Diabetes does not discriminate. With higher rates in the North, it is becoming more common to see people with the disease in the Peace.
“It can happen to anyone at any age,” said Veronica Uchal, whose 12-year-old daughter Shania Mccurdy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes approximately two months ago.
“You feel guilty and heartbroken, there was a lot of emotions. You feel helpless because there’s nothing you can do – it just happened, but being a parent you feel guilty… because you want to protect and you can’t protect,” said Uchal.
Uchal did note that has gotten easier and that there is help available for her family. Uchal and her daughter have been working with Judy April and Debbie Smith, diabetes educators at the Dawson Creek hospital.
“They want her to see a specialist,” said Uchal.
For Mccurdy, seeing a doctor isn’t the highlight of her day, but like planning and carrying extra materials, it’s something she says she gotten used too.
“I have to carry around a bag with me all the time so that means a little more responsibility,” explained Uchal.
In her bag are things like a sugar monitor, glucose monitor, insulin, sugar candies, glucose tablets, and little packages of cookies just in her blood sugar get low.
Braden Maynard, of Fort St. John, also knows first hand what it’s like to live with diabetes. Maynard was diagnosed with the disease when he was 14-years-old and has lived with the disease for 33 years.
“So far my health has been good. You fight day to day to try and keep things under control. I’m actually on an insulin pump now and it seems to have helped me out a lot.” he said.
For Maynard, finding out he was diabetic at a young age was something that wasn’t easy.
“It was though to keep my sugars under control back then just because you have to kind of plan your whole day out,” explained Maynard.
This includes things organizing food and medication for any eventuality in his day. This amount of planning is something that even adults can find difficult.
“Most of us go, ‘I’ll eat when I’m hungry,’ but if you’re diabetic you have to eat at certain times or your sugars are going to drop out on you or if you eat incorrectly it spikes high,” explained Maynard.
Mccurdy can relate to how being a kid with diabetes can mean more planning and more structure during a day.
“I have to plan my breakfasts, my lunch and my supper, any snacks. I can eat any vegetables I want and any meat, but I love potatoes and gravy, but I can only eat certain amounts of that,” said Mccurdy.
She also explained that sometimes being diabetic means putting your health before everything else.
“If I’m doing something really fun and then it’s time to check my blood I’m like – aw, but I have to do it and it sucks,” said Mccurdy.
Furthermore, Mccurdy described was it feels like for her when her sugars are low.
“When I get low, I can feel myself shaking a lot. I was in class the other day and I was getting really shaky and it was 3.6 so I texted my mom and she told me to drink a pop so I had to do that,” said Uchal.
It changes like these that can make making adjustments in your life.
Russell Norrish, who described himself as an outgoing, energetic and an outdoorsy person explained that having to plan everything out, can make certain activities more difficult.
“When you’re in the mountains away from everything it can be difficult if you do run into problems,” he said.
Norrish, who also resides in Fort St. John, explained that when he found out he had diabetes at the age of 27, it affected his life in a big way.
“It’s definitely changed things – it’s not had an overly negative impact…it’s just a big change having to manage your health and make sure everything is normal,” explained Russell Norrish.
For the people who live in the Peace Region, living in the North can present a unique set of difficulties.
“We do have quite a few more people who are heavier set because of our lifestyle,” explained Mary Marcellus, the nurse educator for the Fort St. John Diabetes Centre.
“We tend to be busy people and rushing. Perhaps not taking the time to prepare balanced meals.”
The cold winters can also cause a problem for people in the Peace Region who are trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
“The problem up here is to keep busy in the wintertime can be struggle for some people,” Maynard said.
Marcellus agreed: “It’s harder to get out and go for walks, so I know it is more challenging in that respect – a person really has to work a little bit harder to add activity on a regular basis during the winter months.”
Maynard explained that people often feel that if they tell people they are diabetic they might be treated differently or not get the same opportunity as others.
“For myself, I’m a volunteer firefighter out at Charlie Lake… basically with the guys I work with I just have to try and show them that I’m able to take care of myself and sometimes they’ll point out that maybe I need to do a blood test when I’ve been pushing myself hard when we’re training or whatever. People will keep an eye on you.”
“There are lot of misconceptions about it – some people think that it’s worse than it is –that if you have it you shouldn’t or can’t do a lot of things but that’s not actually true, you can live a healthy and normal life if you manage it properly,” Norrish agreed.
Sometimes, those misconceptions can lead to unfair discrimination.
“Some people look at it as a weakness but it’s just another thing that some people have to deal with in their lives and you try and make the best of it,” explained Maynard.
Maynard says that support is something that is important.
“It makes a huge difference to the quality of your life,” he said.
Norrish also believes that support is needed.
“My friends and family are extremely supportive which is good. The people I work with are very supportive as well so that helps too,” noted Norrish.
For people who love and care for diabetics, it can be difficult and sometimes overwhelming.
Judy Lowcay, of Dawson Creek, has experienced diabetes on both a professional and personal level.
“Both Type 1 and Type 2 are in my family and I worked for several years as a dietitian, so a lot of my work was involving helping people with diabetes,” said Judy.
As the mother a son with diabetes, Lowcay explained how it changes life for both the child and the parent.
“Imagine finding out that your three-year-old has diabetes and you as the parent will have to learn how to get a blood sample from those little fingers, four times a day. You’ll have to learn to give a minimum of two to three injections of insulin everyday,” Lowcay said.
“From now on, you’ll have to measure out the food and become very creative when that little toddler of yours refuses to eat. You’ll have to give extra snacks before activity and even after and you’ll worry about low blood sugars during the night and quite often you’ll get up during the night to check on that child.
“You’ll have to educate your friends, family, teachers and coach as your teacher grows and when that child becomes a teen, you’ll get grey hairs (when he) rebels and refuses to test his blood sugar or give his insulin, when he learns how to drive and as a young adult experiments with alcohol.”
Even though Norrish believes that people with diabetes can still live a normal and active life, finding out he was diabetic wasn’t an easy thing.
“It was very upsetting news… basically, you have no knowledge about what they’re telling you you’ve just been diagnosed with.”
When a person first learns of their diagnosis it can be very overwhelming for them.
“At the start you have no idea how it’s going to affect your life and the impact that it’s going to have,” said Norrish.
There are two kinds of diabetes that a person can have.
According to Marcellus, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and it’s something that typically happens at a young age usually around ages 8-10.
“About 10 per cent of people living with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes and it’s where all of a sudden, the body attacks itself and it destroys the part of the pancreas that makes the insulin,” she said.
This means that insulin has to be injected right from diagnosis so that the body can get the insulin is can no longer make.
Marcellus explained that people with Type 2 diabetes are still producing insulin, just not at the same rate as a non-diabetic body.
“Sometimes it’s in smaller amounts, sometimes they have insulin resistance, but they still have insulin so it’s just to make it that the pancreas can do it’s job by watching their foods and being active and controlling their weight,” noted Marcellus.
Both Maynard and Norrish explained that for health and safety reason people who are diabetic should not avoid telling others about their condition.
“I don’t have a problem sharing it myself, it’s more my benefit – my friends, my family, my coworkers, people that I play sports with and camps with – I try to explain it the best I can and share it with them so if something does happen they know what to do and can actually help me,” said Norrish.
Marcellus recommends that persons over the age of 40 be checked every three years for diabetes.
She also explained that there are certain symptoms that can mean someone is diabetic, these include being thirstier, visiting the washroom more often and an increased rate of infection.
“Those are all signs that perhaps the sugar could be elevated.”
However, having diabetes does not mean that life is over.
“Diabetes is a chronic disease but it can be controlled and the person can live well with diabetes,” she said.
“There’s nothing that I wouldn’t not do, or attempt or try because of it, but it’s something that definitely needs to be managed properly or you can’t do what you enjoy,” said Norrish.
Mccurdy also said that diabetes doesn’t stop her from living her life.
She added, “I do everything I did before.”