Advocacy
August 18, 2017 By Oria James
From unsure to confident: a teen with type 1 diabetes

When I was 10, my life changed dramatically: I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It turned my world inside out and upside down. Fortunately, the following year my parents made one of their best diabetes-related decisions ever: they signed me up for Camp Kakhamela in British Columbia, one of Diabetes Canada’s D-Camps for children and youth with type 1 diabetes. The week I spent there in 2011 gave me the confidence I had lost. I not only learned insulin dosage tips and tricks for different activities, but every day as I tried new activities, I expanded my comfort zone. Camp taught me perseverance and courage, that I was not alone in my fight, and that I had a community of friends and role models who continue to support me to this day. I send the camp volunteers and leaders a thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Two Novembers ago during Diabetes Awareness Month, I spoke about my life at a diabetes symposium organized by Diabetes Canada at the University of Victoria. During the presentation, I shared personal stories and talked about the effects the disease has on one’s life – physical, financial, and most importantly, emotional. The changes in my life after my diagnosis were not just limited to pain and discomfort from the daily needles; my loss of freedom also made me feel isolated and less confident. One point I stressed is that you can do everything right (from ideal carbohydrate-to-insulin ratios and perfect carbohydrate counting), and your blood sugar levels can still go awry. Blood sugar management does not have simple rules: it is an ever-changing art that requires a lot of energy and flexibility. Emotions, hormones, health and activity are all factors that can have an effect on blood sugars. During the question period after the presentation, a lady stood up and gave an example of one time when her blood sugars became extremely high due to stress. She thanked me for voicing these challenges, as they often go unaddressed in the medical world. I loved how the symposium brought people living with diabetes together, and fostered a sense of community that I didn’t feel when I spoke to audiences who were mainly non-diabetic, such as at school events. The event confirmed for me that I wanted to continue being active in diabetes advocacy.

In March 2016, I had the opportunity to be involved in a Diabetes Canada outreach day at the British Columbia legislature. After attending an advocacy training session where we learned about the health and financial consequences of current insulin pump coverage for people living with diabetes, I sat down with my MLA, Andrew Weaver, to talk about extending insulin pump coverage to users of all ages. As a user and a huge fan of the insulin pump (a life-saving and life-changing device for people like me), I focused on the importance of extending coverage to people beyond the age of 25. Insulin pumps can greatly improve diabetes management, but they are costly. The day gave me a glimpse into the worlds of policy and law, and made me realize how long and strenuously one must work to create change.

Last summer, I spent eight weeks working as a counsellor at D-Camps locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It was the most worthwhile and exhausting thing that I have ever done. I felt so fortunate to give back, and help other children living with type 1 diabetes become more medically knowledgeable, confident, and active people, too.

Oria James has lived in Victoria, B.C., all her life. She loves the outdoors; some of her favourite activities include backpacking and kayaking. Oria was elected as Head Girl of the student council at her high school and enjoyed spending time in the running club and on the basketball and rugby teams. She has been learning French and Mandarin Chinese since kindergarten, and counts school exchanges to China and Montreal among her most enriching and interesting experiences. Advocating for people living with diabetes through public speaking is Oria’s passion. She will be heading to the University of Toronto this fall to study international relations and biology, with the goal of working in health policy.

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