Elizabeth Kurowski with her niece and Derek Rapp (CEO of JDRF) cutting the ribbon at the JDRF Walk.
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UPDATE: The author of this article, Lizzie Kurowski is “celebrating” her 10th year of living with Type 1 Diabetes by setting lofty goals. After reading this article, check out her blog: http://year10ofadiabadass.com. Be sure to “like” her Facebook page to watch her progress: https://www.facebook.com/groups/956600051074718/?ref=br_rs
By Elizabeth Kurowski
February 6th, 2008 is a day I will never forget. But before we get there, let me begin by talking about the weeks leading up to this day. I was 14 years old and a star volleyball player with a very positive attitude. My coach had started to notice I was not my positive, bubbly self and others started to notice the significant weight loss; 25 pounds to be exact. In addition I was drinking tons of water and going to the bathroom much more often than I had been. On top of all this, it was as if I was starting to get the flu, so my parents took me to my pediatrician. Five minutes into the appointment the doctor pricked my finger to test my blood sugar and within minutes, we were on our way to Children’s Hospital to learn about the extensive world of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).
For those of you who may not be familiar, T1D is an autoimmune disease where your pancreas stops producing insulin. T1D is different than Type 2 Diabetes in that T1D is hereditary and generally onset at a younger age (although the age trend is shifting upwards). Also, T1D does not go away and there is not a cure. I did nothing to get this disease; it was just the hand I was dealt.
Someone reading this may be familiar with the term Juvenile Diabetes. Traditionally Type 1 was more juvenile onset but it is now apparent that you can get Type 1 at any age– and vice versa with Type 2. Traditionally Type 2 was more common in older people, but now it is apparent that you can get Type 2 at younger ages.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has been trying to move away from calling it Juvenile Diabetes and rather to just call it Type 1 Diabetes since people of any age can be diagnosed and live with Type 1. There is a lot of speculation as to what causes diabetes and there is no clear answer but it is hereditary.
You hear a lot about taking care of yourself and weight gain triggering diabetes. While Type 2 can result from lifestyle choices, it can also be hereditary.
So the cliche is that it is older overweight people have Type 2, but that is not always true. A skinny adult or a young person can get Type 2. And when you get diabetes when you are pregnant, it is called Gestational Diabetes. It can go away when the pregnancy is over but sometimes it does not and the person is diagnosed with Type 1.
I just wanted to clarify all of that up front as you are reading this and you may not have the exact same story I have Type 1 and I hope my story helps you on your journey.
I spent three days at Children’s Hospital after my initial diagnosis to learn about the extensive and intricate care I was going to have to learn and live with the rest of my life. Learning to prick my finger, giving myself injections, counting carbohydrates, and the list goes on and on.
Those new to the Diabetes world may think it has to d with sugar and that once you have Diabetes you can not have sugar. It’s all about educating yourself about making good choices, but having Diabetes does not mean the end of having fun—far from it.
I eat low carbs because it just makes my life a lot easier, but I am not afraid to eat a big bowl of ice cream too! There is a common misconception that people with Diabetes cannot eat any carbs or any sweets and that is not true at all.
That is why the creation of insulin is so amazing. If I want to eat a bowl of ice cream, I just need to calculate the amount of carbs and give myself an injection of insulin. There are many apps that you can get on your smartphone where you type in what food you are eating and it will give you the carbs, calories, fat, etc.
My favorite app is CalorieKing. There is also a CalorieKing book that is small enough to keep in your purse. CalorieKing has food you buy and prepare as well as food from many chain restaurants which can make eating out much easier.
[There are also cookbooks that can help with good healthy food]
Further, some restaurants legally have to have the nutrition facts available to customers (I assume chain restaurants), so if you are at McDonalds, you can ask them for a nutrition form.
I am fortunate that my family was 100% involved in this learning process and I could not be more thankful to have the support system that I do. If there is one thing that makes living with this disease easier, it is having people around who care about you and who are there to listen to you when times are tough and when times are great. I am a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and as you can see in the photo, left, some of my sisters support me in the cause of JDRF.
For those who are caring for a loved-one who has Diabetes, I would say, just try to be there for them and stay positive because there are days when you are the only light they have. You may be feeling down because someone you care about has Diabetes and their numbers are down, but it really helps to have people around you with a positive attitude.
I go to my check up every three months and at this appointment the doctor takes my A1C level. This level tells you an average of your blood sugar over the past three months. I set very high goals for myself and when I don’t reach them, my family always encourages me and pushes me to do better. Last time my number wasn’t up to my standards, my sister pushed me to work out more and we would text each other when we ran and how much we ran to encourage each other and at my next appointment I had my best A1C ever.
I had to learn to take care of myself and there is a big learning curve. This is where you come to depend on those closest to you for support. It eventually becomes natural and sometimes I even get annoyed when they try to help but that is because I have been doing it for so long and I know how my body reacts. But I have to tell myself they are just trying to help.
It’s also the little things my family does like my parents took me to San Francisco this year for the JDRF National Research Summit or my brother posting on Facebook about donating to JDRF with a perfect story of my life, or my cousin who is running a marathon in my honor for JDRF. Realizing how much everyone cares about me makes me feel so special and makes me want to strive to be better because of their support, so I encourage others to do the same. If it’s a group effort it makes it a lot easier to live with it. Living with Diabetes can be a difficult life but with good support and education you can learn to manage it and thrive, enjoying a great life like I do.
Speaking of education and support, while I was at the hospital we learned about the (JDRF). My family and I immediately did our research and jumped on board with this organization. I can truly say I would not be where I am today if it were not for the JDRF. They welcomed us with open arms and they are the leading organization fighting for a cure for T1D. They host events ranging from fundraisers to family retreats to research updates so there are opportunities to learn and to meet so many people who are dealing with the same struggles you are.
I was 14 when I was diagnosed with T1D and I just celebrated my 9th year thriving with this disease. I have tried many methods of giving myself insulin and checking my blood sugar and it has helped me find what I like best. After my initial diagnosis, I used insulin pens, which was nice because the pen measured out the insulin on its own. I was hesitant to try an insulin pump or a continuous glucose monitor because I did not want to have something attached to my body at all times, but a little over three years ago I finally gave it a try.
I got the Omnipod insulin pump, which is the only tubeless insulin pump, and the Dexcom G5 continuous glucose monitor (initially I had the G4). These devices changed my life. With the continuous glucose monitor, I no longer have to prick my finger 15 times a day, but rather I am able to only prick it twice a day to calibrate my sensor. And my sensor has Bluetooth so I am able to see what my blood sugar is every five minutes from an app on my phone. And with the Omnipod insulin pump, a canula is inserted into my body to give me insulin and I am able to wear this device under my clothes. I have to change the device every three days, which means only one shot every three days as opposed to usually at least four shots per day on injections. Truly life changing technology.
And in addition to the amazing technology that has already been developed, there is so much more on its way. The research happening in the Diabetes field is phenomenal and a “cure” is realistic. Advances are happening every day and I could not be more excited about this. With support from organizations like JDRF and the government through NIH funding, a cure is very possible.
Further, to continue to look on the bright side, the research is amazing, but the valuable life lessons and meaningful relationships I have built because of my T1D diagnosis have made an incredible impact on my life. I was forced to mature more quickly than many of my friends, but I am thankful for that. I have chosen to live a healthier lifestyle because it makes my life easier and that is good for my overall health as well. I have a “diabestie” who is my 10-year-old best friend who also has T1D. That’s me with Izzie my “diabestie” in the picture to the left.
I have ran half marathons and become scuba certified to show that you truly can do anything even with obstacles like T1D. But most of all, I have used my T1D diagnosis to be more aware that everyone has something in their life that they struggle with.
I love everything I do with JDRF and the diabetes world, but I found that I wanted to do more than just help myself and I was lucky enough to stumble upon a children’s cancer charity called Rainbows for Kids.
I started volunteering and I found it so rewarding to be working directly with the kids and actually see you are making a difference in their day. I like volunteering because I know I am giving back, just like the many people who volunteer for JDRF gave to me.
I am proud to share my story about living with Type 1 Diabetes, but I am more proud to be a part of such amazing organizations– JDRF and Rainbows For Kids. If you are just beginning your journey with Diabetes I hope my story gives you hope that this is not “it” for you. Once you get your Diabetes under control—and this takes a lot of effort on your part and the part of your loved-ones– you can find out what your passions are and begin living them out.
NOTE: Lizzie Kurowski was a stand-out student at Saint Louis University as an undergrad and at the time this article was written she is in her second year of law school.She is truly an example of a person overcoming their hardships and even thriving with them. Rainbows for Kids is the official charity of STLSportsPage.com and we are so proud to have her as a friend, volunteer and now Board Member.
JRDF Support for Type 1 Diabetes: http://www.jdrf.org/t1d-resources/
Contact the St. Louis Chapter of JRDF: http://www.jdrf.org/stl/contact-us/
Donate to JRDF: