November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, with 2021 marking the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. It’s also the month of Thanksgiving, and there are so many things to be thankful for this year. For one, we’re excited to be able to gather with family for the holiday! After the disappointment of not being able to get together last year due to Covid, there’s a lot of built-up anticipation. In addition to the joy of gathering with family, I love planning and preparing an abundant and delicious meal. I love the football games on TV, and I even love the excitement of Black Friday shopping to kick off the holiday season.

I especially cherish the opportunity to reflect on all the blessings in my life. At the top of my list is my family — my wonderful husband, Evan, and my five awesome kids. Also at the top of my list are the medical advances that make it possible for Kaitlyn to be alive. How grateful I am for the miracle of insulin!

Recently, I read several articles about the history of type 1 diabetes. As most of us know, if our children were born a hundred years ago, it would have been a much different diagnosis. But if you’re like me, you might not know some of the (ineffective) treatments they would have tried anyway. I was pretty surprised at this list! Here are just some of the things prescribed for diabetes before the 1921 discovery of insulin:

  • A “non-irritating” milk and carb diet (“to thicken the blood and supply salts”)
  • Eating only whole grains
  • Consuming large amounts of sugar
  • Eating only the fat and meat of animals
  • Green vegetables
  • Avoiding fruits and “garden stuff”
  • Narcotics
  • Riding horseback (to decrease the need to urinate)
  • Wearing flannel or silk against the skin
  • Rancid animal food
  • Massages (I think Kaitlyn would be pretty happy with this treatment)
  • Taking cold baths (this one not so much)
  • Fenugreek, lupin, and wormseed powders
  • Bleeding
  • Medications to induce nausea and starvation
  • Exercising
  • Confinement to one room, with total quiet and no exercise

Aren’t these crazy? Well, a couple of them make some sense, I guess, but most of these treatments are just ridiculous. Even when healthcare practitioners learned more about diabetes, the most effective method of treating type 1 was to put patients on very strict diets with very limited carbohydrate intake. (Some had as little as 400 calories per day.) When I think about my Kaitlyn going through these kinds of treatments, only for them to later fail, my heart aches. I am so grateful for the discovery of insulin and all of the subsequent discoveries and developments that have turned diabetes from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable health challenge. 

So, if you’re sitting around the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving and are annoyed by a blood sugar alarm, or the fact that you have to count carbs and bolus for your meal, remember this: T1D families celebrating the holidays a hundred years ago wouldn’t be anywhere near as lucky. Let us all give thanks to the great individuals — past, present, and future — who have made and will continue to make life better for our kids with type 1.

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.