“The best age to be diagnosed”
My body gave me a sweet gift on my ninth birthday. At dinner my mother allowed me to eat my two favorite foods together—ice cream and pizza—thinking she had found a way to finally get me to eat but I simply asked for more water and sat at the table, miserable and lethargic.
The next day, August 17, 1999, my mother walked 0.7 miles, up a hill, in the summer heat to Codman Square Health Center. I refused to move within minutes. I was exhausted, my legs hurt. With no cab in sight, my mother carried me on her back up the hill. I felt sweat drip down her back and heard her breathing become strained. We waited patiently to see the doctor and my mother held her composure. Once the doctor said, “Sheila, Tsega has type 1 diabetes (T1D), but don’t worry, this is the best age to be diagnosed” her world exploded.
I see where the doctor was coming from, she meant I was old enough to understand what diabetes was and develop healthy habits. There is no such thing as “the best age to be diagnosed”, no matter how old you are, T1D is constant, demanding, and nonstop. You can do everything right and still have a bad day. The toll that T1D has on our mental health and the mental capacity of our loved ones is something that we do not talk enough about but has a serious impact.
Every year I make a big deal about my birthday because my dia-versary the next day is so somber. When I was diagnosed, I was in ketoacidosis. If I had not made it to the health center that day, I most likely would have eventually found myself in the ER in a coma. Once I was a teenager, I decided to take care of things on my own because I did not want to trouble or burden anyone. Managing my diabetes has been a silent battle that I fight with the help of my diabetes team. 364 days of the year, I carry on and do what I have to do to survive but on August 17 I give myself the day to mourn, to acknowledge that this is hard, and sometimes, envision what life would be like if I had a different burden.
For my 25th birthday I realized I would have to change certain habits to make it to 40, or have children. As diabetics, we are cognizant that what we do now has a stronger impact on our future than it does for our peers. I decided to start working out, which was something I hated to do ever since PE classes in primary school. I participated in the JDRF One Walk Boston and asked my family and friends to donate in honor of living with T1D for over 15 years. I joined Turnstyle in 2017 and started spinning. In four years I have seen a change in my diabetes control; and thanks to advancements in technology and the help of my new Dexcom CGM, the past year I have had the best control through my 20’s.
In 2020, I will reach a milestone age (The Big 3-0): I wanted to go big or go home. I enjoy my spin classes so I decided “Why not take it further and actually bike outside?”. I have decided to bike with JDRF—all 100 miles—at the JDRF Ride to Cure. I gathered my family and friends on November 14, 2019 to announce my decision to fundraise and train for this challenge. As I train, I ask that everyone not only donates monetarily, but also that they check in on me: make sure that I am training to stay on a bike for an extended period of time. I have vowed to myself to stop dealing with my diabetes all on my own, and training for the Ride to Cure has given me a way to let my loved ones share in the burden of T1D with me. I can’t wait to celebrate with them when I cross the finish line this fall!