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B E E N  T H E R E:  HEALTH

Russell Huffman

"Dealing with Diabetes"

A Teen Editorial Board member interviews himself!

October 1998 

Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM) is a disease in which the pancreas ceases to create insulin, a hormone. I was diagnosed as insulin-dependent on December 10, 1993, at the age of ten. Believe it or not, I celebrate the day. It's a day of triumph. I've learned a lot about myself, people, and life through my diabetes. The experience is a double-headed coin, with light and dark sides, but it has helped to make me the person I am today.

The InSite: How did I feel when you were first diagnosed?

Russell: I had no idea what diabetes was. I was sure it wasn't good, but for all I knew, I'd take antibiotics and be fine in a week. Once it was explained to me I felt very scared. I had the usual "Why me?" feelings, and even thought if I ignored it, it might go away. I began to accept it slowly. I spent some time in the hospital (because I was dehydrated) That's where I realized it could have been much worse. Most diabetics are brought into the hospital unconscious. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who was related to a diabetic and recognized the symptoms. I was dehydrated and underweight, but otherwise fine.

I had no idea what diabetes was. I was sure it wasn't good...

TI: How'd your family take the news?

Russ: My mother is something of a perfectionist, so she immediately read everything she could find on diabetes so she wouldn't feel helpless. My brother and sister were very worried about me, checking on me, making sure I was eating right and taking my insulin. After a while, though, it became just another thing I did. Everyone dealt with it okay, and we learned how to incorporate it into our lives.

TI: How does diabetes affect your life personally?

Russ: Originally, for the first six months to a year after I got my diagnosis, I was withdrawn and scared. The ramifications of diabetes are many and varied. My parents were very open about it with me, they explained the disease and it's treatment to me. If not controlled it is very dangerous. They also told me that I was the only one who could keep it in check. Now, five years later, it has become such a natural part of my life, I rarely think about it.

TI: So people don't react differently to you when they find out you're a diabetic?

Russ: The truth about it is there are so many diabetics (roughly 16 million in the US, half of those diagnosed) that almost everyone I meet knows someone who is diabetic. The common stereotypes to people with these types of illnesses still affect me.

TI: What kind of stereotypes do you mean?

Russ: Well, the general thought that anyone with a disease is sickly. Some people think diabetes is preventable, that I was being negligent and that's how I got it. Others think it could be contagious. Most people, though, think that because I have a disease I'm somehow weak and fragile. So people are overly concerned with how I feel, and some even tell me I shouldn't exert myself.

Most people...think that because I have a disease I'm somehow weak and fragile.

TI: So are these people just being silly?

Russ: Yes. Okay, maybe not silly, but over protective. The bit about physical exertion is totally false! In fact, I have made regular exercise a part of my life. I have a job, I do school work... I am in every way a normal teenager, except for a slight flaw in my pancreas.

TI: How will the fact that you are diabetic affect your future?

Russ: I have no answer to that question. Any potential employer will, no doubt, take my diabetes into consideration before hiring me. I don't have control over that. However, diabetes will not affect my education. I have serious plans for college, and a simple malfunction is no reason to change them. There are still health risks, which are most likely to develop later in life, but as long as I take care of myself and am mindful of the risks, they are all one hundred percent preventable.

TI: Is there a cure for diabetes?

Russ: At this moment in time there is no permanent cure for diabetes. I live off of a synthesized substitute for insulin which I inject into the fatty tissue in the back of my arms, legs and in my stomach.

At this moment...there is no permanent cure for diabetes.

TI: How about support groups for other young people with diabetes?

Russ: There are incredible groups out there for support, as well as people trying to find a cure. The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and The American Diabetes Association are two awesome groups working towards the cure of diabetes. There are also many local support groups.

For the first six months to a year after I got my diagnosis, I was withdrawn and scared. If not controlled it is very dangerous... Now, five years later, it has become such a natural part of my life, I rarely think about it.
Send email to Russ at
[email protected]

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