In September 2013, the Belisle family’s world was turned upside down.
Ten-year-old Brianna just returned home from a trip with her grandmother Shirley, when her mother noticed she lost a significant amount of weight.
“She lost five pounds and she continued to lose another five pounds in the next week,” said her mother Wanda.
“She got really thin. She ran a race and her time was really off and she was really sick and vomiting. With the weight loss, you could see all the bones in her chest and her back. She just got worse and worse.”
Doctors ran a series of tests on her and eventually diagnosed Brianna with Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease where your immune system attacks cells in the pancreas.
After being diagnosed, she spent the next few days in the hospital getting her blood sugar levels back up.
“It was shocking. We didn’t know how to start this whole new lifestyle,” said Wanda.
“I literally slept with the lights on and in my clothes for the first month because you’re just waiting for something horrible to happen in the middle of the night.”
Now, Brianna is learning to live with the disease and must stick to a strict diet.
She counts the carbohydrates in everything she eats unless it’s cheese or protein.
Until recently, she was taking more than eight insulin injections a day and had to poke her finger 10 times a day to test her blood sugar levels.
She recently received an insulin pump so she no longer needs to take injections, but instead must carry the cell-phone-sized pump with her at all times.
Wanda and her husband, Jason must also check on Brianna throughout the night to make sure her blood sugar levels are normal.
“Every night before she goes to bed she says ‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ like she needs to reassure us’,” said Wanda.
But despite being diagnosed with diabetes, the Walnut Park student continues to stay active with cross-country running, soccer and snowboarding. She hasn’t let the disease hold her back.
“She’s my hero. She always has a sense of humour about it. There are days when she is down, but she never lets it stop her from doing things like being with her friends or doing sports,” said Wanda.
Most recently, Brianna participated in the Turkey Trot in Hazelton and completed a race in Iceland with her family a few months ago.
Her grandmother Shirley ran the marathon for Brianna and raised more than $8,000 for the Canadian Diabetes Association.
“It was devastating, I felt so bad for her and her family and there was nothing that we could do. We just had to learn to live with it,” said Shirley. “It takes a long time to come to terms with it, but you have to, you don’t have any choice.”
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Brianna is one of 300,000 Canadians living with Type 1 diabetes.
November marks diabetes awareness month.
Shelley Irvine, a diabetes nurse educator with Northern Health, said people should get their blood sugar levels checked once every three years depending on your age and a number of risk factors.
“But the main thing is, there are a million people in Canada who don’t even know they have it,” said Irvine.
“Knowledge is power. The more people know about this disease, the better the chances they can prevent it. If they do have diabetes, they can learn to manage it and have a healthy long life.”
On Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Smithers Health Centre there will be a talk on diabetes management for diabetes month. Blood sugar checks will also be available.
Residents can also get blood sugar levels checked at the healthy living centre between Tuesday and Thursday.
Wanda just wants other parents to be aware of the signs.
“The biggest thing is to know the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes — weight loss, thirst and going to the bathroom,” she said. “We just take it one day at a time, even one meal at a time. [Don’t] let diabetes stop you from doing anything.”