Most 10-year-olds would balk at the sight of a needle, let along plunge it into their own thigh.
Lucas Cunliffe lives with Type 1 diabetes, and has seen enough jabbing in the past two years that last month he took on the mature task of administering his own insulin.
“I never really liked them [needles], and now they’re my whole life,” says Lucas.
For his parents, “needle school” as dad Michael calls it, started the day after diagnosis.
When the Monterey middle school student was eight, he suffered tummy aches and frequent urination.
“He was skin and bones,” says mom Trisha. Both parents say their usually mellow eight-year-old was irritable.
“I just wasn’t really feeling well,” says Lucas.
Trisha took the now 10-year-old to the doctor, who after hearing the symptoms immediately tested his blood sugars, which were so high the meter couldn’t read them.
They rushed to the hospital and were stunned how quickly things moved after that.
“You’re living life and boom here’s your new life,” Michael says.
For five days Lucas stayed in hospital figuring out his insulin levels. With Type 1 diabetes the pancreas does not produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body control sugar levels in the blood. Without insulin, glucose builds up instead of being used for energy. The body both produces glucose as well as gets it from foods like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, milk and fruit. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown and it is not preventable.
The day after diagnosis, mom and dad started two days of intense schooling that covered pokes for both blood testing and administering insulin. Education covered counting carbs, something Trisha does on a daily basis, marking them down for her oldest son’s school lunches so he can figure out his blood sugars.
“He has to use his math skills,” points out Michael.
“And I’m still not good at math,” Lucas adds with a sly grin.
Multiple times a day the Oak Bay youth pricks a finger, dabs it to a testing strip and reads the blood monitor to determine his blood glucose (sugar) level. He calculates and administers insulin for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He must plan for snacks or exercise.
Insulin can be injected by pen, syringe or pump. Lucas isn’t comfortable with a pump that is attached at all times. He prefers to carry his life-saving kit with a monitor, testing strips, pens and insulin. Of course they come along to school.
“Some teachers educate themselves on it,” Michael says.
Educating is a task that Lucas too takes on. “Last year, he got up in front of the whole class,” Michael says.
“It was kind of scary because I’m not that good at [public] speaking,” says Lucas.
But he tackled his classmates’ questions, which of course included how many needles a day? The answer: six to 10, depending on how much, for example, Halloween candy he wants to eat.
And family, friends and community continue to come together in a wave of support. At this year’s Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes, a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fundraiser held on the West Shore, Team Lucas raised $5,000 (the goal was $500).
“Eighty people showed up, there was this sea of Team Lucas T-shirts,” says Trisha. “It was overwhelming in a supportive way.”
They scored the top fundraiser award – the Gold Sneaker.
Then there was the “purple bejewelled toilet”.
“We delivered it late at night and the plumbing policy was for $10 we’ll take it away; for $20 we’ll take it and you can nominate someone; for $30 we take it, you nominate and you never see it again,” Michael explains. “Amazingly, people were willing to pay $30.”
The jazzy throne made its way around the region, travelling as far afield as Sooke and raising $2,000.
Raising money for the cause, to find a cure, is important to the Cunliffes.
“The main goal is to have a cure in Lucas’ lifetime,” says Trisha.
With today (Nov. 14) World Diabetes Day the family, including younger siblings Jacob and Joshua, are determined to spread awareness about the disease.
“We didn’t know anything [about diabetes],” says Michael. “We know now how deeply it affects people and their family.”
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation recently raised $210,000 in one night at Victoria’s 10th annual Promise Ball fundraiser, named the Diamond Decade Gala.
“We are the world’s largest non-government funder of Type 1 diabetes research,” said Jason Parkhill, JDRF manager of fundraising and development in Victoria.
November is national diabetes awareness month. Visit jdrf.ca or diabetes.ca to learn more about the disease and associated fundraising.