Every October my family and I raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a nonprofit whose funds go directly to research that affects the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes. If you've ever read this blog, or perchance glanced at the machine on my hip, you know why we do this. That song never changes. This year, instead of appealing to your pocketbook for my own benefit, I want you to shift your focus.
This year I want to raise money for JDRF to support the parents and caregivers of people with type 1. For decades type 1 diabetes was known as "juvenile diabetes" because it is typically is diagnosed in children and adolescents. Type 1 is autoimmune, which means that the body develops uber-powerful antibodies that destroy the islets of Langerhans -- those oh-so-special cells that create insulin. Insulin is the hormone that makes it possible for us to metabolize all the sugar we eat. It is what lets us use what we put in our bodies for energy. It is also easily destroyed by digestive enzymes, which means that for those of us who no longer make it, the best way for us to get the hormones we need is to inject them through the skin. The go-to method for treating type 1 is multiple injection therapy; depending on your age, size, metabolism, and the kind of insulin you take, you could be taking anywhere from one to five shots a day. An increasing number of diabetics take insulin through an insulin pump, an amazing little machine that requires daily upkeep. Not to mention testing your blood sugar, which must be done with minute lancets that pierce through the fleshy skin of your fingers.
This is a lot for a little kid to think about. I can only imagine what it must feel like for their parents, siblings, and caregivers.
I think about all the things my parents have done for me -- regular parent stuff, like making me dinner every night as a child, or teaching me how to assemble a tent, or shlepping across the state with my rowing team in high school -- and somehow it is all raised to the power of three when insulin gets involved. How they must have worried when I left the country - alone - not once or twice, but three times. What must have been going through their mind when I'd call them from somewhere far away because I'd lost my blood sugar monitor or gotten low at work or been denied coverage or gotten food poisoning and threw up my dosage. I remember the way my parents handled health insurance companies, and the graceful way they taught me to be unashamed for this thing that sidled its way into our lives.
I think about the kids I met at camp, many of them still too young or unprepared to give themselves their own injections. Somehow it was one thousand times harder for me to give them their shots than to take my own. I remember their parents at the end of the week: the ones that called to hash out dosages with camp nurses, the ones who took advantage of five days without carbohydrate counting to go on a little vacation of their own. What must that be like?
I think about my older brother, Josh, who years later is a fabulously popular high school teacher, and how he'd sit with me until I felt better, this big wonderful sensitive goofy person who innately knows to make the big things small again.
I think of my best friends growing up, who sat through my gigglefests whenever I got low, and quickly perfected the subtlest way of asking, "...Are you sure you don't need some juice?" And the reasonable, honorable way they taught me to see type 1 for what it is -- a thing as outside me as it is inside.
I think of my cousins and aunts and uncles and neighbors and grandparents, the ones who donate every year, who attend JDRF research meetings in other cities, who don't mind when I pass up the Christmas pie, but are ready with a slice in case I change my mind.
I think of my boyfriend, whose patience is a thing of wonder. A few weeks ago I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at my abdomen, which was decorated with a pump infusion set on one side and a continuous blood glucose monitor glowing on the opposite hip. Sometimes it just looks ugly to me. I asked him what he thought and he said, I can't even really see them anymore. They are a part of you, so I like them.
These are the people I want you to donate for. Or if you are these people - do it for yourself. There are millions of worthy causes worth your time and money, but few whose impact spreads quite as quickly as this one.
My family is raising money for the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes on October 7. To donate for our cause, visit our team page.