“When our troops serve, their families are serving, too.” This slogan is used in advertisements in support of the US military, and on the website of the White House. (See http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.) I’m sure that this sentence rings very true for soldiers and their families who live in uncertainty every day and have to show a form of bravery that normal citizens certainly cannot understand. It is, however, also quite fitting to those suffering from various debilitating diseases and those around them who love them.
When I was five on an unusually warm and sunny day in Sweden, I was pulling on my mother’s skirt, urging her to get off the phone to give me money for an ice cream. When she did not comply, I quickly understood that something was wrong and that she was in no mood to hear me whining about wanting a treat. It was the call that changed our family forever; my oldest sister had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
In the beginning I did not understand what that meant. I knew my sister was sick and wouldn’t get better, I knew my mother cried about it a lot, and we no longer drank regular soda. We are not a religious family, but I began praying at night that my sister would get better or that I could also get diabetes if that meant that she would no longer suffer from it. God neither gave me diabetes, nor did he/she heal my sister. I since refuse to go to church, as I became disillusioned at an early age.
As with any chronic illness, diabetes never goes away and it’s complications can devastate the body, and as it does the person who suffers from it’s family and friends do as well. The difference I suppose is that one does not “enlist” in diabetes as one does in the army. A person with diabetes is not fighting for democracy or against terror, and is not given badges of honor if they survive or win. A person with diabetes is fighting against her own body as it ceases to function the way it should, and in some cases breaks down.
Unfortunately for my sister, she suffered from a variety of complications due to diabetes at a fairly young age. She required laser treatment on her eyes as they began to bleed internally. She went into kidney failure in her thirties, but thankfully was given the gift of life (for a second time) by our father when he donated one if his kidneys to her. Finally, my sister was given a new pancreas by a deceased donor as her blood sugar became so uncontrollable that it was determined that she qualified for this rather rare surgery. Now my sister is on a regimen of medicines that prevent her two foreign organs from being rejected by her body. She does, however, no longer require insulin shots every day to control her blood sugar. These medications have their own complications, however, making her unusually susceptible to infection and at a higher risk for cancer.
Regardless, she has soldiered on, and so have we, the people who love her. We have all been affected by my sister’s illness, have grown stronger and closer because of it, but have at times been heartbroken and disillusioned. My sister has now founded her own company, which seeks to create a community that connects people with chronic disease, inspire them to change their behavior and to ultimately impact their lives.
Lyfebulb will have the power to change the lives of those who suffer from chronic illness, as well as those who love them. I am proud and excited to be a part of this next chapter in my sister’s journey as she uses her past experience both personally and professionally to make an impact in the world of chronic illness.