Learning from Diabetes

    “Learning from Diabetes,” New Era, Nov. 2004, 20

    Learning from Diabetes

    I was shocked when I learned I had diabetes, but growing up with this illness has helped me, as well as others, learn valuable gospel lessons.

    It was Halloween, and I was sick. While all my friends were hoarding and consuming pounds of candy, I was giving myself insulin shots, munching on set amounts of sugar-free candy, and moaning because I could no longer eat my favorite candy bar. My life as a 10-year-old couldn’t have been worse. But now, 12 years later, I realize it couldn’t have been any better.

    On 10 October 1991 I stared blankly at my doctor when he said, “You have type 1 diabetes.” He didn’t say, “You have a virus that will go away in a week” or “Here are some antibiotics for your infection.” He was telling me I had diabetes and that I would have it for the rest of my life.

    That very moment my life changed forever. I went from barely thinking about what I ate to giving myself shots, testing my blood-sugar levels, and eating limited foods in limited amounts. I quickly learned that everything from exercise to stress affected my blood sugar, and I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without monitoring it. I had to be responsible 100 percent of the time, a skill that didn’t come quickly.

    But behind all of the physical tasks, I found something deeply spiritual. I found that when I was obedient, I was blessed. Whether I chose to indulge in double-fudge brownies instead of sugar-free pudding had effects that could last up to five or more hours and eventually five or more years. I soon learned that by sticking to short-term restrictions, I was freed from long-term complications. I felt more awake and energetic, and my confidence even increased as I chose to make wise decisions regarding my health.

    Because type 1 diabetics only make up about 0.3 percent of the population in the United States, it’s easy to feel alone. But there are many in the Church who are pulling through, anchoring themselves in the gospel, and finding joy in the journey they call diabetes. I know, because I talked with a few of them.

    Chris Hatch: Staying in Control

    Chris had a hard time with his diabetes when he was a teenager. Living the lifestyle of a teenager—eating out at 2:00 a.m., having a crazy sleep schedule—was hard on his body. For most of his teenage years, he tried to deny that he even had a disease.

    At college, a good friend helped Chris make some big changes in his physical and spiritual health. “Up to that point,” Chris says, “I had never really taken the gospel or my life seriously. As I started to read the Book of Mormon for the first time, I felt my whole life changing. Not only did I feel the enlightening effects come into my life that one feels when reading the Book of Mormon, but I also started to feel more concern for my body and my life.”

    Chris says his decision to read the Book of Mormon led to other decisions that helped him become healthier. For the first time in his life, he started testing his blood-sugar level not just several times a week like he used to, but several times a day. He says, “I began to feel so much better as I started to take care of myself.”

    After Chris finished reading the Book of Mormon and received an answer that it is true, he decided to serve a mission. “Serving a mission can be tough,” Chris says. “Every day brought something new for me and my diabetes to try and conquer.” But he believes the Lord blessed him to maintain control. “Constant fluctuations in schedules, modes of transportation, and eating would lead most diabetics to out-of-control blood sugars, but the Lord was watching over me as I served my mission.” Since Chris started taking better care of himself, his health has been almost perfect.

    Chris is grateful that he was not only able to serve a mission but that he was able to serve with all of his strength. “The work never suffered as a result of my having diabetes. I saw God’s hand in my missionary work every day, and I still see it now.”

    Adrienne Openshaw: Make the Best of It

    For a girl who directs high school plays, sews costumes, memorizes Shakespeare, studies Russian, and performs on her school’s dance team, it’s a wonder she finds time to do anything else—especially take care of her diabetes. Adrienne was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 11, but she hasn’t let that get her down.

    “There’s really no point in being sad about it,” Adrienne says, “because it’s not going to change it. You might as well make the best of the situation and do things a normal kid would do.” She makes sure to take care of herself physically and spiritually. She tries to do constructive things that make her happy. “If you do all you can, pray, and have faith in Heavenly Father,” she says, “then He’ll help you accomplish the rest.”

    Adrienne has been a resource to many around her. Before moving to Utah, she was asked to teach a class on diabetes at a science museum in Minnesota. “It’s fun being able to bring something exciting out of a trial like this,” she says.

    She’s also discovered that the gospel is a strength. “The Savior went through a lot more than I did. And I know that He always understands. You try your hardest, and if that’s all you can do, then don’t stress.”

    Matt Anderson: Positive Attitude

    Fourteen-year-old Matt Anderson from Bountiful, Utah, is one tough character to shake. Matt was diagnosed with diabetes on a Saturday. He spoke in church the next day. His mom explains, “When the bishop called and asked if Matt still wanted to speak, Matt’s reply was, ‘Sure, Bishop, it’s already written!’” Matt’s talk was on gratitude.

    Matt’s positive attitude and strong testimony of the gospel are anchors in his life. “Now I’m just thankful for every day,” he says. “I’m thankful for the power of prayer.”

    After receiving a blessing in the hospital, he remembers waking up during the night. “The hospital was all quiet, and I felt this real peace come over me. A true peace. And I wasn’t scared.” Matt says the priesthood blessing gave him strength to give himself shots and to start testing his blood-sugar level.

    “This trial has been a blessing in my life,” Matt says. “It has made me conscious of the gospel more than ever. It has brought me closer to my mom and dad and my sister. I play sports just as much as I did before, and I’m still really close to my friends. I know we have trials for a reason.”

    Emily Pond Ricks: No Longer Thirsty

    Emily had just returned from a choir tour with BYU–Idaho’s Vocal Union and was planning on spending some time at home in Colorado. “During the trip I just didn’t feel myself,” Emily says. “I was so thirsty. I was drinking at least 20 glasses of water every day, and I was wondering what was wrong. After I was hospitalized, they gave me insulin, and I thought, ‘I’m myself again!’”

    Emily’s optimism, along with her family and new husband, has helped to keep her going. “I really try to focus on what I can eat rather than what I can’t, and then I’m fine,” she says.

    “After I got home from the hospital I was so grateful not to be thirsty anymore,” Emily says. “Then I thought about Christ and how He is the Living Water. I realized that there are so many people who are so thirsty that they drink and drink, but it goes right through them. And I was so grateful to know that I have the living waters.”

    Learning from the Test

    People often ask me how I got diabetes. The truth is, no one really knows. I just believe it’s part of this earthly test. The Lord knew there was no better way for me to learn that sacrifice brings blessings, and self-discipline even greater freedom. I know that if we take care of what we have, the Lord will bless us even more. I have a testimony that this gospel is true and that it connects all that is physical to all that is spiritual. I have a testimony that it is through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that we are able to overcome all things. He, our Master, our Lord, and our Redeemer, is the Rock upon which we are sustained.

    Diabetes: What Is It?

    Diabetics’ bodies don’t produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other nutrients from food into energy needed for daily life.1

    If diabetes is left untreated, blood-glucose levels remain high and create damage that can lead to serious nerve, heart, eye, or kidney problems. But if people with diabetes get proper treatment, stay informed about the disease, and take care of themselves, they can live long, healthy lives.

    About 130 million people worldwide have diabetes. Of the 11.1 million diabetics in the United States, it is estimated that 5–10 percent have type 1 diabetes and that 90–95 percent have type 2.

    The Symptoms of Diabetes

    Classic (usually linked with type 1):

    • Unexplained weight loss

    • Increased thirst

    • Frequent urination

    • Increased hunger

    Common (usually linked with type 2):

    • Fatigue

    • Blurred vision

    • Frequent infections and poor wound healing

    • Numbness and tingling in hands, legs, and feet

    Chris Hatch (opposite page, in foreground) is healthy and fit as he runs a marathon. As a teen Chris didn’t take care of himself as he should. But when he started to read the Book of Mormon, his life and attitude changed. He became more diligent in everything, including taking care of his diabetes. (Photograph courtesy of the Deseret Morning News.)

    Photography by Welden C. Andersen and Kristi Linton

    Adrienne Openshaw (opposite page, with her mother, Shannon) finds that there is really no sense in feeling sad about something she can’t change. She places her faith in her Father in Heaven to give her strength.

    Matt Anderson (left, with his family and playing soccer) feels this trial has brought his family closer.

    Emily Pond Ricks (with her husband, Kyle) draws a gospel analogy of the thirst she felt before her diagnosis with a thirst for gospel truths. She has found living water in the teachings of Christ. (Photograph by Pepper Nix.)