As we head toward Mother's Day this weekend, my mom has been on my mind -- especially in the context of how we've both been living with type 1 diabetes for most of our lives.
She was 5 years old when diagnosed back in 1958, and ironically, I was diagnosed at the same young age in 1984. From there, it's been two out of three people with diabetes (PWDs) in our immediate family, since I'm an only child.
We are in this together (aren't we all?) and that's created a unique bond.
Unfortunately, it didn't dawn on me until my 20s how lucky I was to have a mother living with T1D, just like me.
Being diagnosed so young, it didn't seem like that big a deal to me in those early years. Sure, Mom and I both did blood tests on that big meter the size of a brick. We had the meal prep routine down, snacks before bed to prevent lows, and insulin injections, which were mandatory before the days of modern D-tech.
But as a kid, I had little appreciation of how special it was that my my was along with me on this diabetes adventure. I was stuck in "I'm so alone" and "My mom doesn't get it" mode, and once my teens set in, I was in full rebellion mode.
The constant "Did you check?" questions were just annoyances in those days, and at first I could just make up a number and get away with it. As I grew older, my parents got savvier and I had to prove that I had tested. I remember fudging my blood sugar numbers in the paper logbooks for years, using different ink and writing styles to make it look like I'd actually penned those results over days and weeks. Blood smears were always a nice touch, too.
In hindsight, I realize how tough it must have been for my mom. She later told me that my grandma was pretty strict with her on diabetes management while growing up, and that of course was during the "Dark Ages of Diabetes" peppered with food exchanges, urine testing and animal insulins that took a long time to kick in. My mom shared that her own mother's D-parenting style pushed her to rebel, and as a result she and my dad tried to take a more laid-back approach.
The hope, as she shared, was that I would not rebel.
Unfortunately, I did anyhow because that's just how I was meant to roll.
Sorry, again Mom (25 years later)! Looking back on those years, I've come to appreciate everything you did for me -- then and now.
I'd like to address this next section directly to my mom, Judy, for all she's done.
What You Taught Me, Mom
Raising Hell and Fighting for Healthcare: In the 1990s (era of the HMOs), I saw how you would relentlessly make phone calls and write letters to insist that insurers and diabetes device companies were providing what we needed. You taught me to raise my voice in whatever way necessary to be heard -- to raise hell when necessary, take names and numbers and ensure that our health needs weren't being railroaded, to make sure to always read the policy, to ensure that reps were actually following their own rules. And when it became apparent we weren't going to win, to ask for a "Supervisor" and go up the chain -- to the head honchos, and even the State Insurance Commissioner if needed. I've come to realize that this is as much a necessary survival skill with diabetes as testing and dosing properly. Sadly, if anything these headaches have only gotten worse and worse over the years. But thanks to you, I am armed with the ability to fight for my own health and help others who need it.
Fine Line between Teaching and Letting It Ride. You wanted me to learn to take care of myself, but at the same tried to guide and even push me when necessary. It's a tough balance trying to decide when to simply be supportive and when to actually intervene. I understand that now. I can't imagine how difficult that was for you, knowing what you did having been through all of this before while you were growing up. I wish I'd appreciated that more in the moment and realized the valuable insight you had then. That may have changed my POV and even my health outcomes quite a bit back then.
Discipline. We know that diabetes management takes self-discipline. I've seen you fine-tune your meals, insulin pumping and CGM'ing to achieve tight control, getting some pretty remarkable results. In contrast, it's been a long-time failing of mine, not being as disciplined as I should be, but in seeing you do it and knowing that longevity is in my genes... well that goes a long way.
Mom and Son D-Moments. OK, there are probably so many more lessons beyond just diabetes you're responsible for teaching me. But something I've come to truly appreciate over the years is our simple moments of just chatting about diabetes. You've heard me ramble on endlessly (in person and online) about the amazing Diabetes Online Community (DOC) that's changed my life, personally and professionally. Sharing with D-peeps is an experience you often can't replicate anywhere and that pyschosocial "peer support" can be so impactful. That's why I like just hanging out and talking D -- from opinions on devices, to tips and tricks and just how we can laugh about Lows and crazy diabetes moments. Thanks for being a D-peep, Mom! Seriously, who else can say their mom really is "one of us"?
Inspiration. That brings me to the point of just how inspiring you are. I know you have lived through a whole lot and seen D-Days much darker than I ever experienced starting in the mid-80s. With all the uncertainties and obstacles, and despite how difficult it can be at times, I've watched you prevail and live a happy life. That's what I want too! (Don't we all?) And watching you and others accomplish it makes me feel that it is possible. Thanks for inspiring me to do better and to really believe that: Yes, I Can Do This!
Growing up with you was gift, but of course many gifts are most appreciated in hindsight. Oh, to have known then what I know now...
Our Lilly Moment
Five years ago this month, my parents came to visit when we were still living in Indianapolis. If my memory serves, that was a Mother's Day-related trip and it was a special time because we both got to tour the Eli Lilly headquarters in downtown Indy. This was a moving experience for us because we both owe our lives to Lilly and its insulin-making scientists who helped make this life-saving treatment mainstream.
That year also happened to mark my 25th dia-versary and my mom's 50th year with T1D -- together, we had 75 years between us! Which made this picture even more special in front of the massive Lilly 75 Year Monument, honoring those PWDs who've lived on insulin for half a century.
Sure, I have a lot of photos of my mom and I over the years. But this one is my favorite "diabetes-themed" pic and it's very special to me.
So leading to Mother's Day 2016, please let me just say how much I appreciate you, Mom! You were the one taking care of me and helping to shape the man I would become, making sure all was good in my world long before I could manage on my own or before meeting my loving Type Awesome wife.
Of course, I'll see you to say thank you and "I Love You" in person (since we don't live far away anymore!), and I'll probably get you some flowers to mark the occasion. With a wink to our mutual diabetes, I'm also planning to #SpareARose and donate the cost of one of those flowers to make sure a child in the developing world can get insulin and life-saving supplies.
Because you taught that me life is precious and we can make a difference with the simplest of little measures. Here's to using that for a greater good in the world!
Happy Mother's Day to all the great moms out there, whether you have diabetes or not.
Those of us who were diagnosed young, we couldn't have made it this far without you!