My blood sugar was 385 mg/dL, but I definitely did NOT eat those cupcakes.
Sure, there was a cupcake wrapper in the garbage can. And there may have been some chocolate around the side of my mouth. Okay, and maybe there was a little chocolate on my fingers. But I didn’t eat those cupcakes!
At least that’s what I told my mother when she grilled me about it. I was 9 years old at the time, and when she saw the out-of-range number staring back at us from my glucose meter, she asked me a second time. “Did you eat the cupcakes?”
“No, mom! No way!”
Her face was starting to get red. She leaned in closer, her voice quieter… scarier. “Kerri, did you eat the cupcakes?”
My mother is not a violent person. She’s reasonably mild-mannered and calm, so it startled both of us when she brought her foot back and kicked the blue storage bin we used for winter sweaters. She kicked it so hard that her foot went clear through the bin, and it stuck for a moment until she shook it loose.
We stared at the bin in horrified silence. The hole was not big, but it somehow took up the whole room. The words that came out of me next were small and whispered, an admission of guilt that only mice and my mother could hear.
“… I ate the cupcakes.”
She sighed. I cried.
It wasn’t about cupcakes. Not entirely. Since I’d been diagnosed at the age of 7 with type 1 diabetes, we were still trying to adjust to this new normal, allowing for moments of indulgence and attempting to view food through a healthy lens. And that all sounds oh-so-self-aware and like we had this structured approach to diabetes management, but the truth of it was that diabetes felt so overwhelming at times, and we were just trying to keep it feeling casually manageable and yet taken entirely seriously at the same time.
It was a strange balance. And part of those growing pains resulted in me sneaking a package of cupcakes into my room and then into my mouth, not bolusing for them because my prepubescent brain thought that not bolusing meant the cupcakes somehow “wouldn’t count.” (This made no sense then, and still doesn’t make any sense now, but it’s how my brain tried to justify my lie.)
My mom wasn’t furious at me for eating cupcakes. Nope. She was honestly scared as a result of my bold-faced lie, because she thought the lie meant that I didn’t take diabetes seriously. And the idea of her daughter, who would have diabetes for the rest of her life, not taking a serious disease seriously, shook her to the core. She wanted me to be safe, always, and she needed to know that I’d continue to be safe even after she wasn’t the one in charge of my diabetes every day.
We talked about this at length… after she had dislodged her foot from the blue plastic bin.
“I know this is hard. But this is what we need to do, and what we need to deal with. You need to take responsibility for this thing. Go think.”
I went into my room and sat down at my desk, titling the paper “If I Want to Live.” I made a list of the things I needed to do in order to achieve that goal: “test” (check my blood sugar), “no cheating” (follow the recommended diet plan from my endocrinologist), “shoot like mom tells me” (take exactly the insulin dose my mom suggests). All three of those tasks felt doable. The mechanics of diabetes haven’t ever daunted me much.
It’s the last thing, that last item on my list, that still gives me pause to this day. “Be responsible.” Take on the role of your busted pancreas, and perform that sometimes-daunting task daily. It’s not the blood sugar checks or the pump site changes that burn me out; it’s the overarching relentlessness of diabetes that wears me down at times. Juggle the different variables and try not to become frustrated when the best-laid plans become bouncing blood sugars. Wrap your head around the concept of “forever.” Be responsible.
My mother showed me that cupcakes weren’t my enemy, but apathy and irresponsibility were. And if I was going to make the most of this life, diabetes notwithstanding, I needed to own my disease and do what I could to manage it, embracing honesty over shame and guilt. This was a hard lesson to learn. I’m still learning some version of it, even 32 years later.
The blue bin incident definitively proved that diabetes isn’t just about blood sugar numbers and following rules. It’s about responsibility and acceptance. It’s about weaving diabetes into your life instead of building your life around diabetes. And it’s about finding your power as a pancreas and having the life you want, despite, because of, or simply with diabetes.
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.