Learning to be Independent with Diabetes - Empower Yourself!

Emma DePaola, Colgate University '21

As a freshman going through my first few weeks at Colgate two years ago, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect from my college experience. The stressors of making friends, finding all my buildings and classrooms, and auditioning for my a cappella group were already overwhelming. But as any diabetic knows, diabetes was also a huge factor in this transition to college life, and a major adjustment. It definitely took some trial and error to figure out which days I had a few minutes available to change my site and CGM, along with adjusting my eating schedule so I wouldn’t go low or high in class. Once I found ways to integrate these new diabetes modifications into my life, it became easier to control. My diabetes management has now grown to be another aspect of life that requires responsibility and attention, but empowers me through its challenges and has made me the person I am today.

The last thing I wanted to do on my first day of class at Colgate was approach my professors and explain my diabetes to them. This step, while annoying on the first day, definitely saved me many exhausting explanations in the future. Calmly and carefully showing my pump (and making clear that it wasn’t a phone), and explaining why I may need to leave the room or eat something during class allowed them to understand why I may be drinking juice or eating a snack, or why I’d be potentially unable to take an exam because my blood sugar was low. In my two years at Colgate, all of my professors have been incredibly understanding and offered their help in any way while in their class. One of my first professors even commended me on being mature and responsible enough to tell her about diabetes, and that felt pretty validating as a first-day college freshman!

Even easier than explaining diabetes to professors was telling my new friends about my condition. At meals I would simply explain that I had type 1 diabetes, this was my pump, and I was giving insulin for the food I was eating. No one ever thought it was strange to have diabetes, and if anyone ever said anything other than “Oh, cool,” it was just to ask more questions! People who are your true friends, or just good people, will never judge you. They will only want to understand more about it if you are willing to tell them. Diabetes is a part of you that isn’t going away at the moment, and more times than not, people will be excited to tell you how their cousin has type 1, or how one of their friends’ brothers’ from home has diabetes.

Anyone with type 1 diabetes knows the additional burdens and responsibilities that come along with having the disease. As someone who has lived with diabetes for nine years, I can say that although diabetes management doesn’t become less prevalent in our lives, it certainly becomes easier! The more experiences you have with diabetes allows you to have more knowledge to better manage the disease in different situations. It is definitely a “hands-on” condition, but learning to advocate for yourself and your health creates a confidence that makes you feel stronger than before.

Even as a newly diagnosed 11-year-old diabetic, my motto was always, “Diabetes doesn’t tell me what to do; I tell diabetes what to do.” While I wish I could put this saying into literal terms, like telling my blood sugar to stay at 120 all the time (wouldn’t that be great!), I definitely follow its message in that I have never let diabetes hold me back. There are times where we all have felt frustrated by the disease, but learning to accept its presence in your life allows you to view it as a part of your identity and less of a burden. I follow this philosophy since I have started being more independent with the disease since I am a four-hour drive from home. Diabetes can feel like a nuisance when your friends and family members don’t know what it feels like to be worried about shaking from a low blood sugar during an exam, or how you would feel if your pump site stopped working while on an airplane, but educating the people around you to the best of your ability makes your life with diabetes much easier and healthier. Being an advocate for myself is empowering and puts me in control of the way people think of diabetes and gives me a newfound sense of strength and pride that I would not have if not for having type 1 diabetes.


Emma DePaola

Emma is a rising junior at Colgate University majoring in History and minoring in Studio Art. She is a member of Colgate’s only all-female A Cappella group, The Swinging Gates, and travels with the group each year during their January Tour to various US cities to perform. She has had diabetes for nine years and is excited to share what she has learned through her experiences with the disease both in college and as a young adult.