For young adults living with diabetes, preparing for college can be a difficult time. Managing diabetes while trying to make sense of a new world, social network and expectations can be especially challenging. You’re not alone! There are many resources in place to help support this transition.
The following are stories shared by College Diabetes Network (CDN) Students, involved in CDN’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), about their experiences heading off to college, and navigating life on campus, with diabetes.
The College Diabetes Network provides programs for young adults with diabetes to help make their college experience safer and more successful. The American Diabetes Association is working with CDN to help further this goal.
Name and Age: Deanelle, 17
School: University of North Carolina (UNC, Chapel Hill), Class of 2018
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in November 2002 and I’ve been interested in diabetes education and advocacy ever since. I enjoy forming lasting friendships with other people affected by diabetes—and now I get to do so in college.
One of my first such experiences was at the American Diabetes Association’s Camp Carolina Trails in King, North Carolina. Attending camp was the first time I met a large group of people with diabetes. It was a special experience for me because I learned not only how to better manage my diabetes, but also how to have a positive mental attitude when facing the obstacles that happen in my life. Last year I actually returned as a counselor!
I’ve been blessed with opportunities like these and an exceptional transition into college. My parents and health care team helped me by being supportive of my health needs and by understanding how excited I was. My health care team helped by telling me about their own experiences in college and making sure that I understood what immunizations or other health information I needed to give to the university. My family was there every step of the way before I left for college and they occasionally call me to check up on me or to ask me how my day is going.
When looking into colleges and universities, I did not research UNC’s health services and accommodations because I knew the faculty advisor of Heels and Hearts, UNC’s CDN chapter. I felt comfortable coming to UNC because I knew this advisor would answer all my questions. These services were helpful because they allowed me to excuse myself during an exam if my blood glucose was low and to get special dietary accommodations.
I choose to tell my roommate and college professors about my diabetes because it will ultimately be safer this way. It’s safer because you do not know what will happen when managing your diabetes. At one moment you could be fine, and the next moment you could be experiencing hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. But honestly, sometimes I get nervous about telling them simply because I do not want them to worry about me; I don’t want to add the stress.
When I did tell my professors, I was happy to find out they are well educated in type 1 diabetes. I also answer my roommates’ questions so I can debunk the misconceptions they might have about diabetes.
When talking to friends about diabetes, I usually tell them about my faulty pancreas. Then I talk about the significance of the pancreas and describe what happened to mine. I tell them about what I have to do to self-manage, including checking my blood glucose, counting carbohydrates, being aware of my body, checking my feet for cuts or bruises, visiting my endocrinologist and being prepared for the off days with diabetes when everything seems to be going wrong.
I would like to raise significant awareness about diabetes with my CDN chapter because it is a great way to reach other students living with diabetes. I also want to teach others about the disease. I am a strong advocate of education because it may save someone’s life. I am on the UNC Mock Trial team, and whenever we leave the state for a competition my friends ask me if I have my insulin. This simple reminder can help save my life.
Before heading off to college, I wish I knew better stress-management techniques because being stressed out effects self-management and your performance in class. It can also affect your interactions with friends, which in turn could also affect your diabetes. Exercise is important for me because it helps with stress and blood glucose control. But trying to fit it into my schedule is very difficult. In high school I played sports, so I was very active and kept to a strict schedule. College gets strenuous and stressful at times; the best way to clear my head is to get some exercise.
My advice to incoming freshman and high school seniors? Ask a lot of questions and do not be afraid to share that you have diabetes. Especially because diabetes is a large part of who you are. By telling others and being comfortable with it, you stress less and also put yourself in the best position to succeed in college.
It takes a team to effectively manage your diabetes—and your life.
The College Diabetes Network (CDN) is a 501c3 non-profit organization, whose mission is to use the power of peers, access to resources, and grassroots leadership to fill the gaps experienced by young adults with diabetes and make their college experience safer and more successful. CDN’s vision is to empower young adults with diabetes to thrive in all of their personal, healthcare, and scholastic endeavors. CDN has over 80 campuses with 60+ affiliated chapters. Sign-up for more information here.
Diabetes Forecast magazine and the College Diabetes Network recently published a “Thrive Guide for Young Adults” with tips for doing college with diabetes. Visit diabetesforecast.org and diabetes.org for more information.