Last weekend I traveled to Chicago with about 20 other people to volunteer with an organization called Project S.N.A.P at the JDRF walks. I’ve been volunteering with Project S.N.A.P at this walk for around 5 years at the same location in Palos Hills. I’ve talked about what Project S.N.A.P does in other posts so instead I want to focus on something that I observed this year. The people.
There were more of them! This year was probably the biggest crowd of people at the walk I’ve seen in years. It was a nice day, a little cloudy but warm for October so that always helps. I have mixed feelings about the event being bigger. If it was bigger because more support people, more friends and family members came together to support JDRF and their person with diabetes, then I love that the event is growing! But if it’s getting bigger because more people are being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, well, then that just makes me sad.
At this walk, there was a special tent for newly diagnosed families where the T1D person and their family members were given blue bandanas to wear. This made it pretty easy to tell if there were newly diagnosed people at the walk. I scanned the crowd, and sure enough I found a handful of blue bandanas.
This event can be emotional. You can hear it in the voices of the parents when their eyes fill with tears as they talk about their son or daughter they’re fundraising for and the hope for a cure. When I see newly diagnosed kids and their families, I just want to go up and give them a big hug. Tell them that everything will be okay.
I recently gave a guest talk in an undergraduate psychology class during their unit on stress and chronic conditions. I talked all about the relationship between type 1 diabetes and stress. When I got finished with my talk, I opened it up for questions. The students asked a lot of thoughtful questions. One student asked, “If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 12 year old self?” (12 was the age that I was diagnosed at).
I would tell my 12 year old self the same thing that I wish I could have told all the newly diagnosed kids and their families. I would tell them, don’t ever let your diabetes hold you back from doing something you want to do. You can find a way. I would tell myself how I was able to study abroad for 6 months, to travel the world, to jump out of a plane and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. I would tell them that you are not defined by a number. That there will be a lot of numbers in your future, blood sugar numbers, A1c numbers, and those numbers can be frustrating and discouraging, but you are so much more than those numbers! And finally I would tell them that having diabetes sucks, but that you will be a stronger person because of it.
I didn’t get to say all of this to those newly diagnosed at the walk, but I’m saying it now. And hopefully, they or anyone else newly diagnosed will not only read this, but believe it.