Q: It’s been two years since our daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and we have received so much help along the way. How do we start giving back? I would like to make a difference for other families affected by type 1.
A: I completely understand the pull you’re feeling right now, because it’s the same one I’ve felt ever since my son was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago. Here is what my path to becoming an advocate on behalf of children and families affected by type 1 has looked like and some tips for you as you start down your own road.
I had taken a few years off from my career as an accountant after our son Jonathan was born, and planned to go back to work once he started kindergarten. This never happened. Shortly after the school year began, Jonathan’s temperament changed — he seemed lethargic, made frequent trips to the bathroom, and then began to wet the bed. I didn’t know anything about diabetes at the time, so these things didn’t sound that alarm bell. It was only when I told a close friend what was going on that she told me to have Jonathan checked for diabetes.
I took him to the doctor and yes, it was type 1. Jonathan was taken to the hospital, and it was so overwhelming and confusing, and there was so much to learn in order to take care of him. It was hard to hear that what was wrong wasn’t going to go away. That day, however, my husband and I made an instant decision — we promised Jonathan that since he cannot take a day off from diabetes, we would not take a day off from helping to extinguish this disease.
Making good on this promise started small. After Jonathan returned to school, I knew it would be a good idea to teach his kindergarten class about his care routines. That talk went so well that I was asked to give a presentation to the entire school, so everyone could learn more about diabetes. After that presentation, the kids in the school were so excited about doing something to show their support that we decided to take part in JDRF’s Los Angeles charity walk to raise money for diabetes research. I am pleased to say that Jonathan’s school is now the city’s largest school-based walking team.
Around the same time, I was also introduced to one of the leaders of my local JDRF chapter and I realized how much this organization is doing to find a cure and improve the lives of everyone affected by diabetes. If you haven’t already, check in with your local chapter to see what kinds of help they need. You might be able to lead a parent support group, get involved with fundraising for new research, or become a mentor to another family with a newly diagnosed child.
Even if you start giving back by simply attending a diabetes-related event, you may be surprised where this leads you. Not too long ago, I was at a car show fundraiser where I knew many of the people there. But then I bumped into a woman who had shown up because her son had just been diagnosed, and she was desperate to meet another parent of a child with type 1. We talked and cried, and it felt so good to give that mom the emotional support she needed.
In June 2011, Jonathan was chosen to be one of 150 kids from all across the United States to head to Washington, D.C., to advocate for research dollars to find a cure for type 1 diabetes as part of the JDRF’s Children’s Congress. In July, I will serve as chair of this wonderful event.
I am so honored to take on this leadership role, but you know what excites me the most? Being around so many other families affected by diabetes. This is where the true giving back begins, as one by one we make connections, share our “war stories,” and give each other hope for our children’s futures.
“Whenever I see a new face at the clinic, I make a point of introducing myself and offering my contact info. Chances are it’s a parent of a newly diagnosed child who really needs a sympathetic ear. I got this kind of support in the early days, and it’s my pleasure to return the favor today.”
— Joanne S., Orlando, Fla., mom of 8-year-old Eric
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.