By Deleah Grijalva
When people think of diabetes, an automatic assumption is that a person eats too much sugar and is out of shape. Although diet and weight may be factors for Diabetes-2, few people seem to know the difference between Diabetes-1 and Diabetes-2.
Type One Diabetes is an auto immune disease; a person’s pancreas does not produce insulin, a hormone that the body uses to convert glucose (sugar) into energy. Sometimes that process does not work properly; the body does not have insulin, and therefore, the glucose just stays stagnant in the blood, which is toxic. The harsh reality is that if Type One Diabetics do not have access to insulin, it is fatal.
Some people do not even know they are Type One Diabetics. I found out the hard way…
I received my confirmation of having Diabetes Two barely a year ago—on November 1, 2019, at 16 years old. One never forgets the date they receive the news because your life is forced into a major transition. The previous summer, I had lost more than 35 pounds without even trying, and my hair started falling out. I was constantly having to urinate, and my mood swings were like a pendulum on steroids! At this point, my mom decided that it was time to schedule an appointment with my doctor.
Lo and behold—I received my diagnosis; it was like a slap in the face.
Soon thereafter, I began my frequent visits to the Angel Clinic at Banner Hospital that serves the medical needs of diabetic children. There, I learned everything about Diabetes-1, and at times, this new knowledge was stressful and overwhelming. I had to alter my entire lifestyle. I learned, for example, that I had to always carry insulin, sugar and a glucagon (an emergency medical treatment for a low blood sugar in case I become unconscious) with me. Everywhere.
I wish it were that simple…
With Type One Diabetes, I have to also had to recognize and deal with low blood sugar levels and highs—constantly monitoring my numbers. If my blood sugar level dips below 70, I immediately need a fast-acting sugar (orange juice or candy, such as Skittles) before I become unconscious. I recognize the feeling when this occurs; actually, the symptoms are difficult to ignore; I become shaky, dizzy and weak.
When I experience high blood sugar levels, I need to inject insulin using a specific calculation and guzzle down water or go on a walk. (This happens when my sugar levels reach 250; most people’s blood sugar is WHAT?). I also have to check for ketones—urinating on a stick and comparing the color to the colors on the bottle and pray that I have a “normal” color; otherwise, I need to be rushed to the hospital because I have DKA (Diabetic Keto Acidosis) which means there is poison in my blood from having too much sugar or carbs and not giving myself insulin.
My sugar levels can escalate for many reasons: excessive stress, eating foods with too many carbs, and sometimes not eating enough. Many people must prick their fingers to determine their glucose levels, but thankfully for me that is not the case; I now have a device called a Dexcom G6, a machine that is inserted into either my arms, stomach or thighs that continuously monitors my glucose. Every five minutes, I receive a message through an app on my cellphone that informs me of my sugar levels.
Two kinds of insulin are keeping me alive. One is called Humalog (fast acting insulin) that I use after every time I eat or when my sugar is high. The other insulin is called Lantus (long lasting insulin) that I inject into my body at 8 p.m. every day. My immune system is greatly compromised, which is why I have had to be extremely careful not to contract COVID-19.
Undoubtedly, Type-One Diabetes is a lot to handle. Although it’s less frequent, I still ask, “Why me…?” Then, I realize that I am just one of 1.25 million Americans living with this condition, and the rates are expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years. According to Dr. Sanjoy Dutta, vice president of research at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, “The number of cases is alarming, and we have to stop it from growing. The first line of message is that knowledge is power, and that while we don’t have a preventative therapy in our lineup yet, just knowing about Type 1 diabetes is important. No one is spared. Anyone can get diabetes—and at any age.”
Currently, there is still no cure for Diabetes-1.
I have my good days, and I have my bad days, but even in my challenging moments, I refuse to let this disease defeat me or assail upon my lack of hope that someday a doctor will tell me, “I have a cure for you.”
If you are feeling some of the symptoms that I have described, please let a parent know, and make them schedule a medical appointment. Ignoring your symptoms—no matter how big or how small—is never a remedy.