Sandra Smith wants people living with Type 1 Diabetes in northern B.C. to know they are not alone. She estimates nearly 500 children and 3,000 adults may be living with the condition in this part of the province, and she is hoping the first-ever northern B.C. Type 1 Diabetes conference being held in Smithers Oct. 1 will begin to build a supportive community for them.
“It is very validating inspiring and empowering to be with other people who get it,” she said. “Because it is a largely misunderstood condition. People think you take insulin and it is like putting gas in a car but it is a lot more than that.
“Once you inject insulin, that is the game changer. and that is the big difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes,” said Smith. “With Type 2 your body is still secreting insulin but with Type 1 Diabetes you have none. So you have to manage all the things that go with it because insulin on its own can kill you and no insulin will kill you. Your body changes the way it absorbs it depending on what you are doing.
“Almost every footstep you take has to be planned. You may need to eat an apple if you plan to vacuum your home [for example] because you are constantly trying to manage your blood sugars.”
Smith has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for 36 years, and she handled it by herself until three years ago, when “… a huge light went on for me and I hadn’t realized I was in the dark.”
That’s when she discovered an online community, attended a conference in San Diego, and went to an adult sports camp, where she met a “whole world of Type 1 Diabetes ‘movers and shakers.’
“My eyes and ears were really opened and since then I have been gobbling up everything that I can,” she said. “I have become a big advocate for the importance of community.”
Smith said she feels healthier now than she has ever been.
“It has been a life changer for me and whenever I go to one of these events I hear a lot of people saying they never talked to another Type 1 Diabetic before,” she said. “This is not a rural small town thing. It is the same whether you live in Vancouver or Smithers or Prince George.”
Smith is part of a Smithers group calling itself Type 1s of the North which is hosting the Smithers conference. It will bring in several speakers including Stephen Lang, who will “shine some light on Type 1 Diabetes.”
Lang is a professional athlete, outdoor photographer, skier, guide and model from Squamish. He was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 11 but it has not slowed him down.
“He is a great role model, especially for youth. He will do an inspriational talk about how he met his challenges and then he will lead a break out session in the afternoon focused on youth called Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll about meeting different challenges that will speak to teens in a way that parents and doctors are not able to.”
Smith is expecting a number of parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes to attend.
“Parents of Type 1s have some unique challenges to deal with,” she said. “If their kids are young, the parents or caregivers are living as if they have Type 1 themselves, constantly monitoring and feeding or injecting or pumping insulin … but … it’s not their own body so they can’t feel the symptoms of highs and lows. They have the extra job of being responsible for someone else’s physical body, which of course is going through all the other typical childhood experiences at the same time, including constant growth, bursts of calorie-burning activity, wild emotions … things that all have difficult-to-predict ways of impacting blood sugar levels.
Joanne Sear, one of the conference coordinators, has a six-year-old with Type 1 Diabetes.
“It is like standing in the middle of a seesaw trying to keep both sides level, 24-7, sleep be damned,” she said.
The one-day conference will include speakers from Vancouver and Ottawa during a morning session, with break-out sessions and a panel discussion in the afternoon. To register and read more about the conference, go to type1softhenorth.com.
The conference is being supported by Medtronic, Animas Canada, Abbott Canada, Eli Lilly Canada, McBike & Sport, Designworks, Wetzin’Kwa Community Forest Corporation, Shoppers Drug Mart Smithers, Bulkley Valley Health Care & Hospital Foundation, Bulkley Valley Credit Union, Canfor and Edmison Mehr Accountants.