Community News
November 06, 2018 By Gabrielle Schmid
Coming full circle: from person with diabetes to diabetes educator

As I sat at the kitchen table eating a bowl of Fruit Loops on May 4 more than 20 years ago, my mom said, “You have a doctor’s appointment after school today.” Over the past few months, I had lost 30 pounds, but what I remember of my nine-year-old self was not the weight loss, but guzzling a litre of juice every morning before school. Other than that, and 13 trips to the bathroom every day, I felt fine. Little did I know that after this day, I wouldn’t remember life without diabetes.

For two weeks after my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, my parents and I made daily trips to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa. I recall standing in a clinic and being handed an envelope with my name on it. Inside were a bunch of stickers and among them, a small piece of paper with the number “3,” which represented the number of insulin injections (needles) I would need every day for the rest of my life.

CHEO gave me the best health-care team, but the team I was most grateful for was my family. My mom, Gisè̩le, a pediatric nurse at CHEO for almost 50 years; my dad, Claus, a professional chef; my older sister, Véronique; and my older brother, Alexandre, made type 1 diabetes a family project. Together as a family we created a recipe and meal planning book with all of my favourite meals. I also served as the subject of my sister and brother’s high school biology projects and presentations.

Together, we quickly learned that managing type 1 diabetes was challenging yet empowering. I continued to dance competitively, and to attend sleepovers (my dad picked me up at 7 in the morning, so I could take my insulin and eat my favourite breakfast at home). I also educated my classmates about Dr. Banting [the co-founder of insulin]. I spent hours drawing pictures of food and studying the symbols and food labels in my book, “Good Health Eating Guide Resource,” which was published by the Canadian Diabetes Association [now known as Diabetes Canada].

Fast forward to my transition years, which were disappointing. At 18, I moved to a new clinic, but my history was somewhere else. I no longer had the same relationships with my health-care team, and developing new relationships seemed harder with my now-shorter appointments. It seemed like my family team effort was no longer recognized, and that this diabetes business was my own. I don’t ever remember being asked how living with diabetes truly impacted me: how stress, grief and hardship were harder to manage when I had to check my blood sugar 10 times a day, while thinking “Will I need more insulin now if I will be sad and stressed in a few hours?” As if I could truly predict my future emotional state. Life goes on, but diabetes does not have a pause button. Doing a great job of living with this disease despite the highs and lows of my blood sugar was never acknowledged. The only voice I had was when I would tell the doctor, “I can do better.”

When I finished high school, I decided to study nutrition at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Before moving across the country, I decided it was time for another big change: I started using an insulin pump. Although it made my diabetes management more convenient, I still faced the challenges of diabetes and university life. These challenges fuelled my desire to help others living with the disease. All of my experiences – including an internship at an outpatient diabetes clinic after graduation – led me to one conclusion: helping others helped me.

Today, I am a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. I can adjust insulin and oral medications under medical directives, and as a certified pump trainer, I can start patients on an insulin pump with or without continuous glucose monitoring. But my most-important task is to build strong, meaningful relationships with my patients – individually or in group settings – and to help them fit diabetes into their lives.

As I know all too well, Canadians live with this disease every single day yet when they visit their diabetes team the focus seems to be the last two weeks of blood sugar readings. How will they flourish if all we do is focus on these numbers? We cannot lose sight of their lives and experiences. My mom’s compassion and empathic nature, and my dad’s work ethic and determination allow me to empower each person who sits in front of me. My mom may not visit me at lunch every day to check my blood sugar like she used to, but it is my wish that all people with diabetes feel the love and support I did.

Gabrielle Schmid (pictured above) works within an interdisciplinary team that includes a pharmacist, chiropodist, optometrist, clinical research coordinator and five endocrinologists at LMC Diabetes & Endocrinology in Ottawa. She is a member of and representative for Diabetes Canada’s professional section. She volunteers with CHEO and the LHIN (Local Health Integration Network) to help bridge the gap between diabetes care and youth living with type 1 diabetes, as well as Diabetes Canada’s D-Café, a support group for those living with type 1 diabetes. She has been a speaker at the Diabetes Canada Type 1 Expo for the past two years.

On November 7, Diabetes Educator Day in Canada, we hope you’ll celebrate Gabrielle and other diabetes educators who play such an important role in supporting the health of people living with diabetes. Reach out to your educator in appreciation, or share your thoughts about how a diabetes educator has helped you using the hashtag #DiabetesAwarenessMonth on our Twitter or Facebook pages..

How has your diabetes influenced your life choices? Tell us now.

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has affected you or someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myDC community content.

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