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My life was a journey of pain, of illness and often despair. That was until a stranger gave me health and hope and life. Let me share the thoughts of some of those who travelled with me on my journey of juvenile diabetes.
From my Mother:
As any mother does, I carried my newborn daughter home with all the dreams a parent holds for a child, little realizing the naivety of such hopes. At the age of two, my innocent child was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. This news was the darkest day of our lives. Even in the wilds, the maternal instinct is to protect your young and yet, try as I may, I lived through many years of coping with the cruel reality that I was no match for the ravages of this disease. How many times I cradled my little girl in my arms after a bad day and struggled with her through the night watching for that dreaded reaction. As she slept, I cried. I cried a lot.
I watched as neighbour children excitedly bought new book bags to begin their first day at school while I taught Sheryl how to self inject her insulin. I watched as others enjoyed the usual treats on Valentine’s Day, at Hallowe’en, at Christmas. Oh yes, I made “special” treats to send for Sheryl and she bravely pretended to enjoy them knowing the dangers of sharing what other children had. I watched as other girls grew into their teenage years becoming beautiful young women while Sheryl’s ever-unpredictable blood sugar levels often meant four injections a day leaving her skin scarred. As one procedure after another took place, I watched more and more scars cover the body of my beautiful child.
Like Sheryl, her father and I were tied by her illness. I am not complaining. I was happy to be there for my daughter but when your children grow up, parents look forward to more free time to travel or enjoy pastimes they’d put off until the kids were on their own. Our ‘travel’ was more likely to be a trip to a medical appointment, a visit to the hospital, an emergency drive in the night and even escapes to Florida in the winter were cut short because of emergencies. On one such occasion, we drove directly to the London hospital where Sheryl’s doctors confirmed our greatest fear – it was time for dialysis.
After countless rounds of tests, Sheryl was placed on the transplant list in Toronto. While this offered the prospect of a better life, it also meant the expense of living in this large city, long commutes and placing our trust in doctors we had never met. It is so difficult for diabetics to change doctors and after two years of great effort, of petitions, of political involvement, the kidney-pancreas transplant program came to London and Sheryl joined the list of those who waited in anticipation.
One night the call came. Someone we had never met gave the most wonderful gift to my little girl and after these many years of suffering Sheryl received her transplant. Our years of fear, of sadness, of struggle suddenly ended. Our daughter is a new person, she is happy, she knows what felling good is really like, she can go on a vacation, she can eat as others do, she has a brighter tomorrow. And as her parents, we too can move on with our lives. Our heartbreaking journey has come to an end.
From Husband, Mike:
On our wedding day, I understood married life would not be that of most other couples. I was marrying a diabetic. I knew we had to live day-to-day with our plans always dependent on how Sheryl felt. As other women go off to work in office towers, Sheryl’s full-time job eventually became travelling to London 3 to 4 times weekly for dialysis and specialist appointments. It hurt so much to watch my wife’s health decline with the passing of each year, and yet Sheryl managed to deal with whatever came her way. Even in her worst moments facing this life-changing illness, she never complained because, as she said, it wouldn’t change anything, she just had to deal with it.
Sheryl is one of a kind and I believe it was her inner strength that has been my inspiration. Little did I realize the strength I had to find within myself to cope with countless days of fluctuating blood sugar levels, illness in the extreme, calling ambulances to carry my wife away and the periods of having my wife in the hospital instead of at home with me. Sheryl has made this easier for me with her optimism and positive personality. What an amazing wife I have and I love her very much. How happy I am for us both today.
From Sheryl….Yes…It’s my turn now:
In one sense I am grateful that my diabetes began as a child. I grew up knowing no other way of living, that’s if I didn’t pay too much attention to the other kids. Today, I can’t imagine being grateful for such a thing. Diabetes is horrific. The needles, the diet, the exercise, the years of watching my body deteriorate and wondering what I’d have to face next. I endured laser surgery, vitrectomies and cataract surgery on my eyes. The nerve damage to my hands and feet left me without feeling and I often injured myself as a result. I lost the motility to pass food from my stomach and intestinal tract. I experienced days of vomiting and, in the end, kidney failure. Looking back, I enjoyed the care of countless wonderful specialists but this is no life for a young person and yet, it was my life.
One day in the summer of 2005 I received a call that would change everything. A donor was giving me a new kidney and pancreas. I tried not to raise my hopes because transplants can be called off. It also troubled me to think that in my joy, a life was being lost. But this time, my surgery proceeded and after a brief period of recovery, I can do what I’ve never been able to do before – plan for a healthy tomorrow, do and explore what I never enjoyed as a child.
I have had one other wonderful moment since my transplant. Unexpectedly I received a note from the family of my donor. I was able to learn about her life spent helping others and, in her death, she lived with that one final act of giving. Even in their sadness, this family wished me a long and healthy life. I now spend much of my time working to develop awareness and encouraging others to become an organ and tissue donor. I also share my thanks with the many doctors and hospital staff who have shared my experience and given such skill and support. I thank my husband for his patience, his loyalty and his love. I thank my parents for their unfailing efforts to help me through this journey. My mom often blamed herself for my illness. I hope she understands how wrong this was and how much I love her for always being there and for the monumental sacrifices she has made.
I thoroughly enjoy my new life and even admit to two new addictions – Tim Horton’s French Vanilla Cappuccinos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Strangely, however, I think diabetes has made me the strong, caring person I am today. It has put me in touch with so many motivating people I may not have met otherwise. My final thought and message goes out to everyone. During our lifetimes, few of us enjoy the power of business giants, CEOs of corporations, but in death we can enjoy the ultimate power of saving a life. If you ever thought of accepting an organ to improve or save your life, please consider signing an organ donor card to save someone else’s.