Personal Connections on World Diabetes Day

For the past three years we have celebrated World Diabetes Day as a community at Caleb’s school. Each year has been a little different.

There were three things that made 2011 unique: supporting Team Type 1, making a human blue circle and meeting Mr. B.

These were all special nuances to Caleb, but perhaps the most impactful one on this day was meeting Mr. B. He is the husband of Caleb’s teacher. He came in to visit with Caleb just for World Diabetes Day. Caleb and Mr. B. both love baseball. They are both fans of the New York Yankees. They are both living with type 1 diabetes.

I went into school during Caleb’s lunch period while his awareness video was being shown. I saw Mr. B chatting with Caleb. I saw Caleb’s smile. They spoke about baseball. Mr. B showed Caleb his insulin pump. Mr. B shared with Caleb what it was like for him growing up with diabetes. He told him he thought Caleb was brave because he’s so open about his diabetes.

Caleb has had a great school year with Mrs. B. Having someone who understands, who is accepting, who isn’t afraid and does not panic makes all the difference in the world for a student with diabetes. Our children cannot help but be singled out at school. There are things that they must do that their peers do not. Things that, despite our best efforts to normalize their school day, are indiscrete. Things that are simply non-negotiable and we cannot change them.

Spending his school days with someone like Mrs. B, who gets it, means that Caleb can focus on being a student first. He can focus on his favorite books, enjoy the new world of science uncovered for him, be challenged in his math group, play his violin, and joke with his friends.

It lets Caleb just be Caleb. A boy who, like his peers, has many dimensions. One just happens to be living with diabetes, like his new friend, Mr. B.

Another great teacher: Mrs. Muller | The Standard

Mr. and Mrs. B, Caleb, Lila, Nurse M and Mrs. Muller are in the upper right part of the blue circle.

Super Class Moms – World Diabetes Day | Friend Parade

Fellow Class Moms Dawne and Gigi with Caleb holding his special note

For the past three years, we have held awareness events at Caleb’s school for World Diabetes Day. This year, in addition to asking friends to wear blue, we collected dollars to support the efforts of Team Type 1 in Rwanda.

We did our usual – created an awareness flyer and made daily announcements at school. The community answered and we were able to contribute $500 and 600 test strips to Team Type 1′s cause.

I was on campus that day and was touched to see so many people wearing blue. I even noticed my friends and fellow class moms, Gigi and Dawne, were there, sporting their blue. “How nice,” I thought, “that they remembered to wear blue today.”

I was taking care of a few things in conjunction with the awareness video we showed the students and Gigi asked me if I would be heading to the classroom. I said, sure. I was a little confused trying to think of what was happening in class that day that I couldn’t remember.

I eventually made my way back to class where Gigi, Dawne and the class were waiting. They presented Caleb with a special note signed by each of them with the following sentiment:

In honor of our friend and classmate, Caleb Schlissel, for his dedication to the Team Type 1 project to help the children in Rwanda, we would like to donate $40 as a class to show our support and friendship.

Caleb and his family are helping less fortunate children receive the proper medications and supplies they need to manage their diabetes on a daily basis.

Way to go, Caleb!!!!

We had asked people to wear blue and contribute a dollar to the cause. Caleb’s class raised more than twice that and accounted for the biggest class donation of all the campus.

I was so surprised and touched that they would go out of their way and come into school just for Caleb. In retrospect, I really should not have been. They are wonderful moms and good friends. As I sit here today, five months later, I still get choked up by their thoughtfulness.

Thank you, Gigi and Dawne, for your kindness and generosity. It is a comfort and a blessing to have you as neighbors and friends. This will always be a special memory for Caleb and me.

Bradford

I think I may have mentioned how wonderful the people from Team Type 1 are. They are positive, kind, thoughtful, respectful, encouraging, inspirational…

On and on I could go.

Bradford and I met on TuDiabetes. We are both on the TuD admin team, iPhone enthusiasts, and Pod users (my use of course, indirect).

Bradford is on Team Type 1 and most definitely possesses all the aforementioned characteristics. I’ve asked him if there’s some sort of vetting process to which potential team members are subjected to ensure they possess both the physical attributes and these exemplary, personal character traits.

He says there is not.

Nevertheless, the people from the team are of the highest caliber and just when I think they can’t possibly impress me any more, they do.

So….

One day, Bradford casually mentions to the TuD team that he’s going to be in Waterbury, CT for a race in a few days.

Um, hello?!?

That’s a half hour away from us!

I read Melissa’s post about her family’s get together with Bradford and it sounded so familiar.

Dave's behind the camera

When the race weekend came, the five of us packed into the truck, picked him up at his hotel and headed to a local eatery. Bradford fit right in, starting with the seatbelt buckle roll call – the kids counted off letting us know they were buckled in and Bradford added his count to ensure us he was safe. Over dinner we talked, played, he gave racing tips to Colin and answered lots of questions from everyone.

Bradford was instantly one of the family.

He and I have chatted so many times talking about Pod nuances, dosing strategies and the uses of CGMs, particularly as he transitioned to DexCom. Bradford is all over his stuff – he takes things seriously, yet not overly so. He is responsible and most of all, kind and sincere. I dare say it’s impossible not to like him. Impossible.

I see in Bradford a friend, a sounding board and a future for Caleb. As with Cliff and Phil, I see what I hope Caleb can one day become – a confident, capable young man, making and meeting goals, and doing so with composure and humility. But not just Caleb. Bradford is a role model for Colin and Lila as well. We all consider him our friend and each of my children look up to him.

Colin has a great interest in Bradford’s races. He talks about him often, as does Lila. “Remember when we met Bradford…”, “Oh, Bradford would think that’s cool…”, “I wonder what Bradford is up to…”

Having met fellow Podder Bradford was a great help when Caleb showed concern about his future and being able to take care of himself. It was so easy to refer to this real life person – this friend – and say, “Bradford has done this and continues to do this. So can you.” Not having that point of reference would have made my prospect of Caleb’s future much less credible.

Some of the gifts from Bradford.

Not too long ago the kids received a care package from Bradford. They were thrilled. It was obvious that Bradford put care into his choices for each of them, including a training journal for Colin and a special bike key chain for Lila. The Team Type 1 hats are reached for time and time again because of their special meaning – even Dave snatches one up every now and then.

I am so very happy our paths crossed, Bradford. You are an absolute inspiration to us all. Thank you for your support of me and your kindness to my children. It is a treasured gift to have met you in person and for you to have continued to correspond with each of my kids. I’m sure your parents are so very proud of you. I can only hope that Dave and I come somewhere close to doing the job they have, to have raised such a remarkable man.

The Other Lisa

My friend, Lisa, and her OrnaPod

She came to my aide.

Several years ago, I posted a question on a forum.

Sound familiar?

My question was interpreted differently than I intended by many – by most – or at least those that responded. I posted a question as a parent to a group that was largely adults living with diabetes. I had a question related to rights at school and I knew there was this well-versed woman out there but I couldn’t remember where I had seen her. I posted to the wrong forum. I quoted the disability act that protects our children, but many adults seemed to think I was referring to them as disabled. Of course I was not.

Misunderstandings happen. I understood why people reacted the way they did. It is a sensitive issue. But it seemed that no one wanted to understand what I was trying to say. My son is not disabled, but that’s the word in the name of the law that protects him.

That is except for Lisa. She understood.

Lisa saw what was happening and contacted me offline. She, an adult living with diabetes and a mom, understood my intention and took pity on me. It helped lessen the intensity of the pit in my stomach.

We live and learn.

Had I posted my question to the correct forum though, I may have never “met” Lisa. She sent me this long and kind email – several of them in fact. They were as close to hugs as words on a screen can get. She wanted me to know that Caleb would be okay. That she was okay after growing up with diabetes. Not a single complication or sign of one. I remember her saying this specifically. Statements like these have always provided me great comfort, particularly in those early days. Lisa’s words were so sincere and credible. I think of them often – I think of her often – if my mind starts to wander in the worry direction and then I don’t worry so much.

The first video I ever made of Caleb with diabetes was one of awareness. It emphasized the struggles that a person with diabetes has. It was not meant to be a heart-warmer. It was where my mind was at the time and it was therapeutic to make.

One of messages in the video is that things are less spontaneous when you live with diabetes, particularly eating. For the few months that Caleb was on injections, it seemed that laser precision in carb counting, insulin dosing and meal timing was necessary. The slightest deviation in any one of these things seemed to make his little body go berserk.

To depict this point there’s a picture of Caleb “before” with chocolate cake batter all over his face – the message that spoon licking was a thing of the past. I have to say, at the time, I truly thought it was.

But Lisa assured me – on this point she was unyielding – that he CAN lick the spoon!

I cannot make a cake without thinking of Lisa and her kindness.

And Caleb has resumed spoon-licking, with the tender encouragement of Lisa.

Caleb’s birthday is later this month. I’ll have to snap the “after” shot to depict a different story. One of ability and enjoying little, everyday pleasures.

Thank you, Lisa. I enjoy you. You make me smile. I appreciate our friendship. Come back to Massachusetts again and I’ll do my darndest to get there to meet you in person.

The “This is Caleb…” video that started it all:

Lisa and Lilly

Lisa and I met on a forum. I posted about some oddity we were experiencing and Lisa contacted me offline with some suggestions. I remember hitting it off with her immediately. We were like-minded. I was comfortable sharing every last detail of how we managed diabetes with no fear of being judged.

Comfort + acceptance = great friendship.

Lisa has a daughter, Lilly who is a year older than Caleb and was diagnosed about a year after Caleb. At the time of our meeting she was an Omnipodder and Dexcommer (she still is). Caleb was five and was Podding but hadn’t yet started Dexcomming.

Caleb and Lilly got to know each other through a whole series of videos. They recorded themselves just chatting and sharing about their lives. Although there were descriptions which included diabetes in their introduction videos, there was little to no talk about it beyond that. Here’s one of Caleb’s videos to Lilly. Not a word about D. (He’s such a youngin’ in this video, I hardly recognize him!)

Caleb and Lilly still keep in touch. They have graduated to email. Caleb gets very excited to hear he has a new message from Lilly. I don’t think they ever chat about diabetes. Because they live on opposite sides of the country, they’ve never actually met, but they are still good friends. Even though they don’t talk about it, I believe Caleb feels a special connection with Lilly because how of they are alike. They understand each other that way with no need to discuss it.

Lisa helped us through our DexCom transition. I was reluctant about starting. Lisa gave me a real, down and dirty overview of what it was like, then what to expect when we started, then answered any and all questions I had after that. She was my go-to-girl. She still is – for anything D related (and some things non D related). If there’s something I need advice on or just a sanity check, I go to Lisa. She’s always there for me.

Mmmm...Pinkberry. Bolus friendly and worthy.

Here’s one of the many tips Lisa gave me (it’s not all that earth-shattering, but at the time I hadn’t considered it and it was a godsend to us): frozen yogurt. Ice cream in any form makes for bonkers numbers for Caleb. He still has occasion to eat it, but froyo is a miracle. Just bolus and be on your merry way.

Thank you Lilly and Lisa! You are such good friends to Caleb and me. Thank you for always being there for us. I hope you know we are always here for you! Always.

This post is part of January’s Friend Parade. Also in this series:

Family of Friends

A Family of Friends

Meri and I worked together – more a professional relationship than a friendship. We had virtually the same due dates for our first borns. We then shared two other pregnancies and our professional ties were broken and our friendship blossomed.

I am not aware that Meri or her husband know anyone living with diabetes as well as they know Caleb. They and their three children are perhaps the model of what good friends with no direct experience or knowledge should be as it relates to supporting others dealing with something like diabetes. That statement really isn’t fair though. They are just good friends; kind, selfless people who sincerely care. Because of that, they have been everything a friend in crisis could ever want or need.

It is because of them that Caleb is using the OmniPod. Caleb’s doctor did not recommend it when we were deciding on pumps. Meri mentioned “this new thing” that her husband knew of because of an investment. Had she not mentioned it, I would not have known about it and Caleb would have been pumping with something else these last four-plus years. That’s a big deal to us. I know that all the pumps are effective, but for Caleb and his lifestyle, OmniPod is the right choice.

"People with type 1 diabetes have to inject insulin multiple times a day"

Each of their two daughters has dedicated a birthday to diabetes research. Their oldest, Hana, who is Colin’s age (remember they pretty much shared the same due date), asked her friends to donate to Dr. Faustman’s research in lieu of gifts one year. Last year, their second born, Emi (Caleb’s age) asked friends to direct their gift giving resources to JDRF. Combined, they’ve raised nearly $1,000 for diabetes research.

This past November, both Hana and Emi asked friends and classmates to support those living with diabetes by wearing blue. They asked this not for themselves, nor a close or even distant family member, but to honor their “friend Caleb” and all who live with diabetes, including a special teacher of theirs.  Their selfless intentions are to spread awareness and make life better for others.

"My friend Caleb would want you to know he is just like everyone else."

When I think of our support system, Meri and family are always at the very top of the list. At no point have we been able to share dosing techniques or Pod placement or anything remotely close to that. But I have always felt love and caring from them. They are always sincerely and genuinely interested; always kind without making it a bigger deal than necessary.

They have and continue to inspire me to be a better person – to think of others before myself. When I think of what a good friend should be, I think of them. I am so appreciative of all that they have done and continue to do. We are so fortunate to have them in our lives.

In January, This is Caleb… is dedicated to Friend Parade and I am honored to have this family kick it off.

Other posts in this series:

Lisa and Lilly