Q&A with TeamONE’s Amberly Arsenault
TeamONE is a group of determined young Canadians living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) that take on challenges to raise awareness of diabetes and change perceptions of what people living with this disease can achieve. On June 14, 2012, TeamONE successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. In addition to facing the ongoing mental challenge of climbing the highest mountain in Africa and altitude sickness at heights of 5,895 metres, they also needed to test their blood glucose levels more than 20 times a day and closely monitor the amount of insulin injected.
TeamONE member, Amberly Arsenault, shared her experience with us and told us the things she couldn’t live without on her trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.
When were you diagnosed with T1D?
I was diagnosed with T1D in August of 2000, when I was 12 years old.
What inspired you to take on the Kilimanjaro challenge?
I was inspired to take on this Kilimanjaro challenge because I love showing other people living with diabetes that nothing can hold us back. The altitude can make our blood sugars incredibly difficult to deal with and, coupled with exercising 8-16 hours a day, you really need to push yourself to the limit.
How did you train and fundraise for the climb?
I trained by hiking Oxford Hill in White Rock, BC at least a few times a week, as well as hiking locally. I also spent a lot of time on the stair climber and incline treadmill at the gym.
I used Facebook primarily for my fundraising this time. I also reached out friends, family, and even my realtor.
What was your favourite snack on the climb?
The porters made us popcorn and tea every afternoon after trekking all day, and that was definitely my favourite thing to eat. It was also nice because it was time that the group got to spend together and unwind before dinner. I also kept lots of Skittles nearby for something a little bit yummier than Dex when I dropped low during the day.
What’s the one thing you couldn’t have completed the climb without?
Well, the obvious answer is my diabetes supplies of course! Other than that, I would have to say my nice warm sleeping bag. My iPod was also amazing on summit night. Extra camera batteries would be another one; I brought two cameras and both batteries died the day before summit.
What did you learn from the climb?
I learned that keeping my meter working is the number one most important thing! You can't always trust your instincts, even more so when you're at altitude as it tends to skew your blood sugars. Symptoms of altitude sickness can also feel like having a high or low blood sugar, so you really can't go with what you think you know. I also learned that we can push our bodies to limits that seem far beyond possible.
What advice would you give to others living with T1D?
My number one piece of advice is that diabetes is not a death sentence. I have been on four of these treks now and made it back in one piece every time. I can safely say I have never said “I can't do that because I have diabetes” and it is one of my life goals to never say that.
What does a cure mean to you?
I don't want to say that I am not living my life to the fullest with diabetes, but a cure would be life-changing for me. I can't even imagine wearing a dress and not worrying about where to clip my pump, and it would be amazing to go out for a night with only needing to bring ID and money, not a giant purse full of testing supplies, extra infusion sets, emergency sugar, etc.
The main reason we need a cure is for the future. My husband and I would ideally like to start a family soon, and I am scared of the complications that could occur during pregnancy due to my diabetes. I can't imagine having a child of my own with diabetes either. It's so sad to see kids hooked up to insulin pumps, or to have them not able to play with their friends because they have a low blood sugar. I just hope that diabetes doesn't find any of my future children. We need a cure.