Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sarah's story - a teenager with diabetes (Age 14 edition)

Wow, three years ago I was blogging like a madwoman. Diabetes was all-consuming and it really was difficult to think about much else unless I vomited all my thoughts, fears, and experiences here.

Then: I had an elementary school student newly diagnosed with diabetes. I had nurse issues, child issues, teacher issues. We had scary lows, scary highs, and gray hairs popping out every which way. We had high ketones (still a little wary of vacation, as they always seem to happen there), and emergency room visits.

And while I know we will continue to have our struggles, Sarah will have sick days here and there, and diabetes will continue to throw curve balls our way on occasion, I feel like we've made it to that point where I never though we'd be. To a place where diabetes is in the background of our lives.

Don't get me wrong. Sarah still has diabetes. She still counts every single carbohydrate she puts into her mouth. She still checks her blood sugar an average of 12 times every day. She makes choices to not eat foods she knows will make her feel icky later. She has highs (hit 300 on Halloween - and she didn't even eat candy!). She has lows, but our master low catcher, Scouty Wompus (her amazing diabetes alert dog) lets her know WAY before she's low enough to feel it - and as a result she's begun to look forward to the lows because it's so much fun to reward Scout and watch him get all crazy excited.

So what's Sarah up to?

She's a high school student - getting excellent grades (A's and B's). She loves taking Scout to school. She even started taking him to P.E. all the time, and lunch on occasion (we'd originally planned for him to stay in a kennel during P.E. and lunch). She enjoys sitting on the grass with him during lunch, and she says he helps motivate her to run during P.E.. Of course, there was that one time he stopped during the run to poop, but that's all part of having a diabetes alert dog.

Sarah loves school. She's in an amazing choir with a fantastic choir teacher. Her language arts teacher is young and funny and she's rediscovered a love of literature this year. P.E. is super fun because she's the only one with a goofy yellow Labrador participating in each activity. Health is entertaining because she generally knows more than the teacher (ask her about the time a child told the class he'd been "dissected"). And of course she enjoys her theater class, and can't wait until auditions for the spring musical.

She's still very involved in community musical theater. Sarah has been involved in theater since she was 7 years old, so over half of her life now. She recently had the opportunity to play the part of Ariel in a local kids production of The Little Mermaid - produced by Musical Mayhem Productions. It was a fantastic production and so many kids wanted her autograph and to take pictures with her after each show that there were long lines! And diabetes was never a problem as Sarah did an amazing job of eating well, checking bg regularly, and keeping on top of her health to ensure she was fit to perform.

Without those pesky lows (Scout generally warns her in the low 80's), her A1c is slightly higher than it's been over the last couple of years, but still in the high 6's, so we're happy with that. 

Last month we traveled to Southern CA for an amazing conference on diabetes alert dogs. Sarah, Scout and I had a BLAST. It was a weekend of learning and fun, and we made new friends and reconnected with old friends. Sarah even got to share some of her school experience with parents who are new to the DAD world and still trying to figure out what taking a DAD to school will really be like.

And here we are. We've made it through October, and we're in November - Diabetes Awareness Month. I'm aware that Sarah is probably unusual for a teenager. She's easy-going about diabetes. She's actually kind of proud that she has something that makes her a little different. She and I have always been close, so we don't generally get into arguments, and Sarah has always had a desire to be healthy so she really is invested in taking care of herself.

If I have any advice for other parents with younger children who will eventually be teenagers, it would be this:
  • Teach them the basics, but don't overwhelm them. They don't need to be threatened with the worst consequences. Let them be kids.
  • Only let them take on the tasks they are truly ready for. Don't force them to check, count carbs, bolus and change pump sites when they're home - they do this all day at school. Let home be a place where they can take a break from diabetes (i.e., you do it for them as long as they'll let you)
  • Try not to stress. I really believe our children can feel our stress and they generally react poorly to it. Yes, diabetes can be scary, but if we are calm and keep it real and simple, they can be calm about it too.
  • Ask for help when you need it, and encourage your child to do the same.
Having a teenager with diabetes does not have to be the nightmare that you've heard about. For some it will be, absolutely, because all kids are different and some will be more difficult than others. But don't let it be a self-fulfilling prophesy by assuming it will be horrible. Your child can probably read your fears and emotions better than you think. So my advise is to keep it positive as much as possible. Try to find the good in every day, and where something related to diabetes offers a fun time, or a special experience - take it.