Thank you, Diabetes

Dear Diabetes,

I am sure you get tons of hate mail, and as someone well acquainted with you, I think such correspondence is warranted. I do not know anyone who is happy to live with you, and the knowledge of your long-term effects makes me weepy every time I take my son to an appointment to learn how to deal with you. But I am practicing gratitude, so in that spirit, today, the second anniversary of my son’s diagnosis, I write you a letter of appreciation.

You became a part of my life before my story even began when you plagued my father on April 1, 1965. What a sense of humor you have!

You proved no one is immune to you by picking on someone with no family history when you made my dad a type 1 diabetic, a man whose life was already complicated enough given that his family had no money, and his dad was an alcoholic.

What a blessing in disguise you were, though, because you enabled him to escape a life of poverty. The hospital stays and doctors’ visits made my dad interested in the medical field, and living with you qualified him for a college scholarship that paid for an education to pursue that career interest. And I know people don’t consciously choose alcoholism, but you make drinking alcohol so hard and dangerous that you kept my father from that addiction. Thank you.

You wreak so much havoc on a body that my dad didn’t think he could physically handle the grueling schedule of an MD, so he became a dentist. Thank you for steering him to a profession with more family-friendly hours. He took advantage of that by participating in as many of my sister’s and my activities as he could. Those years of insulin injections made him particularly good at giving Novacain shots, so I also thank you on behalf of his patients.


My dad loved dentistry and often commented that he would work until he died. We were worried whether you would allow that to happen, though, given how, over time, you attack people’s eyesight and limbs. Let’s be clear: I will never be okay that my dad didn’t see 60. But I thank you for sparing him a slow decline and for taking him suddenly in his sleep.

This sudden death ignited a passion in me to raise awareness about you. All along, I was an activist waiting for a cause, so I thank you for recruiting me. My dad’s death rekindled my love of athletics as I prepared to participate in the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure and, later, run marathons for diabetes fundraising. His death made me start a scholarship fund to benefit other kids who live with you.

We do have a score to settle, though. See, you made it more personal when you added my Owen to that list of other kids who live with you. That wasn’t fair. In fact, after taking my father, it was downright dirty.

But don’t think you have shaken my grateful spirit; if anything, you’ve strengthened it.

I had two healthy babies after two uncomplicated, full-term pregnancies. Aside from consistent ear infections that antibiotics quickly nixed, they had no health woes. Meanwhile, friends around me were dealing with their kids’ colic, reflux, and asthma. I sympathized and admired them, believing I could not handle being the mom of a sick child, especially since I am the only one in my family who missed the medical gene.

Thank you for proving me wrong. Sure, the first couple tiIMG_20131210_130108_253mes I gave Owen an injection, I had to sit on the floor because I thought I would pass out, but I did it. Along with my husband’s help, I have seamlessly incorporated you into our daily life with the ease I used to marvel at in my friends. Mustering through the occasional sleepless nights when dealing with low blood sugars, fighting insurance companies for the supplies and coverage we need, giving care instructions to others who will be with Owen when we cannot – and then trusting them to do as we directed – shows me I am stronger than I gave myself credit for. Thank you.

Thank you for confirming my faith in my intuition. Those frequent ear infections? I distinguished those from other minor ailments every time, as I did the bouts of strep throat. And I recognized Owen’s symptoms as diabetes. I am not happy I was right, but thank you for building my confidence in my mother’s intuition.

You also reconfirmed my faith in humanity. Owen’s diagnosis with you brought out the best in people. My coworkers, family, and friends rallied to support us with diabetic cookbooks, gift cards to restaurants that publish their carb counts, and advice on medical professionals. Various extended family members attended a camp about you to learn how to care for Owen. Last year, to acknowledge Owen’s one-year “diaversary,” people carved time out of their crazy December calendars to play games at a diabetes-themed party we hosted. Thank you for giving us a reason to pause and gather.

Your meddling with my family has proven helpful in my job, too. As a teacher and school administrator, I work with parents regularly. Children with chronic medical issues bring unique needs to school, and I see their parents breathe a sigh of relief when I can honestly tell them that I understand. I related to the mom of the diabetic student who was failing his classes, and I shared her wrath when some of his teachers did not believe that you are a legitimate disease with invisible consequences like depression and poor concentration. Thank you for making me more compassionate. Thank you for making me better at what I do.

Speaking of teaching, thank you for empowering me to educate people about you. I can’t afford to have someone tell my son he brought you on himself, that he will outgrow you, that he can’t eat certain food, that insulin is optional, or that high or low blood sugars aren’t that big of a deal. I also need them to know that he does not get a vacation from you. He thinks about you every day, all day long, and the fact that most don’t have that worry is a privilege they take for granted (myself included). Thank you for the opportunity to inform.

Thank you for showing me how kindhearted and connected my daughter is to her brother. When Avery found out Owen has you, she threw up, literally sick with conce1410140440rn for him. You are Owen’s Achilles Heel, and he takes great pains to keep you private. Kids can be mean. Avery knows this, and she has his back when they are in social situations together. Throughout all their sibling bickering, not once has she ever used you as a cheap shot against Owen. Thank you for letting me see what a caring young lady she is.

I don’t want to speak for Owen because I think it is disingenuous for me to thank you for the gifts you’ve given him, especially when I am not sure what those are just two years in. Will you influence him to pursue medicine like his grandfather? Will he hate you so much that you drive him to discover a cure? Maybe one day he will write you his own thank you letter.

But I hope you’re not around to receive it.

With gratitude,



4 thoughts on “Thank you, Diabetes

  1. Pam says:

    Kirstin, once again you amaze me. Anyone who can turn this dreaded disease into ANY positive at all is someone I find worth having as a friend. You have such insight and bravery! The example you set for everyone who knows you is impressive. You and I both know the issues that come with diabetes, and I find I have a few positives to share. We both know sharing the positives help those around you combat depression. For me, it was a wake up call to eat well, exercise and learn everything there is to know about diabetes, so that I could be an educated partner with my doctor. I feel smarter. I also wanted to point out that your grandfather may have also been diabetic. In those days most folks were not aware of the disease and, as you know, a sugar low appears very much like a drunk. My grandfather died an “alcoholic” at an early age. No one else in my family is diabetic, but somehow I am. I feel confident that both Owen and Avery will be strong fighters in the diabetic world, based upon your example! You go girl. Great article.

    • Kirstin says:

      Thank you, Pam. I agree with your positives! And if I were to thank diabetes on behalf of Owen, I would add a thank you for the ability to practice his math skills at every meal. His ability to add carb counts, divide for his ratio and correction factor, and add up his insulin dose – in his head, no less – only helps a strength he already had.

      I truly appreciate your kind words of support!

  2. Sara Ortins says:

    Your words brought me to tears. I’m just an aunt, not a mother, to a boy with this disease, but it breaks my heart over and over again as I see how hard it is to manage. I pray, donate money, and pray some more that we are close to a cure. Sending a hug your way.

    • Kirstin says:

      Thank you, Sara! The day-to-day of being the mom of a diabetic brings more challenges than it does to an aunt, yes, but I would never say you’re “just an aunt” – the love you have for him makes watching him live with it just as hard. Hugs to you, your sister, and your nephew, too!

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