It seems that more and more adults are getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes — formerly known as the ‘juvenile’ kind.
Today, we’re happy to host Florida-based flight attendant Julia Buckley, who was hit with a T1D diagnosis in her 40s. Julia shares what that experience was like and where she managed to find help and peer support — as well as her own path to becoming a blogger at Adventures of a Type 1 Traveler.
In 1986, I became a flight attendant. I was fresh out of college and ready to see the world. I’ve been based in Washington, D.C., New York, and Miami. I’ve flown all over the United States, the Caribbean, and most of Europe and South and Central America. I’ve met countless celebrities, from sports figures to musicians to politicians and even royalty. It’s been a great career and I have seen and learned so much!
But it took nearly two more decades for diabetes to fly into my personal story.
Fast forward to 2007, I was having some very disturbing symptoms: incurable yeast infection, excessive thirst, and urinating frequently. Then, I lost 26 pounds over two weeks. But I was 43 years old, so none of my doctors recognized these symptoms as telltale diabetes symptoms.
One day I went to see my rheumatologist for my rheumatoid arthritis that I’ve had since the late 80s. I told him I was losing my mind from lack of sleep, due to getting up so many times a night to go to the bathroom. He assured me that we would get to the bottom of it and he sent me for a whole bunch of tests. The last one was a glucose tolerance test. The testing facility then lost the tests and they didn’t surface for another week. On the day my doctor received the results, I had left on a three-day trip.
When I landed in St. Thomas, in the Caribbean, my phone exploded with messages to call the doctor’s office. I called and the front desk staff put me right through. The doctor thought the tests were wrong and wanted me to come right in to retest, to which I responded that I had just landed in St. Thomas. He asked me to come right home, which meant going to Miami and then Baltimore — when I landed I’d been up 23 hours.
That next morning, I go to retest and am told I am diabetic and to see my primary care doctor.
When I got to my primary care doctor’s office he looked me straight in the eyes and said not to worry, that I could manage this but he thought I might be type 1 because I already had one autoimmune disease. And then, he sent me to the hospital to see the endocrinologist. She also thought I was probably type 1 and ran the antibody test, which was off the charts.
I left her office on 5 shots a day and a little overwhelmed. I was told I would probably not be cleared (by my company) to return to work for six months to a year, but that could be shortened if I were to get an insulin pump. I’m happy to say that with my pump and one of the original CGMs (continuous glucose monitors), I was back at work in a little over four months! I had a lot of time on my hands during that time and I poured myself into reading everything online that I could.
Finding peer support for adults with T1D
Discovering the DOC (diabetes online community) helped me in so many ways. The most important thing it did was make me feel not alone in this journey. And, in that, I found a voice I didn’t know I had. Sharing my story and accomplishments became a way to help other new T1s.
Early on, after my diagnosis, I used the archives of Kerri Sparling’s blog posts at Six Until Me because she was one of the only adults I could find. Since then, a lot more adults are posting. Also, I tried to read stuff that celebrity advocate Nicole Johnson had written. There just wasn’t a whole lot written peer-wise for a 43-year-old. I felt strange and alone being diagnosed that old. I still feel odd at this age with no immediate support and that’s why I have roommates.
Thriving in the workplace with type 1 diabetes
When I’m at work, I know I have control. But I also know that if something went very wrong, I have faith in my coworkers’ training as safety professionals as flight attendants.
Also, I give my coworkers credit for asking questions. I gladly take the opportunity to educate. There are also people in my union that know if another flight attendant is newly diagnosed, they are free to give out my name so that the person has someone to talk to with experience flying as a type 1. I actively searched out other flight attendants when I was first diagnosed. I wanted tips and tricks.
Patient blogging, sharing diabetes lessons
In 2018, I started blogging after attending my first Children with Diabetes Friends For Life conference in Orlando, Florida, which now has an excellent track for adults with T1D. While there, I mentioned to a few people that I was taking this monumental trip a couple months later to Europe, by myself. They thought that was incredible and suggested I blog about it.
My blog is Adventures of a Type 1 Traveler, where I started out blogging about some of the adventures I have on my work layovers, and by the time I took that trip I was ready to share the experience wholeheartedly. Some people thought I was brave to travel solo, but some thought I was foolhardy. What I knew was, if I waited until I had someone to share the adventures with, I might wait forever and never get the chance. So part of my blog is how to travel solo as a T1 and the precautions to take to be safe. I am a firm believer in carrying multiple backups. And I travel to places I know to be safe.
Soon, my blog will have an added topic, because in September 2019, I turned 55 and I’d like to open up more of a dialogue about becoming a senior with type 1. I have much to learn about the subject and I’m sure others do, too. Not to worry though, I’ll always write about my travel adventures! Recently, I also started a Facebook page, T1D Flight Attendants, to share tips and tricks (it is a closed group, so you’ll have to answer questions for entry).
Key lessons I’ve learned about living with T1D are:
- What works for me might not work for you and vice versa, aka your diabetes may vary.
- Pre-bolusing (dosing insulin before eating) is my ticket to success and the thing I have the hardest time remembering.
- Don’t measure your success by other people’s successes.
- Your glucose test results should not upset you — “it’s just a number.”
Julia Buckley lives in Florida and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007 at the age of 43, almost 20 years after her diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis. She’s had a career as a flight attendance since the 1980s, and shares her story at the Adventures of a T1 Traveler blog.