I want to break up with my diabetes...but we make it work

By Barby Brushett

I was ten years old and half a day away from being in a coma.  


I had lost 40 lbs. and was making a new pitcher of juice every night to replace the one I had just consumed. 


Two days before Valentine’s Day, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and had never felt so scared and alone. 


My immediate focus was not only on the multiple needles that were introduced, but also that everyone else would receive heart shaped candies and chocolates but me.


This was the beginning of my love/hate relationship with food and where my journey with diabetes began.

The first two weeks after I was diagnosised were spent in the hospital.  My ‘family’ had expanded and now included dietitians, nurse educators, and an Endocrinologist.   After receiving the care and education I needed it was time to return to school and the community where I was the only one (that I knew of) living with type 1 diabetes. 


I have fond memories of mom and I providing a ‘talk’ to my class.  We talked about my disease and answering questions as best as we could.  Diabetes was going to be a part of my life and we were all along for the ride.


The first year was definitely the hardest.  My meals lacked variety due to the food exchange system that I used at the time to help manage my diabetes.  When it was time to visit with my dietitian again it was discovered that I had not been eating the lunch provided to me; the same lunch, every day for the last year!  To this day, I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when she saw the extent of my hidden brown paper bags.   Needless to say the smell of rotting apples and hard peanut butter sandwiches did not help keep me out of trouble! 


That summer, I was invited by my dietitian and nurse educator to attend a camp.  The camp was specifically designed for kids living with type 1 diabetes.  Mere words can not portray the huge impact this program had and continutes to have on my life.  I was welcomed to an environment where I finally met other kids my age living with the same disease.  There was an instant bond, understanding, and acceptance amongst us that did not exist in the ‘outer world’. My first needle given in my stomach was celebrated with an award in front of everyone!  I learned how to design my own meal plan, how to treat a low, and made friends that are still in my life today. Camp was the beginning of my independence with my disease, my personal growth, and the start of my relationship with the Canadian Diabetes Association.  


As I grew up I was very fortunate to work at the camp in many different staff positions. In doing so it kept me connected throughout the year to the support I didn’t know I needed.  Living with diabetes during my high school and university years were very challenging.  Regardless if I prioritized my disease or not, the anticipation of camp and the scheduled appointments throughout the year, would always help me to refocus on taking proper care of myself.


I am now a thirty eight year old woman with a family and have worked with the Canadian Diabetes Association for 10 years.  I am fortunate enough to lead the volunteer program for Atlantic Canada and work with so many people who are affected by the disease. 


There are still instances when I want to ‘break up with my diabetes’. 


Every day issues like finances, family schedules, and working full time can compete with my diabetes for attention.  Finding time to exercise and deal with unexpected low blood sugars are a fraction of the challenges I experience with diabetes in my daily routine. I am still learning, and wouldn’t have it any other way.


This disease has taught me that as long as I am physically active every day, and make mindful choices in nutrition I can live a healthy life.  The memories of repetitive meal choices have been replaced by carb counting that is flexible and empowering. The multiple needles have been replaced by an insulin pump, which has enhanced my living in ways I cannot measure. I went from using a blood glucose meter (that I used to call ‘the vampire’) that took 2 minutes and a lot of blood, to a pen size device that barely takes a drop of blood, yet provides my [blood glucose] reading in 5 seconds!  Being physically active, reading and understanding food labels, and my love of cooking healthy are all things I now do with my son and husband. 


I am fortunate to live well with type 1 diabetes.  It is a disease that I have advanced (both personally and professionally) alongside the medical advancement in managing the disease.  I am forever grateful to my diabetes team, family, camp community, and most of all to the Canadian Diabetes Association. Together, we will continue to grow with diabetes.

Barby Brushett is an Atlantic Manager of Volunteer Engagement for the Canadian Diabetes Association.  She also works within a team of Volunteer Managers who collaborate on volunteer processes and tools to support the CDA across the country.  She spent 18 years with the diabetes camps, and has worked in the Not for Profit sector for over 22 years. She has an extensive history in volunteering for various roles and is passionate about helping others.    


If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with the Canadian Diabetes Association you can check out the information on the CDA website http://www.diabetes.ca/how-you-can-help/volunteer or contact Barby directly at Barby.Brushett@diabetes.ca.

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