With all of the upcoming holidays and winter festivities approaching, it can be easy to forget that November is not just a month dedicated to Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping. November is also Diabetes Awareness Month. Nearly 26 million Americans are living with diabetes. I spoke with one of those 26 million, Cayley Winters, an MSU junior studying interdisciplinary studies in health and society. Cayley shared her story with me about her diagnosis, struggles and experiences with being a Type I diabetic for 15 years.
How old were you when you were first diagnosed?
Six. I was diagnosed Father’s Day, 2001.
Do you remember what you were feeling or what your symptoms were when you
My diagnosis story is absolutely crazy. My parents had an appointment set up for me two weeks out (the pediatrician couldn’t get me in before and wasn’t taking my mother seriously even though she had researched my symptoms). My parents, being young, wanted to drop me off at my Grammy’s house for Father’s Day weekend and spend some time to themselves. I had already been displaying some symptoms; my kindergarten teacher even pulled my mom aside one day to see what was going on. I was excessively thirsty, always in the bathroom and the Father’s Day weekend of my diagnosis, I was vomiting and sleeping most of the day. I lost 10 pounds in three days (and for a six year old, that’s huge). On the day I was diagnosed, I was barely conscious and suddenly incontinent, so my Grammy, who was an RN in the past, rushed me to the hospital. I was in a diabetic coma for one day. I was in the hospital for three days after being transferred from Battle Creek Health Systems Hospital to Borgess Pediatrics in Kalamazoo.
What has been your biggest struggle while living with diabetes?
The hardest struggle I have with diabetes is that diabetes doesn’t have a schedule. You can count your carbs correctly, you can give yourself the right amount of insulin, you can exercise just the right amount, but sometimes when you do your blood sugar you feel defeated by the number staring back at you. Everything affects your blood sugar. Your weight, your diet, the weather, your stress levels, your daily activity. It’s always an uphill battle.
Is there anything that you wish people would understand about living with diabetes?
I wish that people without diabetes could understand that diabetes wasn’t something that I got from an unhealthy lifestyle. I will not grow out of it … Homemade cures won’t fix me; diet and exercise won’t get rid of it. I was six when I was diagnosed; no one else in my family has it. It was a random mutation gone wrong in my genetics. And I wish people could understand how much work it is. I’m lucky enough to have gone almost 15 years with diabetes without a complication or an emergency hospital visit, but that’s because I work really hard at controlling my sugars, and yet there are people who also work as hard as I do and crap happens. It’s a manageable yet unpredictable disease.
You mentioned to me that you have worked with and attended Camp Midicha, a camp dedicated to helping and teaching young diabetics; can you tell us what the camp is all about and why you’ve been a part of it for over 10 years?
Camp Midicha is the absolute best! It’s hosted every June at YMCA Camp Copneconic of Fenton. It’s a two-week-long, overnight camp broken up into two sessions (one week per session). We take kids ages 8-16, have a Counselor in Training Program for the teens going into their senior year of high school and then we have our staff, who end up coming out to be at least 50 percent diabetic themselves. We also have a day camp for the younger kiddos.
Camp Midicha is unique because the children who attend are all diabetic. We have a huge medical staff on hand at all times to help assist kids who need medical attention, help the camp counselors with blood sugar testing, low blood sugar and high blood sugar treatments. We also have additional staff on hand to take the kids every day for diabetes education so they can learn about nutrition, living with their disease, how things will affect their blood sugars and so on. The camp counselors are responsible for showing the kids a great time, while managing their blood sugars (including midnight and 2 a.m. testing). It’s an amazing experience for the kids to be surrounded with other kids living with diabetes (Type I and Type II) and to learn about their disability.
What advice would you give any fellow diabetics who might be struggling with their illness?
If you’re struggling with diabetes, it’s always important to remember that you are absolutely not alone. There are support groups (in person and online) that you can seek help from. Your endocrinologist actually DOES care about you. Probably the most important [thing] is to remember to NEVER beat yourself up and NEVER give up on yourself. Sometimes we can work as hard as we want and get no reward out of it, but the better you take care of yourself, and the less you get down on yourself for things that you cannot control, the happier you’ll be and the longer you’ll live. We didn’t choose this lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of it.
Taylor Downs is a junior professional writing major from Kalamazoo, MI. You will almost always find her with coffee in hand or spending far too much time on her phone texting or listening to music. She loves going out to eat, indulging in TV reruns, and spending time with her family and friends.