My daughter recently turned 18 and is on the eve of her 10-year-anniversary of being diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. She was just 8-years-old when her (and our family's world) was turned upside down, and it's hard to believe that she's lived now with the disease longer than she hasn't.
It's also a time of year that holds a place near-and-dear to my heart: the start of college football season. We're just weeks away from our favorite teams getting out on the football field.
Strangely, these two things--my daugher's diagnosis with Type-1 diabetes and college football--are intrinsically linked together for my husband, myself, my daughter, and her two sisters.
She was diagnosed in the midst of football season, and was released from the hospital on the day that our team endured a devastating loss.
I also happened to be a sports reporter at the time, so the connection was made stronger for me.
As Sydney's 10-year anniversary approaches, I'm drawn back to a story I wrote on her one-year anniversary.
We've learned a lot since then; things have changed; she, and all of us, have gone through so many ups and downs with the disease.
But the lessons we learned in that first year still remain.
Here's the story I wrote ...
As a sports reporter, I live mostly within a kingdom of wins and losses. Things are pretty black and white.
On the eve of the game of the year (a little something called Alabama vs. Texas A&M), this is even more obvious than usual. Fans will live and die with every rush, tackle, reception, fumble, sack and touchdown.
The sports world sees Alabama vs. Texas A&M as an epic battle between two top 10 teams; one is attempting to cement a dynasty, the other is forging its way with the season's most controversial yet talented player. There are storylines aplenty, and for that reason it's the center of anything and everything sports-related this weekend.
It's something entirely different to me.
Game day for the Alabama/Texas A&M matchup will now (and I imagine forever) be known as the day I got my daughter back.
Last year, my husband and I were sitting at Children's Hospital in Birmingham watching our 8-year-old daughter recover from a diagnosis three days before of Type 1 diabetes. While people across the state were praying for AJ McCarron to rally the team back for a late-game win, I was praying that we would somehow learn how to deal with this disease that had tackled us out of the blue.
I was covering a Division II football game days before when I got the call that Sydney had been rushed to the hospital and quickly diagnosed with what used to be called juvenile diabetes. She had a blood sugar of 767 and was in a diabetic coma.
We learned over the next several days what an insidious and life-altering diagnosis this was. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that keeps Sydney's pancreas from creating insulin; for the rest of her life (or until there is a cure), she will give herself insulin shots at least four times a day.
On the day we were learning all these things (from a quite delightful woman called an "educator," but who felt a lot--in our sleep-deprived state--like a slave-driver), the Crimson Tide's lone loss of the season was taking place. Our educator taught us about blood monitoring, and ketoacidosis, and carb counting, and long-term dangers while nurses, technicians and parents of patients whooped and clapped and then wailed throughout the halls.
A few hours later, the staff loaded us up to be discharged.
It was an eerie experience; if you've ever witnessed the reaction of the general public to an Alabama loss you will know what I'm talking about.
People's faces were long; no one seemed capable of smiling; strangers nodded at each other the way they do at funerals.
And yet, here we were ... relieved, dare I say jubilant.
Alabama had lost, but we had won.
The rest of the Tide's season was, of course, a quest to learn from mistakes, get better, stay focused, show character, prove what they were made of. It's something that all teams attempt to do after a loss.
Our family similarly came up with a game plan. We learned everything we could about Type 1 diabetes. We armed ourselves with the best doctors and the best medicine. We taught Sydney to take charge of her daily life and body. She learned when her blood sugar was low and when it was high; she learned to eat high-protein snacks and drink water throughout the day; she learned to give herself shots.
To borrow Coach Nick Saban's favorite word, we learned that the "process" was the thing. Coping with the disease was not a one-afternoon win or loss; it was something that had its ups and downs, goods and bads, challenges and blessings.
One of my favorite post-diagnosis moments came during an all-star softball tournament in which Sydney's team played for the 8-and-under district championship. During an early inning, she rounded the bases and headed for home. As she crossed home plate, she found me in the stands and yelled, "Mom, I'm low, I'm low, I'm low, I'm low."
How the girl had hit a ball into the outfield and made it across all the bases with a blood sugar of 52 I still don't know, but it represented something to me. It showed me that she was learning, even thriving, and that nothing would keep her down.
Legendary football coach Vince Lomabardi once said, "It's not whether you get knocked down. It's whether you get back up."
Sydney's favorite quote about the disease that has changed her life forever is, "Type 1 diabetes doesn't own me. I own it."
Our entire family has learned--crazy as it sounds--that this awful disease can actually do wonders; it brought us closer, strengthened our faith, taught us to treasure the really important things.
It taught us that even a defeat could be cause for celebration.
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