During the summer before my fourth year of college, I began working as a biomedical research intern at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Though I started the summer feeling great and excited to learn, my health and enthusiasm gradually declined as I began to develop the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. I first noticed a problem when my work schedule was disrupted by my constant thirst and need for bathroom breaks multiple times every hour. It became even worse as I then started experiencing painful muscle cramps, heartburn, joint swelling, skin rashes, blurred vision, hair loss, and extreme fatigue. I also began to have difficulty with focus and memory, and I became frustrated and embarrassed by my inability to work efficiently in the lab. Just one day before the end of the internship where I was to present my results and final conclusions, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Although it was a relief to have a medical explanation as to why the past few months had been so difficult, it was still hard to receive the news that I would be living with a chronic illness for the rest of my life.
Luckily, I had about a month before my school semester began to figure out how to adjust to a life with type 1 diabetes. I carefully counted every carbohydrate, faithfully bolused insulin before each meal, and exercised every day. By the end of the month, I felt like I had a decent idea of how my blood sugars were affected by meals and exercise, and I felt ready to begin a new semester of college.
hold me back from accomplishing anything”
However, when the semester began my beautiful routine quickly evaporated; my class, work, and extracurricular responsibilities changed from day-to-day, so I no longer had any kind of consistent schedule. When the midterm season started, there was a dramatic increase in my study hours and stress levels, and this was coupled with an unfortunate decrease in the amount of time I had to exercise and sleep. Each of these factors caused my blood sugars to consistently be higher than I was accustomed to, and I struggled to adapt to this new “normal” college lifestyle. I was often frustrated; I felt like I was carefully monitoring my carbohydrate intake and bolusing appropriately, but my blood sugar readings were rarely in my target range.
Another challenging factor was nutrition. At nearly every college activity, the only food and drink options are a mixture of pure sugar and carbohydrates. Trying to figure out how my body would respond to these high-carb foods was a game of trial-and-error; I would either end up with high blood sugars all night, or I would wake up at 4 am with severe hypoglycemia. It would usually take a day or two for me to completely recover from the blood sugar roller coaster that inevitably followed these events. It was a bit depressing to feel like I was unable to fully participate in college social events that I used to really love. I soon found that it was easier to just bring my own food or eat beforehand in order to keep my blood sugars in range.
The thing that helped me the most while transitioning to life with diabetes in college was the support I received from my family and friends as well as from my peers that were also living with diabetes. I have become very involved with the College Diabetes Network (CDN), a national organization of young adults with diabetes, and it has been so amazing to have a group of friends that know exactly what it’s like to face the challenges of college when living with diabetes. They have been an invaluable supportive resource to me and have really helped me stay positive and more in control of my diabetes. I have learned that type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to hold me back from accomplishing anything and that I can turn this disease into a personal strength. I am so grateful to be a part of this incredible diabetes community and am excited to pursue a future career in endocrinology.
Margot P is from Provo, Utah and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in July of 2017. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.S. in Physiology & Developmental Biology. Margot will begin medical school in the fall and plans to become a pediatric endocrinologist.