When he was five years old, my nephew Dane started wetting the bed.
It wasn’t typical behaviour for him, and despite having a big wee before bed and having nothing to drink for at least an hour prior, it kept happening. My sister would find him crying in his room during the night while he pulled the sheets off his bed, a look of shame on his little face for what he’d done. When she’d gently press him and ask why he didn’t get up and go to the toilet, he would say that he didn’t know he had to go, that it just happened. Even though he had just emptied his bladder in the bed, he would need to go to the toilet again and let out a full stream of wee.
My sister took Dane to the doctor, thinking that maybe he had a bladder infection. A urine test showed Dane’s sugar levels were sitting around 28: the normal range lies somewhere between four and eight. A rushed admission and a couple of nights stay at The Royal Children’s Hospital confirmed that Dane had Type 1 Diabetes.
Looking back now, Dane did present with other classic symptoms of Type 1 diabetes. He would often fall asleep at kinder, with staff saying that they had difficulty waking him at times and he would have periods of high emotion for no apparent reason. Back then, we just thought he was a sleepy-head with a bit of a feisty temperament. Unlike Type-2 diabetes, which is a result of modifiable lifestyle choices such as diet, Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that affects around 10% of all diabetics. It is NOT a result of lifestyle choices. The cause is unknown and there is no cure. There is a common misconception that diabetes is caused from eating too much sugar or having a poor diet, which is absolutely untrue.
I remember the day my sister called me to tell me that she was on her way to the hospital, that it looked as though Dane had diabetes. I was concerned but honestly, I didn’t think it was that much of a big deal. Diabetes is manageable, right? He might just have to have a little jab once in a while and he’d be a-ok. It’s not like he’s got anything life-threatening.
Turns out, I was wrong. Diabetes is a MASSIVE deal and impacts sufferers and their families in ways you wouldn’t imagine.
Nobody likes needles and nobody likes seeing their kids have them. Dane needs to do finger pricks a minimum of nine times a day to check his sugar levels and prior to receiving his pump last year, had two to three daily injections of insulin. Every day. His little tummy developed ‘pouches’, little pockets that form from being injected in the same areas too many times and his finger tips have copped a beating from those never-ending pricks.
There is a common misconception that diabetes is caused from eating too much sugar or having a poor diet, which is absolutely untrue.
As much as Dane, who is now 11, understands the reasons behind why his diet needs to be so meticulously managed, he’s still a little kid. He still wants to eat two cupcakes, lollies and party pies at a birthday party. He knows the unbearable nausea, sweats and feeling of shittyness he feels when his levels are too high (or too low), but because he’s a child, he’ll still sneak a little something off the table when his parent’s backs are turned.
His parents have done an INCREDIBLE job of managing his condition, but it’s tough work. My sister in particular plans all of his meals in painstaking detail, with each meal and snack needing to be weighed, with carbs counted and assessed, and then re-assessed in accordance with his activity levels. Just to add an extra kicker, normal bodily responses such as adrenaline when he’s frightened or just feelings of anxiety, can send his levels haywire.
The appointments for a Type-1 diabetic are many. In addition to an endocrinologist, which monitors hormone and insulin levels, he requires frequent dental, podiatry and optical appointments to manage the many associated risks of diabetes such as circulation issues (often resulting in gangrene and amputations later in life), gum disease, cataracts and heart problems just to name a few.
It’s necessary but exhausting work for parents of diabetic children. My sister and her husband’s lives have completely changed…going for a night out together is a rarity and has them on their tip-toes the entire time. Life has thrown them an entirely new set of worries, for now and for the future. Her husband takes Dane out often to ensure he gets the physical activity that his little body needs and my sister, the true definition of a ‘supermum’, manages so many things it makes my head spin. Apart from working a demanding job as a psychologist, managing his food requirements, educating his school teachers and carers about his condition, and taking Dane to all of his appointments; she is up during the night, every night, to check his blood while his sleeps.
Every day, 280 Australians develop Type-1 diabetes. It is currently on the rise more than other chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, with it being estimated that it will become the number one disease within the next five years. It is serious and it needs attention. Advancements are being made all the time and while there is hope, there is still no cure. There is still a HEAP of misunderstanding around Type-1 diabetes, but the more people know, the less of that there’ll be.
So share this article with the people you know and help raise awareness for Type-1 diabetes and it’s sufferers, just like my little nephew Dane.
Do you know anyone with Type-1 Diabetes?
NRL Footy Show co-host Erin Molan joined Monty On the Couch and spoke about her sister’s battle with bowel cancer. You can listen below and subscribe to our pod here for HEAPS more chats with fab peeps.