WRITTEN BY: Christine Kanderski
Valentine’s Day Diagnosis
In February 2014, my son Ethan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He was seven years old, in first grade, and terribly upset to be missing his Valentine’s Day party at school. Growing up, I was familiar with diabetes, having both of my parents diagnosed later in their lives with Type 2. About a week before, Ethan was displaying many of the symptoms that I ultimately recognized as diabetes. We noticed that he was constantly hungry, had an insatiable thirst, he was going to the bathroom constantly, his skin was dehydrated and dry, he was exhausted, his legs ached, and his behavior was becoming erratic. My husband, Keith, and I both knew something was wrong. Like an epiphany, it hit me.
My dad always warned us about the likelihood of developing diabetes. My side of the family is Latino, and it was understood that we were at a higher risk of T2D, especially with a family history of it. I remember when he described the symptoms to look out for, and I knew in my heart that my little boy might have diabetes; I just wasn’t sure which type he had. Keith and I agreed but desperately hoped we were wrong.
A test at his pediatrician’s office confirmed that Ethan indeed had diabetes. His blood sugar was immeasurable with their glucometer, and his urine tested high in ketones. We were transferred to the University Hospital Rainbow Babies and Children main campus, where they discovered his blood glucose was above 700, and he was very nearly in diabetic ketoacidosis. We were admitted, and it was one of the worst moments in our lives. Keith and I were immediately thrown into a cacophony of information about our instantly new lifestyle.
My father, Justo, passed away in 1997, just shy of his 70th birthday. He suffered many complications of Type 2 diabetes, much of it because we were not able to afford proper medical care or medications. By the time my mother Angelica was diagnosed, we had the tools and knowledge to be able to understand and better manage her disease. In early 2007, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She came to live with me, Keith, Ethan, and our youngest son, Drew. I became her caregiver, making sure that she made it to all her appointments and had all her medication maintained. She is insulin-dependent but manages her diabetes incredibly. She went on to beat her cancer and is currently in remission.
When Ethan was discharged from the hospital, we knew we had a very long road ahead of us. He was afraid of testing his blood sugar because of the finger pokes. He was fearful of needles and shots, to begin with, now it was going to be a huge part of his life. He was forced to carry this burden at such a young, tender age. We knew we had magnificent support with his medical team, but the practicality of daily management of a life-threatening disease that prior to diagnosis we had very little knowledge of, was overwhelming, to say the least.
Angelica (aka Abuela) was the one confidant that Ethan had at home that truly understood his position. Having her show him how she would test her blood glucose, then log it in her book gave him the firsthand experience that he needed from someone he trusted, someone who wasn’t a doctor or nurse – it was a breakthrough. She asked him to test her blood sugar and showed him how to work his lancing device and where to strike it so it wouldn’t hurt as bad. She showed us how to fill syringes and truly demystified the scary aspects of diabetes for Ethan. He wasn’t alone. Then, he tested Keith and my blood sugars, which we know he not so secretly enjoyed doing because he got to poke us like we poked him in the hospital!
What Today Looks Like
Flash forward five years later to today: managing a household with two types of diabetes isn’t as difficult as it sounds. They can eat whatever they want, within reason; it just requires a little bit of extra planning. Of course, Ethan has to count all his carbs, but with his insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, our job is much more easily managed without major disruption. Technology is amazing! My mother doesn’t need to count carbs, but she is very conscious of them. We watch what she eats and monitor the effects of different food types on her blood sugar. She experiences lows, but because of Ethan and how he treats his lows, she knows what will work quickly for her. She then doesn’t have to rely on slower release carbs which end up causing a spike from over-treating because of the delay of the breakdown of glucose. The best part is having these two loved ones learn from each other because of their common bond.
Being a part of the Beyond Type 1 Family Council, we take opportunities to start conversations in our community to demystify diabetes. There is so much misinformation out there! Not to say that it’s anyone’s fault, but like us, we just didn’t know better. Now we do. Along with BT1, we take any opportunity to educate, advocate, and help find a cure. We participate in our local school’s health fair and we host a fundraiser every year where 100% of donations go directly to Beyond Type 1. Any opportunity we get to discuss living with diabetes, we take it.
We want to show people that having diabetes shouldn’t be an embarrassment, no matter what type you have. Our goal is to provide support with organizations like BT1. We want to show people that no matter what your type is, you can live #BeyondPowerful. In fact, Angelica at 78 years old, just bowled her very first bowling match! She also won. Ethan was right there with her, taking care of her, making sure she had her ball, and walking her down the lanes. They both made sure that their blood sugars were in range. It was a beautiful moment as a mother to see Ethan epitomize the #LiveBeyond mentality. As a daughter, watching my mom try something brand new to her and showing the youngsters that it’s never too late to try anything was beautiful as well.