Diabetes affects the whole family, whether you’re a parent, sibling, child, grandchild or spouse. This week on the blog, we’ll be featuring stories about loving and caring for someone with diabetes.
From left: Husband Duane, Jessica, sister Tanya, sister Kayla, sister-in-law Krystal with nephew Brayden, brother Joshua and daughter Alexa in front.
Name: Jessica Vermaak
Location: Harwich, Mass.
I have a wonderful husband, a sister and a brother—all with type 1 diabetes. Oh, yes, and I am also type 1! It is a joke around my family that you are the odd one out if you don’t need a shot before dinner!
Diabetes has been part of my life since my older brother Joshua was diagnosed at age 12. My parents didn’t know anything about diabetes and went through training for a whole week at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. They asked the doctors about the chances that any of their other children would be diagnosed and were told it was very unlikely to happen.
I was diagnosed at age 17, my senior year of high school. I was showing symptoms: drinking a lot of water, losing weight, waking up at night to use the restroom. I just contributed it to exercising but I think my mother knew exactly what to look for.
By now my brother had been living with diabetes for six years and was in his first year of college. I went to stay with him for a weekend and my mother asked him to prick my finger while I was there. He didn’t do it until my parents came to pick me up. My brother looked at my mom and just said “Mom, I know. By the looks of her blood. I’m sorry.” My blood glucose was well over 400 mg/dl and I spent the next day at Joslin, a place my family was all too familiar with.
This was extremely difficult for my parents, but my mother and father had already been through it once before and taught me so much. I was one lucky kid, but I’m sure they felt far from lucky at this point.
I was so used to seeing Josh take shots and prick his finger that having diabetes didn’t faze me at first. If he could do it, so could I! After a week of waiting for my mother to give me my insulin shots, I started doing them myself. And Josh offered great support whenever I had problems or questions, like dealing with high numbers, how to handle alcohol and how to manage when you are active and exercising.
Another two years later, my sister Tanya was diagnosed at age 15. Our youngest sister, Kayla, was now old enough to understand and was scared that she was next. At this point my parents thought there was no hope for the youngest. Within eight years, the oldest three children had been diagnosed, right down the line from oldest to youngest—and there was only one left!
The doctors at Joslin were in shock and didn’t have answers for my parents. No one else in our family tree has diabetes. They asked the three of us to participate in research studies that the hospital is involved in.
My husband of five years, Duane, was not diagnosed until he was 21. We became great friends before we even knew diabetes was a part of both of our lives. He always notices if my mood changes and knows that I’m most likely having a low. He works three jobs and I do worry about him not having time to take care of himself, but he is doing great!
My insurance was cut off back in October 2013. I had been on the pump for five years and had to go back to insulin shots. It was a rough few months for my body, but now I’m doing okay. It’s hard to get supplies because I don’t work full time and my husband’s family plan is so expensive. I am still waiting to hear if I am eligible for State Health Insurance. So for now, I drive 35 minutes to the community health center for my supplies. I will do whatever it takes.
As tough as it is, we are all blessed with the ability to see the bright side. Checking our numbers and eating right is just a way of life! I can’t imagine not having my siblings and husband to talk to. I hope we all have many more years to enjoy life’s greatest moments together as a family.