When I tell people that my 6-year-old son has diabetes, they usually ask, “Does it run in your family?” They’re usually relieved to hear that it does (both my sister and my uncle also have type; 1), as if that somehow exempts them
from the possibility of it happening to them or their child.
As it happens, we know other young children with diabetes, and
only one family besides ours has a known history of the disease.
Still, diabetes does tend to run in families, and as the parent who
contributed the “problem” gene, I can tell you that there is a lot
of guilt. Every time someone asks me that inevitable family
question, I inwardly cringe.
But here’s what has surprised me: Having a sister who was
diagnosed at the age of 8 has given my son and me a ready-made
support system. Of course, my sister doesn’t have to deal with
school, growth spurts, or soccer practice, and my son isn’t worried
about pregnancy or traveling for work. But we share the problems
of trying to manage a maddeningly frustrating chronic illness
(our favorite line: “But you have the insulin pump, so that takes
care of everything, right?”).
My sister was the person I called on that two-hour car ride to
the children’s hospital two years ago when Evan was diagnosed,
the one who understood my fear and sense of loss. She helps me
;gure out the carb count at our favorite local ice cream stand and
commiserates about the craziness of inexplicable ;uctuations
in blood sugar.
Most important, she is an example to us that you can live a
healthy life with diabetes and not let it rule your life. She’s a
Jennifer Chilek (right) with son Evan
and her sister, Juliette Miklosh.
successful, happily married mother who
has lived well with type; 1 for 26 years.
Technology was not nearly as advanced
when she was ;rst diagnosed, and yet she
is healthy and remarkably free from
complications (which, as she reminds me,
are not an inevitable part of diabetes). My
sister also provides a sense of normalcy
for Evan. Children with diabetes often feel
isolated, as if they’re the only ones dealing
with being different. At family dinners,
he gets a kick out of doing his blood test
as his aunt does hers.
My son is too young to truly appreciate
his aunt right now, but I know that as he
grows older and takes more control of
dealing with his diabetes, he’ll be grateful
to have someone he’s close to who knows
;rsthand what he’s going through. My sister
and I have always had a close relationship,
and since my son’s diagnosis we have
grown even closer. It turns out there is a
silver lining in the inherited aspect of this
disease: It’s that many of us have someone
in our family who can both sympathize
with us and give us hope. It has been a
JENNIFER CHILEK is a nurse who lives in Archbald,
Pa. She and her husband, Michael, have three
children, Shaylyn, Evan, and Morgan, with a baby
boy on the way.
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