It was two weeks before her eighth birthday when our parents got the call that my sister needed to go to the hospital.
My sister, Shalana, went to the nurse because she wasn’t feeling well. She thought she had really bad heartburn. She ended up zonking out at the nurses office.
She was taken to the Children’s Mercy, “I was scared, mostly because I didn’t like needles,” she said.
Following some testing, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her pancreas does not create any insulin, a hormone that enables blood sugar to enter the cells in your body where it can be used for energy. Type 1 is caused by an autoimmune reaction and is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but it can develop at any age.
So the journey with type 1 diabetes began.
From the beginning Shalana would learn to keep herself alive. I remember watching her sit on the couch and administer her insulin for the first time. I was shocked that children like her had to do such a thing, but she was a “pro” and swiftly took the needle, poked herself and was done.
My parents would use a medical book, a guide that was given to them by the doctors to answer their questions. Of course, the phone was always near to make quick calls.
Being a child, this changed some things at school for Shalana. She would need to check her sugar levels, which meant she got out of class or got to eat snacks.
“I didn’t really explain that much [to her classmates], I told them was sick and had to take care of myself and I showed them some things,” Shalana said. “They would get jealous when my sugar went low and I had to eat something before recess.”
Her teachers would explain to the students about her condition to help them understand, she said.
Over the years, Shalana met nine other children who also have type 1 diabetes — a number surprising to me as I didn’t know how prevalent diabetes was in children, especially in a small rural school district where she attends. As a sophomore in high school there’s three in her English class alone.
They don’t really talk about it.
There have been some ups and downs with diabetes, Shalana said, and I’m pretty sure her momma hasn’t slept well since she was diagnosed.
As a growing teen her “numbers” can get high then “bottom up” and sometimes the extra insulin and corrections don’t seem to help.
Shalana also tries to avoid catching colds from her classmates because the symptoms are worse for her.
“If somebody has a little cold, for me it’s like having the cold but a bit worse,” she said. “I can’t take a lot of medicine because it will the effect sugars in the blood.”
Shalana has hospital visits several times a year.
Through school wide assemblies, Shalana and her classmates had the opportunity to share about about diabetes. She was able to answer many questions the students had. Not only has it brought awareness to other students but has made her feel better that she was able to clear up any misconceptions, such as she can’t ever have a cookie during a class party.
In a short few years, Shalana will graduate high school and she’s already thinking about how she’s going to afford insulin by herself when she grows up. She uses a pump which is connected to her at all times and assesses her sugar levels. It is a very expensive medical device that many can’t afford, even with insurance it can cost approximately $5,000. The pumps don’t last forever — they have expiration dates and eventually need refurbished and renewed.
Another thing she has been thinking about as a young adult is what happens if she has a baby one day.
For now, Shalana tries to stay active, she’s participated in cheerleading and has a bubbly personality to match. She tries her best to keep track of her numbers and ask her mother for help when she’s concerned about her medicine.
Shalana said that people shouldn’t be ashamed of their diabetes and that other children with type 1 diabetes are not alone.