ColumnsLiving with Type 1 Diabetes

Avoiding Cure Hope Burnout

Diabetes and a Girl

When I was first diagnosed T1 13 years ago, the blood glucose meter took 20 seconds to read my blood. 6 months after my initial diagnosis, that 20 seconds was reduced to 5 seconds. A year later, I had a pump. 3 years after that, my meter linked to my pump. And a few years after that, the pump was smaller and did more. There’s been a lot of technological change when it comes to diabetes, and it has made everything easier, but there’s one thing that tech hasn’t done – find a cure.

When I was first diagnosed, hope for a cure welled up easily inside me, like I was a pot boiling over with it. Then 2 years passed, and then 5, then 12. For so long it seemed like we all had cure news on the tips of our tongues. One of my high school projects was on stem cell research, which seemed so promising, but so far has only worked to extend the honeymoon period of insulin production for people newly diagnosed with T1. Then there was the buzz about the artificial pancreas. And then pig cells.

Scientists say that to cure type 1 diabetes, we first have to stop the body’s misguided attack on the pancreas. Then we have to find a way to restore the body’s ability to produce its own insulin. The research that’s being done to combine these two steps is encouraging, but it just seems so far away from a cure. My heart flutters each time I read about a new form of research…until I come to the phrase “limited applicability”.

To avoid burnout, I’ve turned my hope down to a low simmer. I participate in the walks and the relays, and this year I want to do the bike ride, because where do we end up if we don’t hold onto hope? And just when I want to give up on a cure, I am reminded about the diabetes gadgets I first started using; they seem archaic now. We’ve accomplished so much in the past decade that I can’t wait to see what we think up in the next one.

At a fundraiser recently, I listened to a Joslin Medal-award winner who has managed Type 1 diabetes for more than 50 years. Afterwards, I asked him about how he has been able to keep his chin up for so long. He said, “I poked myself 4 times every day for 70 years and guess what? I’m not leaking yet.”

I think about the size of the needles that must have been used on him when he was a child. I think about how sci-fi a diabetes pump must have looked to him when he first heard about it. Then, I feel hope for the future.

And if there isn’t a cure for my T1 in the next 57 years, at least I know I won’t leak.

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Heather Hall just graduated with a degree in writing from Drake University in Iowa. Her work has appeared in Drake Magazine and she has served as editor for Periphery, Drake's literary magazine. Hall was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9.

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