I started this post a few months ago but let it slip to the back of my mind... so here it is... my story... [of the condensed-milk variety]
There was a time when the word diabetes couldn't leave my mouth without tears streaming down my face. To say "I have diabetes" was the most difficult sentence to speak, to think, to acknowledge. So, I rarely did. The people who knew were the ones I didn't have to tell - they just knew because they're my family, friends or teachers that needed to know why I missed school for three days.
It was the 14 March 2000. For a few weeks I just felt off balance. My weight had dropped drastically and I wasn't very much of anything to start with, I was incessantly thirsty, going to the bathroom, tired, moody. I finally told my mom how I felt and made an appointment to see my doctor the next day. On the Ides of March I walked into the doctor's office with my sister Kelly by my side. The symptoms were obvious to him, did a few quick tests and he came back in the room and said "you have diabetes". Simple. I had no idea what that meant but it didn't sound good. We called my mom and told her what the doctor said and that we need to go to Children's Hospital immediately and that I might be there for a few days. My sister and I left the office and went home to pack a few things for me and we waited for our parents. I don't remember speaking the whole way home or to the hospital. All I could do was sit there with this lump in my throat - the tears being pushed down inside.
When my parents got home we got in the car and headed out to New Orleans where I would spend the next 3 days in a drafty gown and hospital bed learning about diabetes and all the complications that could arise in the future and the basics of caring for myself. I don't remember speaking for those days, I just felt numb and scared and alone, but very well-hydrated for the first time in a long time. Laying in my hospital bed with an IV in my hand I was forced to see the world with new eyes. Why me? I thought. Why now? What did I do for this to happen to me? It wasn't for many years later that I learned the answers to those questions.
When I was allowed to go home I felt lost. Life turned upside down. I remember sitting at the computer chatting online with friends when suddenly I thought I was going to pass out. I was shaking and felt wobbly as I tried to walk to get my meter to test. I was low. I hated that feeling, I hated this, when will it stop? I got a juice and went back to the computer and sat in the chair and cried. As time passed, I got used to the routine of life with diabetes. The checking and re-checking, the injections, the carb counting, the crying... Years rolled on and I was in my final semester at Loyola when my mom called me and said I should stop by her office for lunch. It was almost my 'anniversary' and we always spend it together. She showed me an email she received from Children with Diabetes and a link to an organization called AYUDA. 'This organization does diabetes summer camps in South America' she told me. My ears instantly perked up at the words South America. I'd been studying Spanish as a minor and love to travel. My mom didn't mind because it was diabetes-related and she knew there would be people to watch over me [I suppose]. So I applied that day and was accepted as a volunteer a few days later. As soon as I got notice of my acceptance I started writing fundraising letters to everyone I knew. I vividly remember telling one of my pshyc professors after class about the journey I was going to take. She asked why I wanted to do something like this and that lump suddenly appeared out of nowhere and I began to cry. I couldn't hold the tears down. Sniffling I said, "I have diabetes".
When it finally came time for me to go to Ecuador I was ecstatic. More so for traveling than being around a bunch of other kids with diabetes. But that soon changed. I'd never met anyone with diabetes and to be surrounded by so many others was truly a life changing moment. I still like to look around the room [or wherever we are, bus, plane, office, fogata] and count how many of us there are. I learned so much about myself during my first time in Ecuador with AYUDA. I learned that I had not accepted my life with diabetes, I was suppressing my emotions and I had no reason to feel alone. I met so many people to share stories with and we all helped each other through difficult moments. But mostly I just sat back in awe in the manner in which they took care of themselves and were so free and ::gasp:: testing in public!
This was a whole new world I entered into. Where I could help as much as I could learn and I knew I had to continue being apart of this amazing group of people. Since I've come back from that beautiful country I have not once cried because "I have diabetes" I am now proud to say that I have gained strength and a new outlook on the world that I would have never otherwise seen or felt. I don't know where I would be right now if it weren't for AYUDA, the other volunteers and those glorious children in Ecuador but [I like to think as Ketut Liyer told Liz Gilbert] you were never not coming here, you were always coming here. It is destiny, set in my path to be a part of, I am here for this reason.
I have diabetes.