Reflections on 25 Years with Type 1 Diabetes • January 2014
I'm glad I got to be alive to experience it. I dare say many people go through their whole life without knowing the impact their life has made - until they're in the ground fertilizing daffodils. I will never, ever forget the night my colleagues at Animas threw me a SURPRISE PARTY to celebrate my 25 years of living with Type 1!!!
When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D), I don't think I ever imagined that I would still be rockin' life free of complications 25 years later, doing work I love in the diabetes field surrounded by people who care about what we do and the opportunity we have to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people we serve. My colleagues at Animas are some of the finest people I know, and there isn't a single one of us who wouldn't take a bullet for the other. It's just that extraordinary.
Last summer, I had jokingly suggested to my office mates that for my 25th 'diaversary', I want a party! But with so much going on with 2 back-to-back product launches (Dexcom G4 and Animas Vibe!) and more work than any of us could fathom, I promptly forgot about it and never in a million years did I suspect anything. They got me good! I felt like Oprah after 25 years of the Oprah Show!
When I walked into the room and saw everyone and heard them yell "Surprise!" - I don't think I quite grasped what was going on until Frank explained it to me (my nickname is "lag time" for a reason!) and then it was pretty much projectile tears of overwhelming joy and gratitude for the rest of the night. I mean, who gets to experience something like this?!! There were speeches; there were such generous gifts; there was a slide show; there were video, text, and phone messages from across Canada and in the US; and to this day I still can't believe that so many people came together for ME. Really?!! I still have to pinch myself to make sure I didn't dream the whole thing.
It has been 25 years. A quarter-century with this damn thing. And yet, as I look back on who I've become in spite of and because of it, I can't help but feel… proud.
At the age of 17, to find out that I had an illness that I was powerless to prevent, and would NEVER go away - was beyond devastating. I remember how convinced I was that the hospital doctors and nurses were wrong - and how angry and defiant I was. I remember thinking, "You people don't know anything. Just wait until my Dad gets back!" With Mom and Dad away on a cruise at the time I was admitted to hospital, I remember feeling confused by everything I was hearing and utterly convinced that there had to be some kind of mistake. It was January of 1989. And life would never be the same again.
Better or Bitter?
I don't think I have fully discovered the extent to which my relationship to food got screwed up, or how much my feelings of never quite "fitting in" can be attributed to that time of trying to find myself in the "new normal," but as I've grown older and done a lot of personal development work - the only thing I know for sure is that we've all been impacted by the events, people, and circumstances that have shaped our lives - and I dare say that most of us probably have our own interpretation of how things should have been different. But what diabetes has taught me is that when you can't change the past or whatever situation you find yourself in, you have a choice to make: you can accept it, or you can spend your life bemoaning the injustice of it.
You can be bitter, or you can be better.
A decision that I made very early on was that I wasn't going to let diabetes control my life, but rather that I would manage it around whatever it was that I wanted to do. I'm sure part of it at the time was simply me trying to assert my independence as a headstrong teenager, but also I knew that I wasn't going to allow myself to be defined by a medical condition. I live with Type 1, but it's not who I am. I sometimes still resent that I have to think about and manage blood sugars all the time - there is never a break from that - but overall, I haven't let T1D stop me from travelling, taking on big challenges, or enjoying life on my own terms. Dealing with adrenaline is still a bugger - whether that's before a big speech, a physical challenge, or even when I'm nervous with butterflies going on a date - but that's all part of this great science experiment of trying to think and respond like a pancreas with what is really less-than-rapid-acting insulin.
Finding my tribe
I spent the first 16 years with T1D without knowing anyone else who had it. It was just this "thing" I quietly managed on my own while I was trying to make my way in the world. I'm still not quite sure what it was that made me pick up the phone and call the Canadian Diabetes Association to investigate volunteering opportunities, but I think I figured that someone with energy and a big mouth like me could probably do some good.
When I look at all the people I've met now because of diabetes, there is just such an instant kinship and sense of "family" - we all deal with the same highly-misunderstood condition and all that goes with it, and become instant cheerleaders for each other! There is an inherent vulnerability in having a medical condition that is a real bugger to manage but that no one else really 'gets'. I've never made my diabetes a secret, but the ignorance and confusion with Type 2 is still pervasive and tiresome. I would imagine there is a similar connection in other groups of people with a shared experience - cancer survivors, single parents, the military, ethnic groups - there is always a natural affinity among those who have something in common. But with the Type 1 community, I feel like I've hit the "friends for life" jackpot! The connection is impossible to explain - but very, very real.
I don't know who I would have been if I hadn't been diagnosed with T1D, but I think of it now as part of God's plan for me. I was given certain "gifts" to work with, and that would be one of them. I like to think that maybe I would be even more awesome without having to deal with Type 1, but somehow I don't think I would have the same humility, compassion, and resiliency that I have now. There is a strength that comes from overcoming challenges that we never really realize until we look back on our lives, and recognize the grace. We can each only do the best we can with what we've been given, and somehow, there is a Divine purpose to it all.
For me, when I look back on 25 years, I like to think that I made a dent in the conversation around what it means to have Type 1. From the days of fear-mongering and loneliness that I experienced to the incredible network of diabadasses there are now, I like to think that I took a stand for empowerment and possibility through my work at Animas, and supported projects that could give people hope and inspiration for a better life than they thought they could have. For a girl like me, it doesn't get much bigger than that.
The next 25
For however much time I am blessed to have left on the planet, my intention is to live by example, to be real and vulnerable, and to soak up the richness of life's experiences. Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. May I remember to live in awe and wonder, with joy and laughter and silliness as part of every day. May I remember to live with kindness and generosity, and with a grateful heart. And most of all, may I always remember that I have a role to play as a force for good and spreading love and inspiration around. I don't know where the journey will take me from one day to the next, but I'll keep sharing what I learn as I go and hope that in some small way my little dent in the universe will make a difference in even more lives than it has already.
Thank you, all of you, for making this such a beautiful life. My heart runneth over.
With Abundant Joy and Endless Gratitude,
Inspiring others to live inspired lives
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