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Fighting Diabetes as a Family

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Bob Stefko

My husband not only learned how to use the pump but also began counting carbs, preparing for blood sugar spikes instead of reacting to them, and getting help for the depression that stemmed from coping with a chronic illness. He realized that despite having diabetes for three decades, he had been undereducated—and perhaps unwilling to learn new methods for controlling the disease. But now his emotional and physical health are better than ever. These days we have funny names we use with the girls for blood testing, and make a contest out of guessing the number on the meter when my husband does a check. We are even considering taking part in a federal study that tests our daughters annually for diabetes.

This doesn't mean our battle is over. We fight the disease every day. I've heard it said that when a member of a family has a chronic illness, everyone in the family has it. Is it horrible for me to think that sometimes we have it worse than he does? When I ask my husband how he can live with the disease, he says that after 34 years he feels he has power over it. I decided that we needed to be empowered too. I showed my girls where we keep emergency glucose tablets and gels, then placed additional meds around the house where they could see them. We posted a sign emblazoned with "911" by the phone with the sentence "My dad is a diabetic and passed out." We role-played and practiced our emergency response. We talked about the days Dad passed out, but focused on the positives.

"I know that was scary. But look at us! We handled it, didn't we?" I said to them. "We knew what to do to help. I am so proud of us. And Dad's okay. This might happen again, but we know we can handle it because we already have."

"But it probably won't happen again, right?" my older daughter, Cecelia, asked, her blue eyes wide.

Every mom instinct I had wanted to skim the surface. But I was speaking with young girls who could spot a lie before a single word is spoken. I told them that we trust Daddy to take care of himself. But we can never, ever trust diabetes.

Diabetes Overview
Type 1

The body halts or decreases its production of insulin, making insulin injections or a pump necessary to stop glucose from building up in the bloodstream. This disease is usually diagnosed in childhood. Warning signs can include weight loss, frequent urination, rapid breathing or loss of feeling or tingling in feet.

Type 1.5, or LADA

Often misdiagnosed as type 2, latent autoimmune diabetes in adults occurs when the body stops or lessens its manufacture of insulin—basically a slowly progressing form of type 1.

Type 2

Most people with this kind are overweight, as fat cells can make it more difficult for the body to process insulin. The result is an increase of glucose in the bloodstream that requires medication to alleviate. Previously diagnosed in adulthood, it's now being diagnosed in children due to the obesity epidemic.

Gestational Diabetes

Up to 18% of expectant mothers have high blood sugar during their pregnancy. The condition usually goes away once a woman gives birth, but it increases her risk (possibly her child's too) of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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