Happy Birthday, Diabetes


For the anniversary of my diabetes my girlfriend said she’d buy me a cake—and eat it in front of me.

That would’ve been a good start to a strange celebration. Although, truthfully, it’s not like I have a big party with balloons and a clown. I don’t celebrate it in the traditional sense. Every year I simply and quietly note or mark the date of my diabetes diagnosis, April 19. There are many other anniversaries and important dates, even in my own life, that I forget or only end up remembering after they’ve passed. But, April 19 never passes without acknowledgement. It’s a benchmark. It informs me about how I am doing with my health, and my life overall.

Five years and one day after my diagnosis at age 11, I ran the Boston Marathon. I recall setting off from the starting line at Hopkinton and thinking about my anniversary. Cresting Heartbreak Hill I laughed to myself about how five years earlier I was in an intensive care unit near death with a blood sugar of 1010, weighing all of 60 pounds, and with my kidneys sputtering to hold onto life. And I will never forget crossing the finish line on Boylston Street and thinking about my diabetes, “Bite me. You ain’t all that.” (Hey, what do you want? I was a kid.)

For my ten-year anniversary I was in college. I was three weeks shy of my 21st birthday. That, however, was not a true barrier to marking my second sort of birthday. I went out with some friends (for reasons not associated with my special day) and got more than a little tipsy, and more than a little sentimental with myself. I sat among people I loved and realized that I felt good. I counted my fingers and toes. I recalled great triumphs over adversity, and chastened myself for some losses, such as having gone to the hospital for a hypoglycemic coma. I raised my glass on my own alone, toasting my own good fortune, and smiling at my own perseverance.

  My 40th actual birthday was sort of cool because it came on the heels of my 29th birthday for my diabetes, so at least the number helped me feel young.

On the 30th anniversary of my diabetes I no longer had it, having experienced a cure through an experimental islet cell transplant. So on that actual day, I had actual cake!

By the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of my diabetes, the transplant had failed. I had diabetes again. So on that day, I did not have cake, actual or otherwise.

And this year, on the 37th birthday of my diabetes, I slept late. I did my morning shot. I went for a run. I drank Diet Coke. I counted my fingers and toes. I felt good. My girlfriend got me a cake. It sure looked good.

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