By Danica Cajigas
“I was angry. I was upset. I was also sad, but there were a lot of other things going on at the moment, so it was frustrating just to not understand what was happening and not being able to be like normal kids, or what I thought was normal,” senior Samantha Gomez said.
Gomez sits with her legs crossed on the bench while speaking confidently, occasionally fidgeting with the iPhone and earbuds in her hands. Gomez is one of the few students on campus who has Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.
“I was diagnosed when I was seven years old, right after my dad passed away. It was due to shock, the doctors said. I didn’t know what it was at all. The doctors didn’t really tell me until after I was in the hospital for two weeks,” Gomez said.
Type 1 diabetes most commonly develops in children and young adults, but can start at any age. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little to no insulin, resulting in diabetics needing to manually deliver insulin through multiple syringe injections or through an insulin pump.
“I think it was just a matter of getting used to checking before meals and giving myself insulin. It was just getting used to that and then having to eat at a constant meal plan. It is very difficult, especially when you are little. You just want to eat everything and do everything, but you can’t,” Gomez said.
Gomez makes it a point to not let her diabetes inhibit her high school experiences. She recently played lacrosse and currently serves as the treasurer of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) club. As a student enrolled in a mix of Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate (AP/IB) and regular classes, Gomez sometimes struggles to control the effects diabetes has on her school performance.
“Sometimes in class, I will start zoning out because my sugar is too high; I’ll get headaches and be cranky. Or, I’ll fall asleep in class because my sugar’s too low. Teachers are mostly understanding of it, but sometimes they just don’t get it. They think that I’m giving them an attitude, but I’m not. It’s just frustrating to deal with that,” Gomez said.
Like most students with a chronic illness on campus, Gomez is able to more easily be successful in her classes through the 504 Plan. According to the American Diabetes Association, the 504 Plan sets out the actions a school will take to make sure a student with diabetes is medically safe, has the same access to education as other children and is treated fairly.
“Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that requires a lot of time to manage and so it is a lot of work and it is only fair that these kids are able to have accommodations at school because they have to deal with things that other kids don’t have to,” school nurse Paola Garcia said.
Through the 504 Plan, a diabetic student may be able to get up during class and see the nurse whenever they see fit without getting in trouble or penalized. Also, they may be allotted extra time for homework and assignments if they are sick or have a doctor’s appointment. This plan prevents students from being penalized in the event that their diabetes causes them to feel sick or miss school.
“Last year, out of nowhere, I had a really weird episode where my blood sugar was high during the day and low during the night. I stopped taking insulin to see if that was the problem and it just wouldn’t stop, so I had to miss a whole month of school last year,” senior Rowan Munro-Rankin said. “I miss a lot of school because I do everything I can to regulate my blood sugar, but it’s its own thing. I can’t be on top of it at all times.”
- Munro-Rankin was 12 when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Despite diabetes not running in her family, Munro-Rankin was diagnosed with a blood sugar of 800 at the time, with the normal being at 120.
“I was at sixth grade camp when it happened. I had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t eating. I was thirsty all the time and I had to go to the bathroom every five minutes. They thought that I was homesick or that I had just got the stomach flu, so when I got home my mom was really scared. I was admitted to the hospital 10 hours before I would’ve died,” R. Munro-Rankin said.
In spite of her diagnosis, R. Munro-Rankin tried to remain active in high school through participation in gymnastics, serving as an active ambassador for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), photographing for yearbook and volunteering at her church and elementary school.
“There are those times when Type 1 diabetes takes over, and for this reason Rowan has had to be hospitalized a few times in the past six years, it has nothing to do with her lifestyle or eating behavior. It has to do with the facts of this autoimmune disease,” mother of R. Munro-Rankin, Alex Munro-Rankin said.
As a result of her diabetes, R. Munro-Rankin had to halt her participation in gymnastics during the past few years. R. Munro-Rankin also believes that her diabetes influenced the type of classes she took in high school.
“I would’ve definitely had more opportunities and maybe would have done better in school. I have missed a lot which made me unable to take a lot of higher level classes like AP or IB classes. I could not do those because I miss so much school. I miss a lot of assignments which has not helped my grades,” R. Munro-Rankin said.
Outside of school, R. Munro-Rankin encounters similar situations because the treatment for Type 1 diabetes includes constant glucose monitoring via finger pricks, carb counting, meal portion measuring, and multiple self-administered insulin injections during the day.
“Just trying to keep up with other people is hard. My friends will want to go to the beach and I’ll have to make sure that I have all the things that I need for my diabetes and make sure that I don’t have any scars that are too noticeable from my pump or CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor). It’s just trying keep up and be normal with everyone else,” R. Munro-Rankin said.
Peer interactions and reactions are things that R. Munro Rankin and Gomez both dealt with after being diagnosed at a young age. According to Gomez, it was more difficult to deal with when she was younger because children did not understand that diabetes is not contagious, and that diabetics can do as they please, as long they control their blood sugar.
“People just assuming things is kind of nerve-wracking because I have to explain so much to them for them to understand. Everyone thinks that Type 1 and Type 2 are the same and that I couldn’t possibly have diabetes because I’m not obese, and so having to explain that to people is kind of tedious because everyone kind of has this idea that if you have diabetes, then you are unhealthy. That’s not true because all my life I’ve eaten really healthy,” R. Munro-Rankin said.
As Type 1 diabetics, both R. Munro-Rankin and Gomez depend on insulin shots in order to remain healthy and break down glucose from their meals. According to an analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the price of insulin has tripled from 2002 to 2013. As a result of this increase, many diabetics may resort to less expensive alternatives or even stop or ration their insulin.
“I don’t have to pay for [insulin] myself yet, but it is kind of unfair because, how are we supposed to help ourselves since we can’t make it ourselves. There’s no other way that we would be able to get it. Raising prices just doesn’t make sense,” R. Munro-Rankin said.
While treatment through an insulin routine is crucial for diabetics, it is evident that Gomez and R. Munro-Rankin learned more than just how to monitor their blood sugars. Their experience in treating their diabetes proves to not only widen their perspectives on life, but shape them into conscientious individuals.
“It’s made me more aware of my health, so in a weird way, I’m thankful to have it because I think of all the other things I could have when I look at kids at Rady’s who have cancer. This just makes me more appreciative towards the things I do have. Although if I didn’t have it, I know I could have more freedom with my life. Overall it’s not bad, I’ve just learned to go along with it and deal with it on a daily basis,” Gomez said.
Through a healthy diet and proper insulin use, diabetics can lead a fulfilling life. Although the illness may inhibit their participation in certain activities, diabetes does not have to drastically influence one’s life for the worse.
“I’ve seen [diabetes] have a negative impact on some students, but I’ve also seen diabetic kids do really well. They are on top of it and they know what to do, they know how to handle it. If they know how to take care of it, they can very successful and go on to do very good things,” Garcia said.