A Totally Non-Scientific Diabetes FAQ

Painting by Isabelle Heller

Q: What is Type 1 Diabetes?

A: It’s an autoimmune disease which results in the pancreas ceasing production of insulin.

Q: What’s insulin?

A: It’s a hormone that basically brings sugar (energy) to your cells. Without it, you die.

Q: Will she grow out of it?

A: Nope.

Q: Did she get it from eating too much sugar?

A: Nope. There’s Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). She has T1D. (There’s also MODY, directly inherited from a parent, and other types, 1.5, LADA, etc. Those folks often find it exhausting having to tell people they’re not 1 OR 2. [Thanks Lynn Beighley!])

Q: Was she obese?

A: Nein — that’s Type 2.

Q: So how’d she get it?

A: Probably a combination of genetic predisposition and some sort of environmental trigger. They don’t really know.

Q: Is there a cure?

A: Negative, Ghost Rider.

Q: So she can’t eat sugar?

A: Incorrect. You count carbs (which your body converts to sugar) and then administer a proportionate amount of insulin. While we should all eat healthy foods, cake and ice cream are definitely still on the menu! In moderation — like for all of us.

Q: But won’t ice cream make it worse?

A: It’ll raise her blood sugar if she doesn’t get insulin with it. But so will bread, rice, tortillas, milk, and a million other things. But no, ice cream won’t make her diabetes worse. Hers is, as Monty Python would put it, an ex-pancreas.

Q: Oh wow. My grandma…

A: That’s Type 2.

Q: But my grandma’s foot…

A: Seriously. That’s Type 2. And decades ago. And even if it applied in this case (which it doesn’t), why would you bring something like that up?

Q: Okay, but would you mind not using syringes at the table? It’s disgusting.

A: Blow it out your ass.

Q: Sheesh. Touchy much? But really, I feel so terrible for you…

A: Well, it ain’t fun, that’s for sure — but it could be worse. It’s not a death sentence. She’ll still grow up, go to college, work, have kids, etc.

Q: I mean, it’s just so awful — to have to go through all that…

A: Let’s not get melodramatic, now. The kid next to us in the hospital had been there for six months. The kid on the other side got wheeled in after a car wreck and was looking at permanent brain damage.

Q: Okay. But if she just changed her diet…

A: You’re not getting this, are you?

Q: I couldn’t handle six injections a day, plus all the finger-pricking.

A: It beats dying.

Q: If she just got more exercise…

A: No.

Q: Does it run in the family?

A: Not in her case. It can run in families, though.

Q: Is there anything I can do to help?

A: Actually, yes. Diabetes camps are amazingly helpful for kids’ mental health. One recurring theme you hear is, “I need to be around my people.” People who get why you might sit out of an activity and drink some juice; people who get why you keep poking your fingers; people who know you’re not a junkie when they see you pull out your syringes. You want to help? Help send Red to diabetes camp: https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/RedwoodHeller/sweet-on-diabetes

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