WHEN A PARENT AND CHILD BOTH HAVE TYPE 1 DIABETES
Cora Henderson has long taken a quiet approach to life with Type 1 diabetes. Diagnosed at the age of four, she’s never known life without the disease. “I was one of the very few people in town who had diabetes in Canora in the 1980’s,” says Cora, who grew up in the tiny Saskatchewan town of 2,200. “My mother was a nurse, and we learned to take care of things ourselves.”
Her family’s practical, quiet approach to managing diabetes worked well for Cora. But when it came time to start a family, she couldn’t ignore her disease. “Naturally, we thought about it, but diabetes wasn’t going to be the reason we weren’t going to have children. We wanted a family more than we feared diabetes in our lives,” recalls Cora.
Cora’s first pregnancy with Charlotte was textbook perfect. And with a healthy two-year-old at home, Cora and her husband didn’t think twice about having a second child.
For the next few years, Cora focused on raising her young family, running a photo studio, then later a daycare, so she could stay home and look after her children. Then the day came in early 2015 that the Hendersons had hoped would never come. Cameron, their youngest child, was standing at the refrigerator asking for water, over and over again. Cora and her husband Steve looked at each other: “Do you think it’s diabetes?”
Cora describes the hospital visit the next day as almost anticlimactic. Sent home within two short hours of arriving, Cora recalls, “The doctor told us ‘You know what you’re doing.’” While the news was no less devastating to the Hendersons, they took it in stride. Cora knew she had Cameron’s care well in hand.
Three weeks after his diagnosis, however, Cora experienced a sudden low blood sugar that would turn out to be life-changing. While walking to school with Cameron and her daycare children, she started to not feel well. A quick test read 1.4 mmol/L. She asked the children to hang on while she grabbed some liquid glucose.
“That’s when everything went downhill. The glucose tasted awful, and I had to sit down. I tried to keep the kids occupied with some cookies. But when I pulled the cookies out, I dropped them in a pile of dog poo. At this point, I was in tears. I called my mom, and said ‘It just isn’t fair. Twice in one family is not fair.’”
Cora refuses to let diabetes be anything but normal in her home.
When she pulled herself together a few minutes later, Cameron was giggling and eating sand. It’s at that moment that she realized that she didn’t have to manage her diabetes quietly anymore.
“I decided then I would be outwardly diabetic,” says Cora. Soon, she joined several Facebook groups, and began speaking to other expectant Type 1 mothers. “I don’t wallow well,” she explains. “Now I love having friends with family members who have diabetes whom I can message and text. It gives me a bit of renewed energy.”
Cora refuses to let diabetes be anything but normal in her home. “I don’t want diabetes to be something that takes anything away from Cameron’s life,” says Cora. “So we count carbs out loud together, we help prick each other’s fingers. We might curse diabetes, but we don’t see it as a bad thing. It’s a manageable disease, and there are technologies available to help.”
Cora had Cameron on a pump within a few months of diagnosis. A pumper herself for 13 years, she admits she knows more now about pumping and diabetes than she ever did before. She hadn’t even heard of Dexcom and continuous glucose monitoring until Cameron’s diagnosis, but says CGM has been a godsend. “I was so nervous about having two devices on his little body. But when I change his sites, most of the time he just sits there and reads. Now I can sleep peacefully at night, knowing I can trust his Dexcom CGM to let me know where his blood sugars are, and alert me if needed.
“Although life will never be the same after diabetes, as parents, we can all learn to manage and tackle the next day.”