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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Column: Pricks and sticks

Picture yourself as you were when you were 14. You wake up one morning and you are a pound lighter. The next morning you are another pound lighter. And again the next morning, and so on. The doctors don’t think there is anything wrong; you’re supposed to hit puberty and lose that baby fat around now anyway.

Flash forward six months. Thirty pounds lighter, constantly lethargic, tired for no reason and always thirsty. Another six months, another 20 pounds lighter, you are sleeping 14 hours a day and it is a struggle to even get out of bed in the morning. You are drinking two gallons of water and consuming 5000 calories daily, but you are always hungry and always thirsty. You hear your family whispering what you have been thinking for a long time; something is very, very wrong.

Eighteen months from day zero and you are in a doctor’s office, being told that in another few days you would have been in a coma you may not have awoken from. Instead of being afraid, you are relieved. The doctor caught it. They know what is wrong. They can fix it.

This was my life for the 18 months before I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 14, which is relatively old for a diagnosis. I consider myself lucky, though. I was old enough to comprehend what was happening, old enough to understand what I had to do.

There is a common misconception that diabetes means you are overweight. Obesity is generally characteristic of type 2 diabetes, a condition brought about by poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition in which the pancreas stops making the hormone insulin, the hormone required for your cells to absorb glucose, and has little to do with lifestyle.

A diabetes diagnosis can cripple some people. The fear and doubt are often overwhelming. Simply accepting that you have this disease is often the highest hurdle to clear. With the support of family and friends — which, sadly, not everyone has — recently diagnosed diabetics can not only survive, but thrive.

Diabetes requires structure. Even with a highly-structured life, maintaining the clarity of mind to handle debilitating low blood sugars is a lot to handle. It becomes even more complicated when you move away from the structure of home and into the chaos of college.

College life takes any semblance of structure you may have and casts it asunder. Frat parties, dorm socials, class at all hours of the day, all-nighters and pizza delivery all conspire to throw you off balance. There is the added difficulty of doing what needs to be done — shots of insulin, finger pricks to check blood sugar, etc. — in front of people you have just met. It takes a special breed to maintain composure when those situations arise.

Type 1 diabetics often live in a shroud of “can’t.” Can’t eat candy, can’t compete in sports, can’t do what “normal” people can do. This is false. Did Gary Hall, Jr. let diabetes stop him from winning 10 Olympic swimming medals? Did Sonia Sotomayor let diabetes stop her from becoming the first Hispanic United States Supreme Court justice? I think you get the point.

In my eyes, there are two kinds of diabetics: those who let diabetes control them, and those who take control of their diabetes. Members of the second group, myself included, see diabetes as a challenge to do everything that people tell us we can’t do.

My outlet for that challenge was competitive swimming. I can swim three miles without stopping and can do a one-hundred-yard sprint in 49 seconds. A very close diabetic friend of mine here at UC Davis took the challenge to run a marathon. She trained hard, finished the Nike Women’s Marathon and is thirsting to tackle many more.

Type 1 diabetics take better care of ourselves than most other people. By setting and surpassing our goals, we have made ourselves healthier and more fit than 90 percent of our friends. Diabetes has made me comfortable and confident in my ability to take care of myself.

What I want you to take away from this is that I can do everything I want, and diabetes will never hold me back. A newspaper column is not nearly enough room for me to say all I want to say, or mention all the amazing people I want to mention. In a strange way, diabetes is one of the best things to have happened to me. It is what made me who I am. I am not saying I wouldn’t take a cure if it was available, but I would never go back and prevent it from happening.

HUDSON LOFCHIE is an athlete, nerd, and type 1 diabetic.  Have diabetes and want to meet others?  Search “UC Davis Diabetes” on Facebook. He can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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