One of the things I love more than anything is seeing my ten-year-old daughter’s pink cheeks flushed with the joy and exertion of hard play. Her bouncing ponytail with its fly-away strands frames her lovely face making her a living masterpiece. Her adrenaline-infused laughter is poetry. She has always been passionate about athletics. I always love seeing her push herself physically to do her best and working together with other peers to achieve a common goal. A year ago I sat chatting on the sidelines or in the bleachers with my husband and other parents with no real apprehensions or concerns. Trivial matters about whether my daughter would make the goal, the shot, or the volley occupied my mind. It’s hard to remember that time or to recognize the person that I once was.
Last summer my daughter was diagnosed with type1 diabetes. Our world was flooded with a whole new set of priorities and demands that we had never paid any mind to previously, which became of paramount importance to the well-being and ultimately to the survival of our child. Her body was no longer capable of producing sufficient levels of insulin. Counting the carbohydrates that she consumed and administering insulin shots (at least four times a day) became our new reality.
Of all the ways that diabetes would change my daughter’s life—her ability to participate in sports and enjoy the level of physical activity that she had in the past—was one of the things that I worried about the most. Suddenly, sports and heavy physical activity became a frightening thing because with increased physical activity comes a higher chance of hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar levels). When she was initially diagnosed, I was quite fearful of these lows.
My husband and I did not shy away from allowing our daughter to sign up for the sports she had always participated in because we knew the importance of not letting diabetes control our child. We knew that sports are a driving force in her life and to tell her that she was no longer able to participate would crush her spirits. This did not stop me from sitting in mortal fear on the bleachers during her first volleyball game. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything other than whether or not her face was pale (a symptom of low blood sugar), if she was drinking enough Gatorade, and whether or not her blood glucose meter was in a safe area as to not be trampled on by a heard of excited little girls. It was difficult not to be a helicopter parent; I felt the urge to check in with her every few moments but I did my best to refrain. I had to trust that she was capable of paying attention to her body and responsibly handling her diabetes.
Volleyball season ended and basketball season took its place. Of all the physical activities, we worried about basketball the most because of the intense physical exertion that constantly running up and down the court entails. My daughter was scheduled for two back-to-back games the first day of the season. The typical anxieties wracked me from the sideline as I watched her play: Did we decrease her insulin dose enough before the game to prevent a low? Was it a mistake to decrease the insulin? Perhaps we should have kept the dose the same and given her extra complex carbohydrates? Somewhere along the lines, my mind took a break from the analyzing and second-guessing that are often part of diabetic life, and I started seeing my daughter instead of diabetes. She was flying up and down the court, just as she always had. She was just as competitive, focused, alive, and full of energy as ever. Diabetes did not define her. She was living her life and playing basketball, regardless of her diabetes.
Watching my daughter play sports has become a different experience from what it once was. I no longer watch her from the sidelines with the nonchalant, carefree attitude that I used to. I have gained something even more powerful; I see the strength and the courage that my daughter possesses as she decides for herself what she is capable of achieving. I stand awe-inspired at her refusal to let diabetes conquer her mentally or physically. Hope for the way that she will approach life with diabetes overwhelms me as I watch her participate alongside her teammates with the same degree of intensity and perseveranceas she always has. This condition will not determine what she is capable of achieving. She will.