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Hope and Happiness    •   July 2015

Back when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (long before there was such a thing as the Internet!), the only information I had was what I was given at the hospital - and I remember learning two things distinctly:

  1. There is no cure. It's never going away. You can't "fix" it.
  2. On average, the lifespan of somebody with Type 1 is about 15 years less than a person without diabetes.
With those two factoids in mind, I figured "I'm here for a good time, not a long time." And I have lived that way for most of my life, now over 26 years with Type 1 diabetes. But times sure have changed, and long-term studies now show that it is, indeed, possible to live a long & healthy life with Type 1!

At this year's Children With Diabetes "Friends for Life" conference in Orlando, I had two very big moments that moved me profoundly and challenged my underlying assumption that I only have until age ~65 to do everything I want to do and experience what I want to experience in this life. I find myself filled with enormous hope and a sense of Divine Order - that perhaps my prognosis might be better than I ever thought it could be, and that yes - I was supposed to get Type 1, and that I am to use my gifts to make a difference in this community and beyond.

Richard Vaughn

First, I met Richard Vaughn, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 70 years! Back in his time of diagnosis, insulin therapy was primitive, and I'm sure I can't begin to imagine what he and his family went through in the early days of trying to manage this relentless siege that is Type 1. And to see him now, still filled with such heart, health and humour, and meeting his lovely wife Anita - I'm not sure what happened to me, but I instantly started to cry and couldn't stop hugging this man who for me represents the possibility that I might actually get to grow old without being blind or living on borrowed time with transplanted kidneys. I have intentionally not thought much about the future because I just don't know what that's going to look like for me from a health point of view, but I think somehow I had always imagined a not-so-rosy outcome. Managing Type 1 is hard, and most of the time it's a gong show. I have incredible management tools now that I didn't have for the first 18 years - but part of me still worries that no matter what I do now, it won't save me from the brutal prognosis I had assumed for myself back in 1989. Meeting Richard changed everything.


Another big moment!

The second big moment happened quite randomly one evening while I was dressed in my Minnie Mouse costume (it is Disney, after all!), when I met a father who has a 10-year-old daughter with Type 1. He saw my green bracelet (identifying me as someone with Type 1) and as we began to talk, he seemed amazed that someone who had had Type 1 for as long as I have could still be so healthy and vibrant - and seemingly "normal". He asked if I wouldn't mind coming over to speak to his daughter (who I'm guessing was still pretty new to Type 1) - and she was as lovely and engaging as could be. I think for any parent who is dealing with a Type 1 diagnosis of their child, the emotion is always raw and all they want for their child is to be able to grow up, be healthy, happy and live their dreams. It dawned on me that for this father, maybe I represented exactly that. He gave me the greatest compliment I have ever been given:

"When my daughter grows up, I want her to be just like you."

Maybe I was for him what Richard Vaughn had been for me - a symbol that everything actually CAN turn out OK?

I'm not the kind of person that dwells on "Why Me?" I just get on with what needs to be done. But I do sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I hadn't been diagnosed with Type 1. Would I have gone on to medical school like I had planned? Who would I have become? How would life be different? We'll never know, but after all this time, and all the things I've been able to do and the opportunities I've been given, I have to think that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. And I'm grateful.

I like the woman I've become. Busted pancreas and all.



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