ColumnsLiving with Type 1 Diabetes

The Diabetes Rookie

In Shawn Shepheard’s new memoir, Life is Sweet, he details how he learned to embrace the challenge of late-in-life Type 1 diabetes. In this edited excerpt, Shepheard first discovers he has diabetes while traveling for work:

So there I stand at the urinal.

Peeing. Again.

It’s my fourth visit to the restroom and I’ve only been up for two hours. What is going on?

It’s getting toward Christmas and I’ve been on the road in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for three days now. Lovely town, home of Anne of Green Gables. But I’m not here on vacation; I’m here to hire a number of people for a new call centre in town. Alone.

Since arriving in Charlottetown my routine has been to get up at 6 am, go to work, drink tons of water and pee — and the last two activities I repeat all day long.

I call my fiancée every night, she’s in Toronto, and share with her my new routine. I can hear the concern in her voice.

The night before Christmas, I’m back home in Ottawa. It’s usually a four and a half hour drive to Toronto, with one stop for gas, food, restroom, you know the drill. Today it’s a seven hour odyssey with 12 stops. I simply can’t quench my thirst, and subsequently my need to pee. This really sucks.

I arrive at the home of my future in-laws, give my fiancée a quick “I gotta get to the bathroom and pee” hug, and yes, pee. Again. For the first time since my new routine started, I can now see the concern on the face of my fiancée and her mother. What is happening to me?

Christmas Morning. Merry Christmas. It’s official. I’m diabetic.

A 23.1 mmol/L blood glucose reading on my future father-in-law’s meter confirms it. That’s a reading of over 390 mg/dL for my friends in the U.S.

What now? Injections for life? Or worse?

A week after Christmas, and I’m back in Ottawa. On the recommendation of my doctor, I agree to attend a three-day diabetes education clinic. It’s kinda like Diabetes University, or is it pre-school? I’m not sure.

I get into my car and drive towards the hospital for the start of the clinic. I’m not thinking “YES, three days of diabetes education!” It’s more like, “Why me?” Another four injections today and testing my blood all day.

And it begins. I’m in a room in the hospital with 11 other diabetes “rookies” that have been recently diagnosed. I’m the only person living with Type one diabetes and taking multiple daily
injections. Even in this room, I’m all alone.

Did I mention that this sucks?

Then comes the dreaded “introduce-yourself-to-the-group,” opening. I go first to get it out of the way, and then start doodling on my pad of paper. After four other people introduce themselves, this woman stands up and says, “I don’t know why we’re here; we are all going to go blind, lose our limbs and die!”

Something clicks inside of me. I don’t even look up at her. I keep writing over and over on my pad of paper, “not me, not me, not me.” Sometimes, a little oppositional defiance can a healthy thing.

I strongly believe that the right people come into our lives at the right time. That woman was there for me. She woke me up.

I’ve heard a lot of theories on change, like that it takes 21 days, or months, or even years. I now think that is just not true. Change happens the moment we decide to change.

In that moment, I made a decision to live well with diabetes, and the lens of my world changed immediately.

To order a copy of Shawn’s book, Life is Sweet, or to engage him as a speaker, go to

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Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1997, Shawn Shepheard has become a speaker, advocate, and champion for those who want to live happy and well with diabetes. He was awarded the National Advocacy Leadership Award and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal to honor the significant contributions and achievements he has made to the field.

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