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researchLast Saturday, my husband and I joined hundreds of other interested people at the 14th Annual Diabetes Awareness Day & Expo co-hosted by the Canadian Diabetes Association and the University of Calgary. Speakers included: researchers, a cardiovascular specialist, a dietician and a motivational speaker working in obesity medicine. Here are some of the surprising, at least to me, things I learned.

  • 1 out of 11 people globally have diabetes (types 1 &2)
  • Every six seconds someone dies from diabetes or diabetes complications
  • 1 in 2 people don’t know they have diabetes or pre diabetes. Take the Canadian Diabetes Association test here to assess your risk.
  • Type one diabetes can strike a person at any age, right up to 80 years of age
  • Type 2, which used to be considered an older person’s disease can now be seen in children as young as six due to obesity.

But the news wasn’t all doom and gloom. Some of the research progress is astounding. Dr. Peter Santamaria, Professor and Chair of the Julia McFarlane Diabetes Research Centre described the success of treating 1 diabetes using a new class of drugs called nanomedicines.

As you may know, type 1diabetes is an autoimmune disease, one of over 100 autoimmune diseases that are impacting more than 20 percent of the world’s population. Dr. Santamria explained that these nanomedicines find the bad white blood cells that are attacking the pancreas and turn those cells into a super white blood cells into diabetes fighting cells. Sounds a bit like magic to me.

The excitement over this research extends beyond type 1 diabetes because Dr. Santamaria described the drugs like a screwdriver that requires different heads depending upon which chronic disease it is targeting. Progress towards helping people with type 1 could be modified to help people with other autoimmune conditions such as: asthma, MS,  arthritis etc.

Dr. James Shapiro spoke about the Edmonton Protocol where islet cells are transplanted into the liver. There is a 94% survival rate for patients undergoing these transplants 18 years post transplant.   The issue to date with islet transplant is that it’s only used when all other methods to treat type 1 diabetes have failed because the anti-rejection drugs required after transplant are so hard on the body. But there’s encouraging work in that area as well. The idea of an islet transplant would be more attractive if it didn’t require anti-rejection drugs for life. Don’t you agree? We also saw photos of procedures transplanting islet cells in other areas of the body: under the skin, the GI tract and the omentum.

All these steps forward in treatment and knowledge fill me with hope that my son’s type 1 diabetes treatment will improve over time.

If you are sometimes discouraged by the pace of research, remember insulin was discovered less than 100 years ago. Some of the tools we use today would have seemed like science fiction just a  few decades ago.

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Remember You Are Doing a Good Job

img_2859Tomorrow my son and I see his endocrinologist for his quarterly check up. Even though we have been dancing this diabetes jig for years, the day before the appointment is still filled with anxiety. What will Alexander’s A1C be? Will I feel judged by the doctor?

I have low expectations for the lab results tomorrow because we have gotten lax in tracking daily numbers and are not adjusting as aggressively as we might. Attending a diabetes check up feels a bit like a dieter facing the scales, praying for a positive result even if it’s not fully deserved. I will hold my breath hoping for a good A1C despite feeling we could be trying harder.

I ease my anxiety by reminding myself of all the things we do well like counting carbs, changing pump sites frequently and bolusing before meals. As I write in my book Parenting Joyfully When Your Child Has Diabetes, I want Alexander to know he is more than that A1C number. As he takes on increasing responsibility for his diabetes care I compliment him about how diligent he is.

I shared my worry about the upcoming appointment with a D-mom friend and she told me the tactic she uses to remind herself that she’s doing a great job no matter how the appointment goes. She schedules a delivery of flowers to herself on endocrinology appointment days and makes sure the card reads something encouraging like you are awesome, you are doing a great job. I love this idea.

If flowers aren’t your thing, what might you do to be sure that you receive a positive message on appointment day? Could you ask a friend to set a reminder and text you a supportive, encouraging message that day? Is there room in your schedule to pair the appointment with a special outing with your child? When the timing works, Alexander and I go out for lunch after the appointment.

Do you have a strategy for supporting you and your child on appointment day? If so, I’d love to hear it.

 

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My heart skipped a beat when I answered my cell phone the other night to hear my son say, “Mom, I’m having a crisis.” I tried not to panic. As the mom of a teenager with type 1diabetes, there really could be a health crisis. I mentally talked myself off the ledge by reminding myself that he called, not the carpool dad. So he was conscious.

“I left my backpack at Improv class and it’s locked now,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said. I spoke slowly trying to reassure him and see the crisis in this.

“It’s got my diabetes checker, my low treatments, my epi pen in it,” he said. His voice rose with anxiety. “My blood sugar is high.”

“You will be home soon, then we can adjust. I have a few sample checkers (meters) here. I will look at them and if we don’t have enough test strips I will drive to the drug store and buy another checker,” I said calmly, trying to soothe him.

While he was enroute, I dashed around checking our back up supplies. My disorganized diabetes bins mocked me. Despite parenting a child with type I diabetes for years I don’t do diabetes perfectly. I found two sample checkers but they had only a few test strips. They might have gotten us through the night, but if his blood sugar was really high I wasn’t willing to risk it. I drove to the drugstore and bought another meter and double-checked with the pharmacist that it used the test strips I have stockpiled at home. In my book Parenting Joyfully When Your Child Has Diabetes I reinforce the importance of a second set of eyes when you are anxious of feeling stressed about a diabetes situation.

I arrived home just after Alexander. Although he is fifteen he immediately sought comfort in my arms. As we hugged I felt the tension in his back. I hugged him tighter. I opened the new meter and asked him to set the date and time. I knew having a task would keep him calm. I checked his blood sugar and it was extremely high − 29 mmo/L (540 mg/dl). I stifled my urge to freak out. I wondered if the extremely high blood sugar was caused by his anxiety over losing his backpack. That’s the thing about diabetes, you often never know what causes an out of range blood sugar.

I tried to ease his guilt about the backpack. “Everyone loses things, It’s no big deal. Do you remember when I left my purse at McDonald’s?” I asked. Alexander remembered but the memory wouldn’t distract him. I wanted to assure him everyone makes mistakes and even with diabetes that doesn’t need to translate to a crisis.

After correcting his blood sugar and checking on him through the night, by morning Alexander’s blood sugar was back in range but his anxiety was still high. It’s only when Alexander spotted the boy delivering his backpack in the school parking lot that his face broke into a grin and he hopped out of the car. I watched as he flagged the boy down, reclaimed his backpack and hoisted it over his shoulder. I watched him stand taller and walk with a spring in his step. My shoulders separated from my ears as I relaxed as well.

Although the “crisis” ended well I was surprised by the level of anxiety created by an innocent moment of forgetfulness. I felt proud that I hadn’t overreacted and showed Alexander how a crisis could be a learning opportunity.

But I had been so busy trying to reassure Alexander that forgetting his backpack was no big deal, I’d failed to see how traumatic the loss was to him. That backpack is truly his lifeline and I want him to treat it as such.

Instead of jumping into problem solving mode, his emotional needs might have been better served if I had slowed down to truly hear what he considered a crisis. Next time.

How do you or your child react when you have lost or forgotten supplies?

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November is Diabetes Awareness Month

tdlookslikemeNovember is diabetes awareness month. This is just one of many ways to promote awareness of diabetes on social media this month. The numbers captured here give a broad sense of what it’s like to live with type 1 diabetes. Seeing them in print made me catch my breath as it reinforced how tough of a journey this is for my son.

If you know someone with type 1 diabetes, ask them what it’s like to live with this disease.

 

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