A juice box can mean the difference between life or death for a type 1 diabetic. November is Diabetes Awareness Month and while many know about type 2 diabetes, few understand there is more than one type, let alone know what the differences are between the types.
“I'm a full-time student and have a full-time job with diabetes, and it's even somewhat more [of a] full-time job,” Kenyon Gaar, a senior nutritional science and dietetics major, said.
Gaar has been a type 1 diabetic for nearly 20 years.
Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that currently affects 1.6 million Americans. The immune system attacks the pancreas and kills the cells that produce insulin, the hormone that regulates the body’s blood sugar levels. Type 1 is not caused by eating too much sugar nor is it preventable. Both high and low blood sugars are life-threatening, and there is no cure.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, means having a resistance to insulin, so the hormone does not work as well as it should. Medications or lifestyle changes can either prevent the onset of type 2 or get rid of it completely.
Type 1 is manageable with insulin injections or through an insulin pump, a device that uses tubing and a machine to slowly inject the body with insulin, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“I feel like I have a lot of scar tissue on my stomach now just from constant site changes and injections, and I do not think people realize that,” Gaar said.
Alexandria Jurgens, a freshman psychology major, has been diabetic for nine years. She said she remembers bits of her life before being diabetic. But after nine years, she said, it’s still difficult to remember to take insulin on occasion.
“I think it has been an adjustment for the longest time,” Jurgens said, “but I am getting better at it.'
Jurgens said she thinks about her diabetes at least twice an hour. She also wakes up and checks her blood sugar first thing every day, which involves pricking her finger with a small needle. Depending on the number she gets, Jurgens then determines if she can start getting ready for the day or if she has to wait because her blood sugar is too low.
“Every morning I walk about a mile to campus, so I have to take into account my blood sugars for that,” Jurgens said.
Both Jurgens and Gaar said they have worked with Services for Students with Disabilities and had positive experiences. Even though there are no accommodations listed on SSD’s website that would help a type 1 diabetic, the department works with individuals on a case-by-case basis.
“I haven't run into anything that they have not helped me with,” Gaar said.
Jurgens said the process is personalized to help with specific situations.
“They'll just ask you what you personally feel like you should have in your accommodation plan, that they can send not only to you, but all your professors so they know what they need to do to best accommodate you,” Jurgens said.
While SSD is helpful in providing support and accommodations, it is still awkward to have an insulin alarm go off in the middle of class and Jurgens said she wants diabetics to start being seen as normal people.
“I don't really need everybody to hover over me while I'm testing my blood sugar or if my pump goes off,” Jurgens said. “I don't really need everybody to stare at me as I try to fix it.”
Gaar also said it was hard not to feel out of place, as he has to worry about his health more frequently than those who do not suffer from a chronic condition.
“The one thing I want to hammer home for people without diabetes is just love the people with chronic illness,” Gaar said.