Growing up with Type 1 Diabetes, I was always aware of how I felt and if those feelings were due to my diabetes. Did I feel dizzy? Thirsty? Tired? Confused? These could all be easily attributed to a low or high blood sugar. Once diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I added more physical feelings that I could attribute to my disease. Pain, stiffness, muscle aches, popping, cracking, etc. I am constantly putting those feelings into a bucket- the diabetes bucket and the RA bucket. Occasionally there is the “normal human” bucket where a cold, for example, might fall but even the normal bucket spills over into the disease buckets.
Being a parent to children who currently don’t have any major health issues when I do, can add a strong element of fear to my life. I question everything- “Didn’t he just go to the bathroom twenty minutes ago?” Must be diabetes. “Her knee keeps hurting, yet nothing happened to it.” Must be arthritis. “She keeps sleeping in on the weekend.” “His hands are really achy today.”
No, I don’t spend all of my time analyzing their every move or every sip of water they take. But these little thoughts pop into my head from time to time. Is there anything I can do to prevent one or both of them from developing an autoimmune disease? No. So why harp on it? Because I don’t want them to suffer. Of course I don’t want them to suffer having a disease, that’s obvious. But what I mean is that I don’t want them to suffer through waiting for a diagnosis. With Type 1, my parents were repeatedly told that I had a virus, to let it go. My father, a type 1 diabetic himself, eventually had enough and tested my blood sugar at home. I was immediately hospitalized. With Rheumatoid Arthritis, I spent months going to multiple doctors, telling them something was wrong, only to be told that I had tennis elbow and was favoring my joint. It took me not being able to walk anymore for someone to take me seriously and run a battery of tests. I don’t want my children, or anyone, to experience that fear, that unnecessary pain or stress on their body.
So if I can’t control who will get which disease, what can I do? I can advocate and educate. I can share my diagnosis stories, my disease symptoms, with anyone and everyone. I can share what I’ve been through and what I’ve learned with parents, doctors, friends, family, strangers. I can empower my own children to research their concerns and know that every question they have is important.