I devour books. I always have, and I always will. And over my many years of this life as a D-Mom, I’ve probably read just about every book written on diabetes, parenting a child with diabetes, research, and advocacy. Heck: I even wrote a few.
But I read a lot of other stuff, too (and write a lot of other stuff). Because, as we know, life cannot and should not be all about the bêtes.
And yet, I find that often I learn lessons or find moments of clarity about life with diabetes in books that I’d never expect to. In fact, some of my favorite books that have helped me ponder this d-life have nothing at all to do with diabetes. I’m sharing some below, five books that changed me for the better, and helped me see things I’d never considered before. Here is my list of five nonfiction books that have absolutely nothing to do with diabetes, but that everyone with diabetes in their lives in some way absolutely needs to read.
1. Polio: An American Story (David Oshinsky, 2006):
This story of how a group of advocates/citizens worked with the government, the public, and researchers to eradicate a disease is powerful, inspiring, fun to read and hope-building. Polio hit America like a sledgehammer, and the public, at first, was reeling (even though the book makes it clear polio did not impact as many as most thought). Then all kinds of folks – from regular Joes like you and me to the President himself – took action as a team and changed it all. Oshinsky describes the evolution of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes), and how it revolutionized fundraising and advocacy. One would never think of a book about polio as a page-turner, but this one is. And you’ll come away from the read ready to advocate and embracing the notion that united, we really all can make a difference.
2. Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From An Allergic Life (Sandra Beasley, 2012):
Sandra Beasley is a nationally- known poet, and that shows in the beauty of her prose. But there’s more for the diabetes community to her memoir than that. Beasley weaves us along her life with insanely challenging food allergies. On trips with her family, their car packed with more special foods, medications and “just in case” supplies than most families could ever imagine. Through her childhood she wanted to be “just like everyone else,” and of course, couldn’t. And Beasley takes us through her complicated but wonderful relationship with a mother who cared deeply, wanted to keep her safe, taught her about advocacy and yes, sometimes pissed her off. Beasley’s honest take on growing up with a challenge that sets you apart, yet challenges you to be better is one that helped me, as a D-parent, better understand my own child.
3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed, 2013):
Okay, if you have not heard of Wild yet, you’ve been living in the tundra. And if you’ve not read it yet, do it now before the film comes out – it’s always good to read a book before the film. And if you read it before and did not see the powerful connection to life with diabetes – read it again and consider this: Wild is not just the story of a woman braving the elements, carrying a heavy pack and finding her way – sometimes alone and sometimes with the help of others – on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about doing all that in life. We in this diabetes life carry a heavy pack, even if it is metaphorical (although when traveling, all that stuff we need really is heavy). Reading Wild, I reflected on my own D-mom journey and on my daughter’s journey growing up with diabetes. I realized that learning when to lean on others and when to take some steps on your own is so important in life. I understood that I, too, have had to “lessen my load” both literally and figuratively along the way. Wild speaks to everyone; that’s why it’s such a phenomenon. But I think the diabetes world will really get something extra from it.
4. Poster Child (Emily Rapp 2008):
If you or your child has ever stepped up to speak on behalf of a better future in the diabetes world, or if you are considering it, Rapp gives a raw, honest and amazing look at what life is like as poster child. Rapp, who had a leg amputated at the age of 4 due to a congenital birth defect was, two years later, chosen as the national poster child by the March of Dimes. That role shaped her and her view of the world in ways which are amazing, wonderful, worrisome, sad, and glorious. Consider this thought she shares of the experience: “[The] notion, that happiness and fulfillment hinge upon radical transformation, has followed me throughout my life. From an early age, I had fantasies of being ‘healed’ of my disability, a miracle I envisioned as rather more Disney than biblical.” Her story helped me think carefully about how I guided my own child through some “poster child” times in the diabetes world.
5. The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance (Joan Ryan, 2010):
D-Parents, for the most part, give their entire beings to raise their child with diabetes healthily and happily. Ryan had what may be perhaps a more challenging role: helping her son through a traumatic brain injury and then back to not just living life well, but with a strong and “new normal” parent/child relationship. Ryan is brutally honest about her fears and her anger, her loss of self at times, and her frustration and determination in helping her son find a way back to a happy life. Inspiring and eye opening.
I have just finished the first two books on this list. I loved the Polio book. I also really enjoyed “The Discovery of Insulin” by Michael Bliss and I am looking forward to reading “Breakthrough”.
“Bitter Sweet,” about the discovery of and unintended consequences of insulin. Turning a “death sentence” disease into a chronic disease, focusing on people and their personal stories.
I love books about epidemiology about the “great flu,” black death, polio, etc.
Diabetes Solution by Dr. Bernstein
A book I very much enjoyed was “Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle” by Theo Cooper. Makes me appreciate how easy my life is, even with T1 diabetes.