Christine MacGibbon: University Student, Former Dancer & Model
Diagnosed: 9 years old
Christine’s journey as a T1D warrior began 24 years ago. This was a pivotal moment for her and her family, as it had an immense emotional and physical toll.
In her personal and professional life, Christine has naturally evolved into an advocate, learning the power of knowledge as a tool to inform and ultimately transform the way we treat and manage diabetes. She believes that health is more than a physical state of being, but rather the sum of the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, financial and social facets of one’s life.
As such, her goal to advocate with JDRF for each and every facet of diabetes in a holistic manner to enhance the quality of life and to be the light for other people living with T1D and their families.
A Letter to my younger self
Dear young Christine,
I know you’re scared and a bit confused. You’re 9 years old and the doctor said to your parents, “it’s positive” and you can feel the tears running down your face. You’ve just been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at Sick Kids Hospital and thought you can never have sugar again and will die. You feel like you did something to cause this and are to blame. There are endless needles poking you and the doctors are scary. Little do you know, the girl down the hall in the same Diabetes Education Training Program will become your best friend. Going back to school will be hard. Other kids won’t understand and think you’re making excuses when you need to take snack breaks, check your blood sugar, and miss school. You’ll feel like an outsider and due to insulin, develop earlier. You’ll be bullied, called a “Hippo” in dance class for being bigger than other girls your age. Even though the insulin pump you wear makes you feel sick and different from everyone else, it will be one of your greatest superpowers. I know you want to deny your diagnosis and crash diet because of the pressure to fit in.
At age 15, withholding your insulin to lose weight will lead to diabulimia and eventually complications such as gastroparesis, osteoporosis, kidney stones and vision impairments. Getting coverage for insulin, blood sugar strips and allied health services will be challenging. You’ll face discrimination for being on disability from health systems and workplaces. Your mental health will decline because of the self-stigma of living with diabetes (diabetes burnout). It will be hard finding mental health support due to age requirements, location and waiting lists.
You’ll eventually admit yourself to a psychiatric ward where you’ll finally learn coping mechanisms and get the therapy you need. This will be the best decision of your life and you’ll feel like the superhero you always were, afterwards. Dating is hard because of the stigma, but you will meet someone who becomes your partner-in-crime and helps you realize how beautiful you truly are. Love is a powerful thing.
I want you to know that it’s okay. You are not your disease. You are still loved and capable. As much as you get bullied for your diabetes and feel isolated, you do not have to let the “Diabetes Monster” take over your life. With great power comes great responsibility and in diabetes, insulin, eating nutritious food, and exercise gives you your superpower(s). It takes time to find out how much insulin is right for you and listen to your body. There may be bad days, but never feel like this is your fault. Take it one day at a time. Let your insulin be part of your self-care and routine. This will help you become the superhero in your own life and realize your greatest powers and potential. Get help sooner than later. Diabetes impacts everyone, including your parents and siblings. I wish I knew there were online support groups for parents and children to find a “dia-buddy” and not feel alone. It’s hard for your parents not to be overbearing at times about your diabetes, but know it comes from a place of caring. Diabetes doesn’t have to mean missing out on your childhood and there are ways you can take more control over your diabetes management, so your parents don’t have to feel so anxious 24/7.
You’re not alone and there are many supports out there to help with the physical, mental, and financial stressors of diabetes. These include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Diabetes Canada, SickKids, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Mental Health Helpline. Little do you know, among the challenges you have faced on your journey with diabetes, you will rise above and find your voice through being a diabetes advocate. You will realize how powerful you really are. You will enroll in a Bachelor of Health & Society with a minor in psychology at York University and campaign for diabetes mental health supports, accessibility and disease education and prevention.
This will be quite the adventure, little one. Just remember- insulin is your ultimate superpower. Your family will always love you, and do their best to support you. And you will never be alone with your sidekick partner, allied health supports and secret alliance of diabetes superheroes cheering each other on, as we fight one diabetes monster at a time.