Me, Mom, and Our Dysfunctional Pancreases

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Maggie Gallagher, Co-President of Northeastern University CDN Chapter, 2020
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On the morning of September 10, 2007, I was laying in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors asking too many questions and nurses trying to stick needles into me. I remember my dad standing next to my bed holding two Dunkin Donuts coffees (because Bostonians always need Dunkin coffee at 5 AM) and my mom next to me, holding my hand promising it would all be okay. In the midst of all the craziness, some doctor said the words, “ you have type 1 diabetes.” When I think back to that morning, the only person I remember saying those words was my mom. I wasn’t scared though because my mom was right by my side, especially since she had already been living  with type 1 diabetes (T1D) for 20 years.

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Before I was diagnosed, I never quite grasped the idea of diabetes besides that mom sometimes got more snacks or needed to take some medicine with meals. However, after I was released from the hospital, diabetes soon became the number one topic of our household. Between having to coordinate insulin orders, running out of medical tape, and test strips being found everywhere – it all became a little different. Through all the doctors appointments and explaining to friends’ parents that “Yes, Maggie can still have cake.”, my mom was always there to take care of me. For nine years, until I left for college at Northeastern University, there was always this caretaker and confidant around me. She would change my lancet every morning (Sorry mom – this doesn’t happen much anymore), while I begrudgingly got ready for another day of school , or coordinate various school meetings with teachers because for some reason they just could never quite understand T1D. I grew used to always having mom there to chat with about my day or crack a joke about “being high” in public. It was just me, mom, and our dysfunctional pancreases taking on the world – and that all changed when I had to leave home for college.

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After moving to college, I soon realized that my biggest supporter was no longer just down the hallway or next to me at the dinner table. She was about 450 miles away and I was suddenly on my own - not just when doing laundry, but also for managing a disease. Living with T1D in college is not easy or even manageable sometimes when classes, clubs, and preparing for a career are the dominate worries most days. It often feels lonely and that it is easier to fake a smile then explain why T1D sucks that day. For a while, I didn’t want to alarm my new friends about my T1D or call home and worry my parents. So, I just kept all my anger and concerns about T1D to myself because I was in college and should be able to manage it all. It wasn’t until my second year when my club, classes and interview schedule got a little much that I decided to call home and talk about my issues with T1D. Although yes, there were lots of questions from the two concerned parents huddled over the phone – it turned out fine and I’m still able to live 450 miles from home. My relationship with my mom slowly began to turn less from a caretaker to a confidant and best friend. I realize more now that whenever I call home and hear, “Hi sweetie, how are you?” that I don’t have to oversimplify my issues with diabetes because my mom will understand and by the end of the phone call my diabetes issue that day will be nothing more than the subject of a bad joke.

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My mom and I still have the typical mother-daughter relationship filled with questions of if I slept this past weekend or if my midterm that day went well, but there is still the special bond that we share over T1D. Talking about my feelings surrounding T1D is not one of my favorite topics in the world, but I always know there is one person in this world I never have to explain it with. Having my mom there to understand the big and small issues of T1D without having to explain the details has been one of the things I am most grateful for in life. She understands that during a stressful midterm season sometimes there is nothing that will get your blood sugars below 500, or that the fear of having my Dexcom make that awful noise at work can launch me out of my seat. Although most days with T1D in college are hard, all of them are made slightly easier with my mom always being there when I need a little encouragement.

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Maggie Gallagher was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on September 10, 2007. Currently, she is in her third year at Northeastern University studying Business (Marketing) and Interactive Media. On campus, she is on leadership teams for the CDN Chapter as President, Best Buddies as social media coordinator, and a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon. She neither identifies as a Northerner or Southerner, having grown up in Alexandria, VA, and spending all her summers in the Northeast visiting family and going to sleepaway camp at Kamp Kohut and The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc. as a counselor for 4 summers. When she is back in Boston, Maggie enjoys exploring new areas of the city and cheering on any sports team that is from Boston, especially the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots.