There are certain attributes siblings commonly share: maybe it’s a similar eye color, or smile, or a love for the same type of music. For my sister, Kyra, and me, we both have long hair and freckles on our nose. However, we have another similarity that you can’t see when you meet us: we both have the same chronic illness.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was five years old, and I have had the disease for about 15 years now. For a while, my parents thought my symptoms were a sign of the flu, not diabetes, so my condition was pretty severe by the time I was diagnosed. I had to be hospitalized for about three days, hooked up to an IV bag of insulin and hydrating liquids. I was so young, the experience is now a hyperglycemia-blurred memory. I remember being brought a huge Hello Kitty stuffed animal, watching episode after episode of Disney Channel shows, and being poked and prodded by nurses. I watched my mother inject an orange with a needle next to my hospital bed, knowing that the orange would soon be my arm.
Kyra, who was nine at that time, walked with me through the hospital halls every afternoon. She would make jokes about “breaking me out of this joint,” as if I was a prisoner and she was a visitor (three days at that age felt like a lifetime). Little did we know that, five years later, Kyra was going to be in the exact same hospital, receiving her type 1 diabetes diagnosis as well.
Since I am four years younger than Kyra, most of my young life had involved listening to her. I was excited that it was finally my turn to teach her. I helped her learn how to inject herself, how to calculate carbohydrate counts, how to know when she had low or high blood sugar. Although having type 1 diabetes is never fun, having someone that can relate to your daily struggles is extremely helpful. We have been next to each other in every step of our type 1 diabetic journey. We try out different diabetic technologies, so that we can help each other find the best ones. When we are out and one of us gets low blood sugar, the other one offers a packet of fruit gummies. We cry together when we fall into diabetic burnout and celebrate together when we reach our goal hemoglobin A1C.
However, Kyra and I have still had very different experiences with our illnesses. My blood glucose levels tend to be much more sensitive to any amount of carbohydrates, while Kyra can eat a small amount of carbs and her levels don’t budge. She uses a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) and an Omnipod, and I only started consistently using a CGM within the last few months (I’m more old school with my treatment). I got diagnosed when I was very young, while Kyra was diagnosed when she was a teenager. I had to understand nutritional labels before learning how to read a book. Kyra had to traverse having a new chronic illness while at an age which is universally considered the “awkward stage.”
Although type 1 diabetes does not define me nor my sister, it has definitely shaped the way we see the world, our interests, and our future goals. Having type 1 diabetes gives you experiences and exposure to things that a child wouldn’t normally have at a young age. I knew what the words “pancreas,” “insulin,” and “endocrinology” meant before I even knew how to spell my name. Not surprisingly, both Kyra and I have been interested in getting involved with the rapidly evolving world of type 1 diabetic research. We have both worked for Diabetes Research Connection, which has allowed us to see the behind-the-scenes of ground-breaking diabetic research. In my first year of working for DRC, I even got to visit a research lab and watch DRC-funded scientists inject stem cells into a zebrafish.
Kyra and I have never let type 1 diabetes limit us in our goals– in fact, I think type 1 diabetes has encouraged us to challenge ourselves. Kyra recently graduated from UC Berkeley and is currently studying for the MCAT to apply to medical school, with hopes of becoming a physician. I am a sophomore at Stanford University, studying psychology, with the hope of someday attending law school. I am also a strong advocate for diabetic mental health. Kyra and I are type 1 diabetics, but we are also a future doctor, a future lawyer, sisters, and best friends.
I don’t know what I would do without my sister. Unfortunately, I know that there are many people with type 1 diabetes who don’t have someone in their life who understands what they’re going through. Online type 1 diabetic support groups are a great option for anyone struggling to find a community. It is crucial to have just one person who will listen to you when you are feeling down, who will help you in need, and who will remind you that you are so strong for dealing with this disease. I found that in my sister, and I know my sister found that in me. As I navigate my diabetic journey, I feel incredibly lucky to have a companion along the way.
This blog was written by Lauren Grove, DRC Intern, who has had T1D for 15 years and is describing her and her sister’s experience living with type 1 diabetes.