never far from my thoughts.

I write a blog about it. I vent to family about it. I almost always casually mention it to new people that I meet.

I have multiple social media profiles dedicated to it. I own several t-shirts that identify me as a person with diabetes.

It’s the first thing I think about in the morning when I wake up, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep at night.

And yet, sometimes people complain – jokingly and seriously – that I talk about it too much.

Of course I do! I totally own up to that fact. But think about it…

Doesn’t it make sense that I talk about it so much?

Untitled design
…but there’s a reason for it.

It affects the most mundane decisions that I make on a daily basis. It affects my mood. It affects my body. It affects the foods I consume. It affects what I carry in my purse each day and what I pack in my luggage on vacations. It affects my finances and my gym routine and the doctors I have to see.

If someone thinks I talk too much about my diabetes, then I’d like them to understand this:

Talking about diabetes spreads awareness and saves lives.

Bold, italicized, and underlined so the message and its significance is clear. Too many people in this world just don’t understand type 1 diabetes. They don’t realize how dangerous it can be, or how it is managed. In my personal experience, being open with others, answering their questions, and dispelling diabetes myths has resulted in nothing but positive outcomes.

It’s even helped people I know save a life, because they knew what to do when a T1D close to them was experiencing a hypoglycemic event.

All because I “talked too much” about diabetes.

With that in mind…you can bet that I won’t be shutting up about it any time soon.

Drinking and Diabetes: Lessons Learned in College

This post initially appeared on Beyond Type 1 on May 19, 2016. I wanted to republish it here because I will be exploring this topic further in November, which is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Stay tuned!

In September 2011, I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt when my parents dropped me off: anxious, excited, anxious, scared, anxious, curious … and did I mention anxious?

A reason why I was so nervous was that going off to college represented my first true taste of independence. I would be a full 90 minutes away from my parents, who have acted as key teammates in my diabetes care and management over the years. It wasn’t like I was starting this academic and social pursuit freshly diagnosed; after all, I’ve had diabetes since I was 4 years old. Growing up with it made me accept it as my reality early in life, and I never really minded it. It started to become a worry, though, when I was hit with the realization that I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment, away from my parents and healthcare team who knew me and my diabetes best. I wondered, “Can I do this?”

Fortunately, my schedule was so full, so quickly, that I barely had time to dwell on my concerns. I attended my classes, bonded with my roommate, established a diverse friend group, experienced the culinary offerings of the dining halls, stressed over homework assignments, and tried new group fitness classes at the gym, among other things. Best of all, my newfound friends didn’t seem to mind my diabetes at all — they asked me endless questions and thought nothing of it when I whipped my insulin pen out in the dining halls to bolus for meals. Establishing a routine helped with my diabetes management and before long, I started to feel more comfortable with this whole college thing … except for one aspect of it.

Alcohol: It’s a taboo concept in the diabetes world, but certainly not on college campuses. Before I left for college, my parents and I did talk about drinking and social pressures, but we didn’t have an in-depth discussion about diabetes and drinking. The main takeaway was a tacit understanding that safety should always be my number one priority.

Molly-Johannes_4-300x300
Diabetes won’t stop me from enjoying the occasional drink – I just need to imbibe carefully.

I’ll admit that among the various other activities I participated in freshman year, an occasional party at which alcohol was present was part of the gamut. One particular party stands out in my memory because it taught me, more than words from my parents or my endocrinologist could, just how important safety is when it comes to drinking and diabetes.

I ventured to an off-campus party with a group of friends one Saturday night. It was a stereotypical college party: loud music, lots of people, long lines to use the one bathroom in the house. For the first couple of hours that we were there, we were having a great time meeting new people and drinking a bit. As I was sipping on my beverage, I helped myself to some of the tortilla chips, the communal appetizer laid out for party-goers (clearly, no expenses were spared for this shindig!).

I was stupid and didn’t monitor how many chips I was eating or how much I was drinking. Instinct told me to test my blood sugar and I discovered that I was high—much higher than I anticipated. I started rifling through my purse for my Humalog pen when it hit me that I never packed it.

This story could have ended much differently, but I’m happy to say that I was just fine by the end of the night. I told my friends what was happening. Instead of expressing disappointment over leaving the party, they were super understanding and insisted on escorting me home to make sure I could get my medication. Before long, I was back in my dorm and administering insulin. Once I started to come down, I went to bed and woke up at a normal blood sugar the next morning.

What exactly did I learn about drinking and diabetes that night? A few important things:

  • Always have all of my supplies with me when I go out and indulge in a drink or two. This means I would triple-check, from that point onward, to make sure I had my meter, insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and everything else I might possibly need.
  • Check my blood sugar before, during and after drinking to maintain healthy levels.
  • Set an alarm or two before bed so I can wake up and check my blood sugar.
  • Go out with a supportive group of friends — even though I was panicking that night over my hyperglycemic blood sugar, I felt comforted by my friends’ presence and support.
  • Refuse drinks if I don’t want them. I’ve never felt pressured to drink, even when everyone else around me is. As long as I’m having fun, my choice to not drink doesn’t matter.
  • Research carbohydrate content of alcohol so I know how to account for different drinks. I also have done my homework, so I know that different alcohols affect my blood sugar at different rates, if at all.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. They’re often not worth it, and it’s easy for me to replace certain mixers with diet or sugar-free drinks.

I learned a major lesson that night. Since then, drinking has become an occasional social activity for me that I no longer fear due to my preparedness and openness on the subject. I understand that drinking and diabetes sounds scary and forbidden, but this is why it’s important to talk about. Discussing it with family, friends, and your healthcare team can help you feel reassured over how to handle it. Now, I can confidently raise a glass of dark beer or red wine (my personal favorites), knowing I can enjoy a drink safely despite my diabetes.

Memory Monday: That Time I was Bullied for Having T1D

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…when my alleged “best friend” picked on me for having diabetes. It sucked.

Let me recount this tale by saying first that this was many years ago – I think it was in third or fourth grade. Since my grade school days, I’ve made much smarter choices when it comes to my social circles.

But back then, I didn’t really know any better. I just wanted to be friendly with everyone.

I digress…

Back in elementary school, we were awarded fitness “medals” for being able to complete a series of exercises in physical education. These medals were really just flimsy little patches that you could sew on to a backpack, but nevertheless, I wanted one very badly. But no matter how hard I tried in gym, I just couldn’t complete as many reps as it took to earn a medal. I was always just shy of the threshold, much to my frustration.

I’ll never forget when my “best friend” told me that there was a very obvious reason as to why I couldn’t, and would never, earn a medal:

It’s because she has diabetes, she can’t do anything right with that!

In that moment in time, I was too dumbstruck by the stupidity of that comment to tell her that she was wrong. I was also incredibly hurt by her words, and they haunted me for many years after they were so callously said to my face.

IMG_3978
My Lilly medal means more to me now than a stupid grade-school medal ever could.

Now, as an adult reflecting on it, I wish I had told her that diabetes could never stop me from doing anything. I wish I told her that she was in the wrong for saying what she said, and I wish that she could see all that I’ve accomplished over the years in spite of my diabetes.

But most of all? I wish I could thank her for that comment – because as mean as it was, it gave me something to think about on the days when I just want to quit because of diabetes. Her words serve as a reminder to me that I can and will succeed at anything I set my mind to, diabetes and all.

T1D and Emotional Support: The Best Support Comes from my Online Community

Yesterday, I admitted something via Twitter:

Capture

Without going into a ton of detail, I’ve had higher-than-normal blood sugars in the past week or two. Nothing super alarming, but enough for me to notice and feel discouraged about this new pattern. And enough for me to feel that I needed to tell someone about it.

But why post this on Twitter, and not tell my family or my friends? I chose Twitter as my outlet because my network there is composed primarily of people with diabetes. They’re the ones who completely understand where I’m coming from. That’s not to discount my family and friends – they know me and my diabetes well, and I know that I could reach out to any one of them whenever I need to – but truthfully, sometimes it’s easier to talk to people who know exactly what I’m experiencing. I don’t have to explain myself as much, and it’s understood immediately that my feelings are valid and warranted. And just the acknowledgment, the “hey, I’ve been there, too” or the “I know what that’s like”, is all I really need.

I was blown away by the responses I received on Twitter. Many people took the time to reply to me, and I continued to receive tweets for hours throughout the day. Each message encouraged me and motivated me, and some even applauded me for admitting my troubles to my Twitter network. I also received a couple of really great GIFs; in particular, the beaming cactus put a big old grin on my face.

So thank you, DOC, for being there for me when I needed to be lifted up. I’ll keep you all updated as I try to figure out what’s going on, but for now, thank you for reinvigorating me and for caring. No words can truly express my gratitude, but damn, this community is incredible.

I’m reminding myself, and you, that I’ve got this – and you do, too.