Courtney Lovell remembers vividly when her little sister, Marah, wasdiagnosed with type 1 diabetes. As the eldest in a family of sevenchildren, Courtney was her mom's right hand.
So she went through the diabetes training at the hospital, andshe was right there during Marah's teen rebellions and her angrydays. She was there during the frightening midnight episodes of lowblood sugar, frantically trying to avoid having to call themedics.
Marah always told them, "Shove down me whatever you have to, butdon't let me go to the hospital." Courtney was always there, untilthe day that her sister, all grown up, died in a head-on accidentduring a low blood sugar while driving home from work.
These days Courtney is there for her own four children, agesfourteen, eleven, ten, and seven. Lydia, the outspoken andgregarious eleven-year-old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes inJanuary 2005. They'd been going back and forth to the doctor forfour months, fruitlessly.
People had been commenting that Lydia seemed to want to "see thebathroom" everywhere they went, reminding Courtney of when peoplemade that same comment about Marah. Her anxious feeling of impendingdoom grew heavier until one day, shocked by how bony her little girlhad become, she tested Lydia's blood sugar with a borrowedmeter.
It was over 450. For Courtney, it was almost a relief to finallyknow. Lydia wasn't the least bit fazed because she rememberedhelping Aunt Marah with her diabetes. And Courtney began again, thistime as a mother, to be there.
A little over a year later, in May 2006, Trevor, Courtney'srambunctious seven-year-old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. "Itseemed so unreal that it was happening again," she says, "that Iwalked around in a fog for a couple of weeks before the news finallysank in and the tears came." But she picked herself up and beganagain, taking care of one day at a time.
In January of this year, Priscilla, the sweet, quiet ten-year-old,started wetting the bed. Recalls Courtney, "I was confused,thinking she's kind of old for that, and then it just hit me. Ithought, you know, I'm going to test her sugar. And the meter said'high.' I thought, 'no, no, no!' So I washed her hands and we did itagain, and it said 'high' again. I just called my husband and said,'Honey, you're not going to believe this, but we have another one."
"I cried for a couple of minutes and then I said, 'Well, you know,we already have two of them, and better for us to have one more thana family who doesn't know how to deal with it. So I just took her tothe hospital and said, 'It's us again.' They didn't even keep usthere. They just said, 'You guys already know what to do,' and sentus home."
And what of Chris, Courtney's oldest child and the familyintellectual? For the past six years, he's had progressiverheumatoid arthritis, a painful and progressive autoimmune diseaseof the joints for which he takes weekly injections, dailymedication, and an extremely low dose of chemotherapy. And Courtneyherself? She has Crohn's disease, another autoimmune condition thatlimits what she can eat to a very few easily digested foods. As shesays, "We are an autoimmune family." They are also a deeplyreligious family; Courtney's husband is the local Baptist pastor.He's also the only one in the family who has been spared a diseaseof his own.
It's a full-time job for Courtney to be there for her four youngchildren. "I keep everyone's papers all color-coded, and they allhave their own shelf in our pantry," she says. "I wish that mychildren didn't have diabetes, but there have been so many medicaladvances, and they really do live as normal a life as any other kid.They just have to have insulin on the outside instead of on theinside. My husband and I are doing everything we can to instill goodhabits in them, so that when they live on their own, they keep thesame things up. We're trying to keep their lives normal so thatthey realize, yes, I have diabetes, but it's not slowing me down.Everyone has something they have to deal with, and their's isdiabetes."
Courtney's children bicker and fight like all siblings, but with adifference: "They share the bond of diabetes and know how each otherfeels. When one's having an 'I hate diabetes day,' the other tworun to the rescue. I love to be able to sit on the sidelines andwatch that. My kids are my heroes, because they're the ones who livewith this disease every day, and I'm just honored to be able to helpthem through their life with it."
Courtney and her husband were recently sent on an overnight trip bytheir church, which undertook the care of their children for thatone night. It was wonderful, says Courtney, but at the same time,she was worrying the whole time. She is a mother who needs to bethere. She says, "I just like to know that everything's in order,and what's going on, and that everything's okay. If I want to pokesomeone's finger, I can." Because she checks her children everynight, she never really gets a full night's sleep. She says, "I justkind of nudge them to see if they'll look at me and get annoyed. Iknow that if they're annoyed, they're okay."
Courtney is involved in a parent message board and is organizing asupport group for the clinic in her area. She emails other mothersevery day, and "we just kind of chat. If you have a bad day or youjust want to hate diabetes together…sometimes we encourageeach other or share ideas – just basically support.
It's a tough thing to deal with as a parent, and it is awesome tohave someone who knows what it feels like." Courtney spends a lot oftime talking with overwhelmed mothers of newly diagnosed children. She is often called by a friendly pediatric hospital nurse and askedto contact a devastated mother who's just gotten the news.
When that happens, she takes whichever of her three children isclosest to that child in age, and off they go for a visit. Courtneysays, "It's important for them to know, yes, it looks really bad,but tomorrow is going to be okay. Because you know what, my kidsare running around, they're fussing and fighting and playing andriding their bikes, and it's going to be all right. That doesn'tmean there'll never be a bad day, because there will, but it'llstill be all right."
When talking to newly diagnosed families, Courtney says, "What Ialways try to present is that diabetes is a very manageable disease,and it's a life long disease, with the emphasis on life. How longand well our children live is really up to us, and if we encouragethem to eat well and take care of themselves, they can be every bitas normal and as active as they were before they were diagnosed."
With regard to low blood sugars, however, the legacy of Courtney'ssister's death makes staying positive very hard even for her. "Ittakes everything within me to keep my cool about low blood sugars,"she says. "The older my own kids get, the more scared I am because[them getting] their driver's license is just around the corner. Idon't care what the standard rule is, my kids are going to pull overand test every thirty minutes. That's their mother's rule."
"Yes, we as parents need to be aware of the negative stuff, but weshouldn't dwell on it because it just depresses us and it willdepress them. We need to focus on taking care of today. Then, whenwe wake up tomorrow, we'll take care of that day. That's how welive. Although I'm looking toward the future, I am not going todwell on it because then I become overwhelmed. I can't take care ofeverything because it's too much. I'm going to leave all that inGod's hands, because He has told me that if I take care of today,He'll take care of tomorrow."