Joining the war on diabetes

Every parent lives in fear. For most of us, that fear is by necessity background noise. If we can’t push it into the background, it will overwhelm us – and we know that a paranoid parent is a dangerously overprotective parent. We know the steps from loving, caring parents to helicopter parent to consumptive mothers and fathers are far too easy to take.

Every parent lives in fear.

For most of us, that fear is by necessity background noise. If we can’t push it into the background, it will overwhelm us – and we know that a paranoid parent is a dangerously overprotective parent. We know the steps from loving, caring parents to helicopter parent to consumptive mothers and fathers are far too easy to take.

So we concentrate on providing a good home, a stable environment, a quality education, and the freedom to find themselves and to examine ideas that will allow them to realize their potential. We focus on creating strong, bright and independent young people who will become adults who make us proud.

The best we can do, while going about this most important of life tasks, is manage the fear, and the most intrusive factors that sharpen it.

But sometimes horrible things happen regardless of our best efforts.

Our youngest son was an exceptionally healthy baby. Not much more than the occasional sniffle befell the first 12 months of his life. But around his first birthday, two months before Christmas, he caught the flu. By early in the new year, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and our lives had changed. Somehow, the flu virus had destroyed the insulin-producing islet cells in his pancreas.

My wife ultimately threw out all the photos from that Christmas. Our son was wasting away before our eyes, slowly enough that we couldn’t notice. By the time we did, and rushed him to the clinic and then to hospital, he had changed dramatically. Looking back at the photos only intensified the feeling that we had somehow failed him by not noticing the signs and acting more quickly.

That was more than 26 years ago. Today, he is healthy, happy and active. But he is still a diabetic.

And we are still his parents, always worrying about his health and constantly hoping for a cure.

We are not nearly alone, of course. More than 300,000 Canadians have Type 1 diabetes. International study comparisons suggest that Canada has among the highest incidence of Type 1 diabetes, roughly 5.1 per cent of children up to 14 years of age. Type 2 diabetes (with direct links to lifestyle) is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the nation, with 60,000 new diagnoses a year. And every one of them is someone’s child, someone’s husband or wife, brother or sister.

As a parent, how you react in the moment, and how you learn to cope in the long term, depends a great deal on people with more expertise and compassion than you ever knew existed. While you are desperately seeking some unknown inner strength in the face of diagnosis, they demonstrate again and again that there is an abundance of structure, knowledge and devotion to helping you — and finding ultimate solutions.

Organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the people who work for them, offer solutions and hope.

Doctors and nurses from your local clinic to the Alberta Children’s Hospital to Stollery Children’s Hospital give you the tools you need to cope, and eventually thrive.

It is a long road, but there are road maps. And there just may be a destination. Extraordinary research is being done at the Alberta Diabetes Institute at the University of Alberta, and in many other facilities.

Science moves closer, day by day, to a cure.

The odds of a good life, today, are long if you are a diabetic. But for many diabetics, life expectancy can still be as much as 15 years less than the average population.

And diabetes, like all chronic conditions, weighs heavily on the health system.

Every year about this time, as many as 45,000 Canadians join a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes in their community, or offer their support to someone who is taking part. In 2014 alone, the organization provided more than US$98 million to support more than 50 clinical studies. And there are many other ways to help science find a cure for diabetes.

The goal, ultimately, is to improve the lives of the millions of people around the world who have diabetes. And to remove at least one thing from the list of things that parents fear.

Troy Media columnist John Stewart is a born and bred Albertan who doesn’t drill for oil, ranch or drive a pickup truck – although all of those things have played a role in his past.

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