Q: Ok first things first Brittany, when did you find out you were diabetic, and what was that like for you?
A: I was 17.5 years old, and it was three days before the start of my senior year of high school in August 2006. It was overwhelming and totally unexpected. I didn't even know there are two types of diabetes. I was fit and healthy so I felt very confused.
Q: That’s intense! 3 days before your senior year? So you had lived a life without having those concerns and worries, how was it to transition to blood sugar checks and insulinshots?
A: Yeah I had to miss the second day of school to go see an endocrinologist and nutritionist. Luckily I was treated as an outpatient through my pediatrician at the time of my diagnosis. As I stated previously, I was very overwhelmed by the lifestyle change, as I'm sure anyone would be. I knew I had to do it, especially since I played competitive soccer all my life so if I wanted to continue to play and play well, I knew it had to be done and be done correctly.
Q: How did the diagnoses change your nutrition and athletics?
A: I always ate relatively well because of soccer, so my nutrition didn't change that much. My athletics took some adjusting, high blood sugars would make me tired and slow on the field and low blood sugars would make me have to sit out of a game or practice for at least 15 minutes. My coaches and teammates were always very understanding and supportive which helped a lot. It's always just been about finding that happy medium before going to practice or before a game, although I don't play soccer anymore, every time I work out is still a learning process.
Q: That's really cool that they understood and took care to be aware. Sometimes people just don't get what is going on. Some people experience high blood sugars with high intensity activity. Is that what you were seeing during soccer games? The more intense you played the higher they got?
A: I would sometimes notice that, and I still notice that now from time to time. I know adrenaline can spike your BG's so I try to prepare myself for that and not freak out when it starts going up high because the worst thing you can do it correct or give insulin for it and see it plummet later on in the middle of a race, game, workout session, etc.
Q: Yeah, it takes some trial and error to realize that it will go up and later on finally come down, and if too much insulin is taken, then we crash. Since you are using the Omni-Pod and a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) can you tell about each of those and have you always used them?
A: The Omni-Pod is a wireless/waterproof insulin pump that I have been using for little over a year now. The CGM I use is called a Dexcom, and I've had it since this past January. I decided to get an insulin pump because my A1C levels were about 8.3-8.7 and I knew I needed to make a change to my treatment so I could improve those numbers. The Omni-Pod started to slowly decrease my A1C and the game changer came with the Dexcom. It constantly makes me aware of where my BG is and helps me when I'm low and don't feel it as much anymore. It gives you a new BG reading every 5 minutes and lets you know which direction it's headed, up, down, steady or rapidly dropping/rapidly increasing. When I had visited my endocrinologist in December last year my A1C was 8.6 and then when I visited him in April, I had lowered my A1C to 7.3. So to these devices, I am grateful.
Q: Now you still have to test your blood sugars the old fashion way, yes?
A: Yes, the CGM has to be calibrated every 12 hours to reassure it’s on the right track. I test anywhere from 2-6 times a day. Sometimes the CGM can be way off so I adjust it, when you first get it, they tell you its not made to be 100% accurate, we don't have that technology yet in that type of device.
Q: Now this is what throws some people a little bit. If you still have to test up to 6 times a day to calibrate, how is the CGM really of any benefit if you are getting accurate readings the old fashion way anyway?
A: Great question, a lot of people probably wonder about that. I have the receiver part of the device hooked onto my shorts/jeans, kind of like a pager (totally fashionable), at all times throughout the day so I look at it all the time. I always have an idea and am aware of what my BG is. Even if it says I'm 230, but I'm really 190, that's still a high BG and needs to be corrected. So I could either test my BG every hour of the day, or just look down at my CGM every five minutes. It makes me more aware and I really need(ed) that. It's also nice when working out, to see where my blood sugar is headed.
Q: With a 1 point drop in your A1C who can really argue. Now, let's talk a little bit about the maintenance and prep. What is that like for the CGM and the Omni-Pod?
A: Yeah it's helped me significantly. Every diabetic is different though, so what works for me might not work for someone else. However, the Omni-Pod site needs to be changed every three days. I almost always wear it on my lower back. It can also be worn on the back of your arms or stomach. It usually takes me no more than 5 minutes to do a site change. The CGM needs to be changed every seven days. I wear it on my stomach where I believe most others do too. I've had a few problems here and there, but I feel like most devices have their problems. Both support tech lines have been very helpful and I believe they are 24/7.
Q: Does the difference in site change frequency have more to do with refilling insulin than adhesive issues?
A: Yes, usually I need to change the site because I am running low on insulin. There have been multiple occasions where the adhesive was not holding up sufficiently but that doesn't happen too often.
Q: Ok. Cool. Only a couple more questions, are you good for time?
A: Yeah I can answer a few more!
Q: Awesome. This is a more cosmetic question because it's on the backs of people’s brains. How does having 2 separate sites affect you and going out? Type 1 diabetics are self conscious about how it looks and getting it snagged. You mentioned the "beeper" being quite fashionable; so the question is how do you handle that social dynamic when you’re at the beach or "out"?
A: Well getting the Omni-Pod was a big step for me and having that on my back at all times at first took some time getting used to, I just had to remind myself why it was there. I was definitely self-conscious about it at the pool/beach the first few months after I had it. You get the weird looks and stares. Then I added my second site, the CGM. By that time I felt mostly comfortable with my Omni-Pod so what was another site at this point? Now I'm proud of it. I like showing off my cool devices and rather have someone ask me what it is than stare awkwardly at it. People often mistake my CGM receiver for a phone, mp3 player, or pager, but then I explain it and it becomes "so cool!" Sure it takes time, but after awhile you just have to own it and realize it's benefitting your health, which is the most important thing.
Q: "You just have to own it" That is fantastic! Well the final question is, if you could give any pieces of advice to people who develop Type 1 diabetes later in life like you did, what would they be?
A: As weird as it may sound, I'd say be thankful. I got to live my childhood diabetes free. You're also old enough to understand everything and take care of yourself. I was independent with all my care from the get-go. I watch a 9-year old boy who has Type 1 on the weekends, I see what he has to do and go through. I couldn't imagine doing all that and trying to understand it all at such a young age. He's a champ and an inspiration. I'd also say to get into good habits early; it will make it easier in the long run! Lastly, to be optimistic, as much as it may suck sometimes, you're not alone, and you have to remember that. There's a whole network of diabetics out there willing and ready to help and full of advice. Take advantage of that!
Q: Fantastic advice! We are not alone, though it may seem so at times, and Type 1 can certainly be seen as a gift. You live a life that is considerably more challenging and that itself gives you strength most people may never know. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. If anyone would like to contact you regarding Type 1 Diabetes, how can they reach you?
A: Definitely! It's changed my life for the better. The best way to reach me would be my Twitter @BrittWillock To those not on twitter, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the interview!
Q: No problem! It was an honor to learn your story and to be able to share it with everyone!