According to the record in Microsoft Word, I edited what would later become the bones of this blog post almost exactly one year ago. It was a project for Faustman Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital for a Facebook forum titled “Share Your Story” to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes research at the Lab. Crazy grad school hecticness must have gotten in the way, or for once in my life I may have been a little shy- I’m not sure, really. But for some reason, I did not share my post a year ago.
Today I feel differently. Part of writing this blog is to be vulnerable- to take the chance that people might brush off my story, that some might laugh, that no one will care. Something tells me that there are other diabetics out there who “get it,” though, and that hopefully this will resonate with some of you.
It was a simple question, really. “Come on, Ally, you’re going to have a bigger piece of cake than that, right?!!”
I had just met Kate a few minutes earlier upon arriving at a birthday party for our mutual friend, Sean. Kate clearly meant well, but she had no idea what she was really asking. She was unaware that I had been eyeballing the frosting from across the room as if it was some sort of monster lurking in our presence while I calculated the sugar content and the havoc a few bites could wreak on my body.
Kate had no idea that my blood sugar had been double and triple the normal levels all week thanks to a head cold and the usual pump problems of bad insertion sites due to scar tissue build-up; no idea that it had been hard to focus at work but I had no remaining sick time coverage; no idea how much a “ketones hangover” can put the aftermath of any college fraternity party to shame; no idea how guilty I felt after snapping at a well-intentioned coworker who happened to cross my path in the midst of a diabetes-induced temper tantrum, which included flinging a few pens at the walls of my cubicle as they closed in on me; no idea that I would spend my Friday evening unlike almost all of my twenty-something year old peers: setting alarm clocks during the night to deal with the anticipation of a blood sugar crash; and no idea that the next day my pump would kink while traveling and I would have to find an abandoned shopping plaza for some privacy to change my pump site and shoot up insulin.
She had no idea that after all of that- about 15 hours in the life of a type 1 diabetic- many nights I go to bed thinking, You should have done more!; no idea that society, even close friends, seem to imply that it is your fault when your control lapses. Just avoid candy bars and life should be easy, right?
My good friend, Jessica, knew what that larger piece of cake might entail for me, and quickly intercepted any further questioning from Kate with a stern, “No, just no,” shaking her head.
Kate, a bit bewildered, thought better than to pursue the topic and shrugged it off.
Most days, I would pounce on the opportunity to discuss type 1 diabetes with those willing to listen. I probably would have displayed my blood glucose meter, explained how diabetes has affected my life and the lives of my loved ones, with careful emphasis on how much technology has changed things for the better during the course of my twenty-two years with this disease. Then I would have described how people like Dr. Faustman and her team at the Faustman Lab have been a reason to keep waging the good fight against diabetes, and how they top my long prayer list each morning and evening. I could go on to describe people of all backgrounds, those who traveled from Seattle or Mexico or right down the street in Newton, Massachusetts, who I have witnessed over the course of hundreds of endocrinology appointments, all coming to the Boston area for the common goal of improving the health of their family members at the best hospitals in the world.
Alas, tonight was supposed to be a relaxing occasion, a time to enjoy nice company and to forget the stressors of the week, whatever they had been. Yes, I could have gotten on my “diabetes soapbox,” but I opted not to for the sake of Sean’s birthday. Instead, I scooped up a forkful of my tiny sliver of cake, pressed a few buttons on my insulin pump, and took a bite, savoring the sweet chocolate flavor.
Everyone has his or her cross to bear. I do not blame Kate for asking an innocent question that happened to touch upon my cross during a rather difficult day. I truly hope that she has the freedom to live her life without ever having to contemplate why a large piece of cake might be a negative thing; it should not have to be! I am confident that one day my future children and grandchildren will enjoy that same freedom and can go back for seconds, without a care in the world, whenever birthday cake is served.
With sincere thanks to Faustman Lab for all that you do,