March 1, 2016 marked my 50 year anniversary living with juvenile diabetes. Half a century ago, my parents wisely took a symptomatic 9 year old boy to see his pediatrician for what would ultimately develop into a 10 day hospital admission ushering in a new reality which has now existed five decades.
Back then I didn’t expect to ever see this day. My parents privately didn’t believe I would be around too long. That was what we were led to believe at the time.
We probably weren’t any different than other families. After all, the only point of reference back then was based on the prior four decades. Recall that insulin therapy had only been around 44 years when I was diagnosed. The ‘facts of life’ about living with diabetes were not very encouraging. People survived with diabetes, but faced a gauntlet of new challenges. Insulin was life sustaining, but it was not a cure. A new door was now opened to the world of diabetes complications.
Early on, I learned to fear blindness and failing kidneys. I came to feel it was just my destiny. But as I later entered medical school and began to meet some new inspiring people, my perspective began to change. I began to better understand the nature of the problems I feared out of ignorance. Soon I started to realize that my fate largely rested in my own hands. I could now shape my destiny. Knowledge did evolve into power.
Marriage, children and a busy career soon followed. It became clear that my life with diabetes was irrevocably different than what would have transpired in its absence. And as life’s experiences unfolded it became clear that I had begun to reclaim my life from the clutches of my earlier fears.
I would be lying if I said I like having diabetes. I don’t. But I like my life with diabetes very much. Whether I like it or not, diabetes has shaped who I am and who I’ve been able to help over the past 35 years as a health care provider.
In the natural world order, I should have died a half century ago. But this did not happen. Why? I assume I will find out when I meet my Creator. What I do know is that I have a purpose.
Mark Twain said the two most important days in life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why. I do feel I now know why I am here. And that awareness is one of my greatest gifts from God.
For all those reading this, my message to you is that a life lived well with diabetes (and many other chronic diseases), is very much within reach. Each day is a gift. Each family member or friend is a priceless treasure. We can all make a difference.
With or without diabetes, life is a series of choices. Choose well. Embrace today and appreciate each sunrise.
Now I’ve got to get ready for work and take out the trash. Have a splendid day everyone, I woke up today. Therefore I’ve won one more day over diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes diagnosed March 1, 1956. Board Certified Pediatric Endocrinologist since 1990. CDE since 1989. Directs one of the largest children's residential diabetes camping programs in the world since 1989. Former Chair of the NCBDE. Author of the groundbreaking book "Sugar Surfing, Managing type 1 diabetes in a Modern World". International speaker, clinical researcher and community advocate. Directs a free clinic for homeless and uninsured children. Currently directs the Pediatric Residency Training Program at McLane Children's Hospital in Temple, Texas. Clinical Professor of Pediatrics with Texas A&M University School of Medicine.
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.