On October 18, 2014, I'll be heading to Death Valley to participate in JDRF's Ride to Cure Diabetes. If all goes well, by the end of the day I will have ridden 105 miles with a few hundred other dedicated riders from across the country. We'll be riding with a common goal – to cure type 1 diabetes; yet, we’ll all have very individual reasons for being there.
My grandparents used to have a pillow that sat on a couch in their living room that read, “A father is someone you look up to no matter how tall you are.” When I turned fifteen those words didn’t mean a whole lot me. Six days later I knew my dad in a way that suddenly equalized us in a way I never imagined. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on March 7th, 1988. Freshman year of high school was suddenly not so awesome.
Nearly 26 years later I am still living with diabetes. It roughs out to about 42,000 – 46,000 shots of injected insulin over the years. Roughly the same number of finger-prick blood tests. Probably more. I’ve had to show the phlebotomist where the vein is.
I remember, though, when my dad came to visit me in the hospital. I was about twenty pounds underweight (so just pushing 100lbs), and was riding this super high-calorie diet that had been prescribed to me upon admittance. We had just moved back to the US from England, and we weren’t even living in our house yet. The day before had gone something like this: visit the old pediatrician, rush upstairs to endocrinology, rush to the hospital. I was in a room with a kid who slipped in the shower and tore something horrible. I won’t get into it. And then my dad, by himself, came in to see me.
It was eerily similar to when I had visited him in his hospital room almost 13 years earlier. He had an orange on his bedside table, too, to practice the ‘feel’ of giving an injection. My dad, three of his four brothers, and his mother are either living with or have died from complications of type 1 diabetes (T1D). To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one in the third generation to be living with T1D. I don’t think my dad was very comfortable when he came to see me.
We hemmed and hawed for some time, I’m sure. I had done my eighth-grade science fair project on diabetes, so I sort of knew what was going on. I had already developed a taste for Diet Coke, even if it wasn’t a preference. We would both become familiar with syringes, vials, alcohol swabs, draconian blood-glucose monitors, and LifeSavers in a way most father-son relationships don’t develop.
But when my dad came to visit me in my hospital room neither he, nor I, were ready to look at each other as equals. My dad has stubbornly lived with this disease for almost forty years. Complications have been few for both of us, fortunately. But I think you can safely say that we are each, in our own way, defiantly angry about it. This wasn’t something he could fix for either of us, and he knew it was a burden that I would have to carry on my own.
I’ll never be taller than my dad; that’s just how it goes. But the day he came in to my hospital room, maybe feeling somehow responsible, wanting to say something to take it away - that’s the day I often think of when I think of how much I respect and love my dad. We talked plenty about our care (and continue to do so argumentatively), and how life would be different, and how it wouldn’t. And I remember thinking that it was one of the only times I’d ever sensed that my dad was truly sad about something.
At some point, I imagine, we all want to be like our dad. (Sure it’s an arguable point; I get that. My references include Jung, Yeats, Frost, Shakespeare, and George Lucas, to name a few.) I’ve been asked to tell you about who I’m riding for, and I guess I’m finally getting there. My dad. My uncles, my grandmother, other friends and family. Myself. But really, I’m riding for my kids. In this one particular way, I really, really don’t want to be like my dad. I don’t want to teach either of my sons how to give themselves an injection or watch them test their blood multiple times a day. I don’t want to explain what it feels like to not know what’s going on when your blood sugar drops so low you can’t speak, or you break into a cold sweat, or you have a seizure.
This is a new adventure for me – taking charge of my diabetes. I’ve managed living with this disease for nearly 26 years now. It’s time for me to assert some control over this. New technologies and new breakthroughs in therapies are helping me do that. I need your help to fund research, and bring to market, the cure for this disease. Please support me in my efforts to do so.
Check out the links on the page for more info about T1D, the progress we’re making, and what your donation can do to turn Type One into Type None.
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