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Posts Tagged ‘pancreas’

Okay, let’s get this party started off with a refresher course on the basics, shall we? I hear a lot of collective groaning out there, but are you THAT sure that you REALLY know what type 1 diabetes (T1D) is? For my T1D friends, feel free to check my work. But for everyone else, really, read it. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. That right there usually comes as a surprise to many people. This means that I didn’t eat too much or the wrong kinds of foods. I didn’t take poor care of myself and I wasn’t born with it. Well, I was born with a defective gene but that didn’t come into effect until I was seven years old. Many people with T1D remember being sick with a virus shortly before their diagnosis. I am no exception. I remember being on a tennis court with a friend one day that summer and telling my mom I wasn’t feeling well. Sure enough, I had a fever. The fever lasted three days and then all was good again. Until it wasn’t.

My immune system was apparently so proud of the work it did eradicating that virus that it wanted to do more and do it well. My immune system took a good hard look at the insulin-producing cells (islet cells) of my pancreas, determined them to be foreign, and destroyed them.

Now let’s pause there for a second and talk about insulin and why it’s important. When I go around to schools and talk to kids about diabetes I like to refer to insulin as a “golden key”. So imagine that the cells of your body are locked up tight and imagine that when you eat, insulin runs through your body like a magical key rapidly unlocking your cells so that the nutrients from the food you eat can nourish you and allow the glucose from food to enter the cells and be used for energy.

Without insulin, the glucose builds up in the blood stream and never gets into the cells. The cells starve and the build up of glucose in the blood stream can become deadly. When this process began for me, I lost a LOT of weight and I didn’t have a lot to lose in the first place. I was thirsty ALL THE TIME. Not a, “Gee, I’d really like a glass of water.” kinda thirst but a get-kicked-out-of-day-camp-for-pushing-kids-out-of-the-way-to-get-to-the-bug-juice-first kinda thirst. (True story. And if you don’t know what bug juice is, you are a very lucky person indeed.) This thirst is caused by the kidneys’ desperate attempt to create more urine to flush the dangerous build up of glucose out of your system. I was hungry and eating all the time, peeing all the time, losing weight (even though I was eating a ton) and generally just wanted to sleep.

So, I was diagnosed with T1D. This meant that for the rest of my life (or until there’s a cure) I would need to take insulin through shots or an insulin pump in order to stay healthy or even just alive. The body cannot survive without any insulin. Staying alive, however, is not the only goal of living with type 1 diabetes. A person with T1D must do their absolute best to monitor their blood glucose levels, insulin dosages, food intake, exercise, stress levels, illnesses, and thousands of other factors to keep their levels in “target range”. This effort is essential not only to feel good, but also to avoid dangerous long-term complications such as blindness, nerve damage, damage to organs such as the heart and kidneys and a myriad of other health issues.

There currently is no cure, T1D is a chronic disease. The care of T1D has changed A LOT in the almost 33 years since I was diagnosed and keeping my blood glucose levels under control has gotten easier – but it’s still not easy and never will be. I’ll explain more about how I manage my diabetes in another post, but I credit organizations like JDRF for much of the technology and medications I use to treat this disease. JDRF’s highest priority remains funding research to deliver a cure for T1D and its complications. At the same time, JDRF is also focused on developing better treatments that will and have transformed the way people with T1D treat the disease today, in order to help them live healthier lives now and in the future.

This is why I Walk.

Helpful Links:

For more information on type 1 diabetes

To donate to my Walk & 5K Run to Cure Diabetes Team

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