Ah, high school – a daunting time in teenagers’ lives where they face trials and tribulations that outnumber even the densest amount of acne on their face. Sports, student government, chorus, prom, boyfriends and girlfriends – but try adding Type 1 diabetes into the mix.
I’m a normal high school teen. The only difference between me and the kid that sits in front of me in class is that I have diabetes.
I was diagnosed at 2 years old, barely old enough to talk well, let alone battle a debilitating disease. I can’t say I remember a time where diabetes wasn’t part of my life.
Going to a friend’s house? OK, make sure to pack juice boxes and make sure that you have enough strips for testing your blood. Oh, and be home by 5 o’clock so you can eat on time so your blood sugar doesn’t drop too low.
I didn’t understand any other life than that, and it was just fine with me. I think being diagnosed at such an early age gave me an edge because I grew up with it instead of knowing a normal life before and having to change everything like a few of my fellow diabetic friends.
Luckily, I never had too many problems in school when it came to my diabetes. I was taking insulin shots until I was 8 years old, so my schedule was pretty strict when it came to eating or being able to go places. I always had to have somebody with me who knew how to properly measure my insulin and give injections. My teachers in elementary school, and most of middle school, were understanding.
At 8, I was placed on an insulin pump, which was an entirely new world to me. I was finally able to have some sense of normalcy since I no longer had to have such a strict eating schedule. It was so cool! I could go on sleepovers with my friends and eat what I wanted when I wanted. But, like every good thing, there are some bad things that came with it as well.
“Miss, put your pager away!” “That better not be a phone I see.” “Wow, can I play with it?” “Is that inside your body like an implant?” Those are some of the typical questions that accompanied my insulin pump. I never had any problem answering the questions, but after the millionth time they were asked, it got a bit frustrating. Then there were teachers who didn’t understand what my diabetes meant. If I would feel my blood sugar was low during the middle of class and ask to go to the nurse’s office, some teachers would give me a dirty look, or ask why I needed to go as if I were going to sneak out of class instead of treating my low blood sugar.
Thankfully, I had special plans in place at school that allowed me to have extra time on tests and to carry a bottle of water or juice with me. Since I was fortunate enough to go to a school that has less than a thousand kids in the district, I was able to have the same nurses and most of the same coaches my entire life.
And that brings me to the other part of my story. I’m a fairly active kid; I enjoy playing sports and having fun running around or just being silly. My freshman year of high school, I decided to try out for the soccer team. Tryouts went well enough, and I earned a spot on the team like I had hoped. But after our morning runs, which were around a mile, I noticed that I felt pretty terrible afterward and needed to sit and get something to drink. My coach had no problem with this and never gave me grief about having to sit through the majority of practice, but I noticed a couple of the girls acting a bit cold toward me.
One day after practice, I was sitting in the gym lobby waiting for my mom to come pick me up when I overheard a few girls talking next to me, “How come she gets to sit out and do nothing while we sweat our butts off? It’s just not fair.” I went home sobbing, and seriously considered quitting the team. I had never felt so debilitated by diabetes in my life. It had just been something that I lived with. But after that, I started to look at it as more of a restraint.
Something had to be done, and fast. So I started telling all my friends about my diabetes in great detail, even showing them how to test my blood sugar and give me an injection should I ever need it. I became aware of just how important it was for me to educate people about this.
So four years later, my last season of varsity cheerleading under my belt and graduation right around the corner, I’ve seen just about all there is to see and heard all there is to hear about diabetes. Has it sucked? Most of the time. Am I ever going to give up and let my diabetes control me? Definitely not! But luckily, I’ve had some pretty amazing people behind me to help me through it all.
Carli Starr Aiken is 17 and will graduate from Letchworth Central School this month. She plans to study English at Genesee Community College. On Saturday, she will ride in the 23rd annual Tour de Cure to benefit the American Diabetes Association. For more information or to donate to Carli’s fundraising effort, visit www.diabetes.org/buffalotour, click the donate button and enter her name.