Even though Valentine’s Day usually focuses on matters of the heart, today it’s all about the pancreas. Living with diabetes doesn’t stop us from experiencing love. Not even a little bit. But diabetes adds an additional dimension to our relationships, with our partners learning the diabetes ins-and-outs as they get to know and love us. I talked with a few PWD partners about what they knew about diabetes before meeting their loved one and how diabetes affects their relationship.
What did you know about diabetes before you met your partner?
“How to spell diabetes – and that it wasn’t pronounced diabeetus – sorry Wilford,” said Bob Wojcik. His wife, Jacquie, has T1D, and they’ve been together 13ish years.
“In other words, [I knew] nothing.”
“I knew a bit about diabetes as my best friend had type 1 and my grandad had type 1, too. I knew all the symptoms to look out for and what has to be done to help,” shared Lynn Riddle, wife of diabetes athlete Roddy Riddle.
Tamara Oser is the wife of Sean Oser, who has been living with T1D for 25 years. “I had never known anyone with type 1 diabetes prior to meeting my now husband. I honestly don’t remember knowing much about diabetes at all. I didn’t have any negative or positive views-it was just something I hadn’t encountered by that point in my life. None of my family or friends had type 1 or type 2 diabetes.”
Do you guys approach diabetes as a team?
Tamara thinks so. “I would say yes, and I would hope he would too. We approach everything as a team. The most recent example I can think of is over the weekend when he had a day with repeat lows. We were traveling and in a hotel room. He ran out of glucose tabs, and I saw him looking around the hotel room to see if there was anything [he could use to treat a low]. I had glucose tabs and a snack, and glucagon which we have never needed thankfully, in my purse as I always do so I was able to help him.”
Bob didn’t see diabetes as something that could be tackled fully as a team. Not for lack of trying, though. “I don’t see diabetes as a team sport. I wish it was, and that I could take it from her when she was tired of it. Occasionally I will assist her in the middle of night with juice box retrieval or help installing a Dexcom sensor on the back of her arm.”
But diabetes does have influence on a relationship. It pokes its head in and makes itself known at both predictable times and completely random times.
Tamara tackled the mealtime disclosure. “I remember the first time I realized my husband had diabetes was when we started dating 25 years ago. We were having lunch and he nonchalantly pulled out a syringe and gave himself an injection. He calmly explained that he had type 1 diabetes and had to take insulin. He has always done what he needs to do to take care of himself, and integrates it into our life. He had only had type 1 diabetes for 5 years when I met him, so I feel like we grew into adulthood together while living with and learning about diabetes,” said Tamara. “It is just part of him and because of that has been a part of our relationship. Life is crazy and challenging at times, and diabetes is as well.”
Lynn Riddle talked about the unpredictable side of diabetes, and how a partner can worry. “It’s the hypo at night, being dark and by yourselves with someone sometimes relying on you to help can be hard and sometimes very frightening to start until the level starts to rise. Also it can be slow to increase glucose level so you have to be careful not to overcompensate.”
When we’re facing something challenging and chronic, like diabetes, it can be helpful to find the silver linings in those experiences. They are there, if you do a little digging. I asked the PWD partners if there were any bright spots when it came to diabetes.
What’s the hidden blessing of diabetes, if there is one?
Bob saw a window of health opportunities, through the pane of diabetes. “Quarterly blood work – [a way of] finding out if something else is wrong way earlier than the average person.”
“It has introduced us to so many friends and amazing people,” said Tamara. “It has inspired a new direction in my career as I want to help those I’ve met. Unlike some other diseases, there is an entire community waiting to offer support – both online and at in-person events like Children With Diabetes.”
Lynn was grateful that the diagnosis was diabetes and not something else. “When Roddy was first diagnosed, it was just two weeks before our son was born. Roddy had lost loads of weight, was thirsty, going back and forth to toilet, had thrush, and was very tired. We went to the doctor and was told to go straight up to hospital. On our mind was the big C word and when we were told it was diabetes, it was like relief as it was something that could be controlled and could be lived with.”
Tamara added one more thing. “I have learned so much from my partner. I have learned how much work it takes on a daily basis, how gracefully he incorporates it into his life, and probably most important that someone with diabetes can still have an amazing life and accomplish great things.”
Our pancreases might be broken, but our hearts still make a whole lot of love. Big thanks and lots of love to the partners of PWD this Valentine’s Day.