There has been exciting news in the world of type 1 diabetes recently. A drug that has been used for decades to prevent tuberculosis has been found to improve diabetes type 1 in adults. The vaccine works by destroying white blood cells that harm the pancreas, while the good white blood cells that quiet down type 1 diabetes were up-regulated. A clinical trial is underway to explore the ability of this drug to treat even advance disease.
With each advancement in the treatment of type 1 diabetes, there is a corresponding improvement in the quality of lives of those who are living with the disease. The following is Kaitlin’s story, and in it, the power of medical advancements to improve quality of life is a common thread that runs through it, as well as taking control of the disease through efforts like regular exercise.
June 13, 1992, is a day I will never forget. It was not only the day before I was supposed to leave for Disney World but also the day I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. Being only 8, I didn’t really understand what this diagnosed meant but soon realized a hospitalization was in store and not a trip to Disney. Being diagnosed in 1992 meant a whole week in the hospital which is entirely different than being diagnosed in 2015 because you maybe get a day or two in the hospital. All I can really say I remember about the hospitalization were my nurses were really nice and that all I would eat was French toast. Ironic since diabetes at that time was more about restricting sweets but I guess if that’s all you’ll eat then they have to feed it to you. After being discharged from the hospital, my parents took over care as I was still pretty dependent on them. I, at that time did not understand the stress and fear that instilled in them but being an adult now, I can fully understand and appreciate their tireless effort and support in managing my diabetes. As well as understanding their sacrifice due to the cost involved, even with insurance and the constant work and time diabetes takes to manage.
My teen years were a challenge as many of you can imagine. I was still a kid, trying to gain independence and wanted to be a kid. With that challenge brought a time of me not wanting to deal with diabetes or accept it, so I rebelled against the disease all together. My parents did what they could but I was stubborn and did what I wanted to do. This rough period slowly started as a freshman in high school and continued through graduation, a good three-four years all together. I think a big part of my rebellion was a fear that was instilled in my mind from my pediatric endocrinologist, his approach to managing diabetes is not something I would say is comforting. He would threaten that I was going to lose a limb, eyesight and of all things tell me I would not be able to have kids if I didn’t take care of myself. I can honestly say there is a need to know about the risk/complications that come with diabetes and not caring for yourself but delivery is key. His delivery was not appropriate and I am not the only one who felt that so, well who wouldn’t be scared. Sadly, all I thought was, why would someone want to be with me if I was going to fall apart like that, I let fear take over me. I never wanted to go to my doctors appointments and when I got my license, I would just not show up. I was so scared to see what he had to say, what my a1c was, and whether I would be reprimanded for terrible control. The year I turned 18, I couldn’t leave his practice fast enough. I still can honestly say when I left his practice I wasn’t in the best control but switching doctors was the best thing that could have happened to me and provided the confidence I needed to turn around. This provider’s approach, support and encouragement made me feel I could live a life with value and I deserved to share my life with someone and wouldn’t think I was a burden.
The saying, “you don’t know how bad you feel until you feel good,” is probably the most accurate saying for gaining control of my life and diabetes. I began slowly running, well run/walk and really enjoying running as opposed to high school when I would hide under the stairs at track. Isn’t it funny how difficult it is to do something when you are forced to do so, but when you decide to do it on your own it’s a beautiful thing, maybe that is my stubbornness shining through. In addition to running, I began to get my diabetes under control and boy did I feel energized. Running now turned into a slight obsession, I went from running 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons to making it a goal to run a marathon and in 2011, I did just that. Still resistant to the insulin pump because I didn’t want anything attached to me; I did it using the insulin pens and it was an interesting experience but manageable. Taking control of my diabetes, I saw my A1c drop from sadly but truly 11-12 to below a 7 and today with the insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor down to a 5.5 (normal 4-6%). What I can truly say is the benefit of exercise really does help with control of diabetes and it benefits your overall health.
The end of 2011 brought on the insulin pump and soon after that the continuous glucose monitor. I cannot now truly say I wish I had gotten them sooner. This is a complete life changer and even with my diabetes being under good control, this made me feel even better. Insulin pens are nice but having the long acting and short acting, there were still ups and downs but the insulin pump was a constant. It helped eliminate some of the peaks and troughs, short and long acting insulin can provide. It helps me better manage my blood sugars overall but even more with working out. With the long acting insulin, you can slow it down or stop it, what you have given yourself is there for a 12-24 hour period and that dictates your day. With the pump, there is only short acting insulin so you can tailor it to your specific needs. I thought the pump was awesome and then comes the continuous glucose monitor; this is seriously a godsend and takes out the unknown. There would be many times throughout the day when I couldn’t have access to my blood sugar machine and would wonder where my blood sugar was, what way it was trending and then came the CGM. This little device helps me understand the trends of my blood sugars and gain tighter control. While not always completely accurate it is for the most part and has helped my A1c drop from 6.5 to 5.5, which in the diabetes world is pretty good.
While 2011 was an exciting year, 2012 was an even better, I met my now husband. You know the one I thought I didn’t deserve. Let me tell you, the support he has provided is amazing and he truly is my biggest fan. He is always there to help if my blood sugars are low, asking what he needs to get. His passion of always wanting to learn more about the disease is comforting and gets just as excited as I do when my A1c has improved. He puts drive in me to strive for better but keeps me level headed when I get frustrated because sometimes diabetes doesn’t make sense. He is always there to keep me grounded and let me know that I am doing well. They do say we are hardest on ourselves and now I see that this is true.
Diabetes, what was once a demon to me, has now turned into a passion. If you were to ask me 10-15 years ago if I wanted to educate others about diabetes, the answer would have been no. I can; however, now say that diabetes is an absolute passion. I love sharing my knowledge and teaching others about this disease. I use to have a fear of telling people I had diabetes because the negative views people have of the disease, but being a nurse I have educated others in the field more about the disease. I know embrace that I have diabetes and share my experiences, believe me when I say this diabetes is constant and it takes a lot of work but it is manageable and definitely rewarding. It has helped define and shape who I am and can honestly say I don’t think I would be where I am without this experience. I now firmly believe you can turn a negative experience into a positive one. While I don’t currently work in the diabetes realm, I hope to someday soon so I can share my experience and encourage others to share their experiences and take control of their diabetes.
Medical advances and strong effort on Kaitlin’s part allowed her to take a diabetes diagnosis and turn it into a testament of her ability have control over her health.
The team at Promerica Health thanks Kaitlin for sharing her story!