Just My Type: Counting Blessings Instead of Burdens

Thankful for Her Smile

Three years ago, I wrote a column for the weekly newspaper I was working for called “Thankful for her smile.” It was six weeks after my daughter Noelle’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and I chose to share the news with my readers in a pre-Thanksgiving column that tried to be positive, focusing on what I was thankful for instead of what I was angry about.

As this pre-Thanksgiving column was percolating in my head over the last couple of weeks, I had decided to revisit the idea of counting my blessings instead of my burdens. As life seems to enjoy throwing curveballs at me, however, that idea was almost derailed this week with yet another devastating health issue…  Noelle, already dealing with finger sticks and shots and carb-counting and blood sugar highs that make her feel crummy and lows that make her want to curl up and die, was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease: Addison’s disease. Known more colloquially as adrenal insufficiency, Addison’s happened when Noelle’s body, which had already killed its own pancreas, turned on its adrenal glands and killed them, too. This disease is treatable by (at least) two pills a day, every day, for the rest of her life.

That’s a lot to swallow, both literally and figuratively, for a little girl who is just shy of her eighth birthday. As I held her sobbing body in my arms, I could not answer her wails of “Why do I have to do this too?” All I could do was hug her tight and promise to do everything I can to keep her healthy and try to hold back my own tears and screams until she could not see them.

But I said “almost” back there in the second paragraph: The idea of counting my blessings in this column was “almost” derailed. I could throw myself a pity party and wallow in the unfairness of it all or I could buck up and move on.

I’m choosing to buck up. So here are the top five things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving:

1. My house. I don’t mean that just in the sense that I’m thankful for a roof over my head, though of course I am. I am thankful that we were able to buy a house in a town not known for its affordable housing because we wanted to live in a town that is known for its outstanding school system, and I am thankful that Noelle is surrounded by loving and caring people who not only are helping her achieve her educational potential but also helping her deal with these health issues.

2. My job. Of course I am thankful for being gainfully employed by a company that offers health insurance and a retirement plan and all of that, but I’m thankful for the job itself. I work for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts; yes, working for the Girl Scouts is a job, though people are often surprised by that. That doesn’t mean the job is all happy and fun and camp songs and s’mores; it’s hard work filled with numbers and goals and reports and all of those things that people don’t readily associate with Girl Scouts. But I get to live our mission: to build girls of courage, character and confidence who make the world a better place, and that I can embrace every day.

3. My community. Our Walk to Cure Diabetes team raised more than $1,300. Noelle consistently is able to raise money for her Girl Scout troop by selling cookies to friends and family. When it comes to supporting each other, the community that we live in is amazing, not just to us, but to each other and to surrounding communities. It’s one of the reasons I love living where I do.

4. My family. Without my mother, I don’t know how I would survive these days. Not only is she still the best sounding board I have, she is the one person I completely trust to babysit Noelle, and with both my job and my husband’s job requiring a lot of working nights, Grammy has been our savior. I’m thankful for the rest of our family, of course, but this is a special shout-out to my mom, who told me the other day after the Addison’s diagnosis, “If I could make it go away, I would.” I know, Mom, and thanks.

5. Noelle’s smile. Here’s what I wrote in that Thanksgiving column three years ago: “I’m writing this column at the tail end of Diabetes Awareness Month, which had incredible personal meaning for me this year. The recent roadblock I alluded to above was my almost-5-year-old daughter being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes on Oct. 1. The world came crashing down around me that day, and it has been a huge adjustment for my family, especially for my beautiful, brave little girl who has faced the multiple daily finger pricks and insulin injections with more courage than many adults would in the same situation. But I’m thankful we caught the disease before she got sick and I’m thankful modern medicine has found a way to manage it. Since her diagnosis, I have learned that most children diagnosed with this disease end up hospitalized with sky-high blood sugar numbers; some even die, which is what used to happen to all diabetic children before synthetic insulin was invented. I’m thankful to my features editor, Kelly, who said the word ‘diabetes’ when I just offhandedly mentioned some of the symptoms my daughter had, planting the seed in my head. I’m thankful to my daughter’s wonderful teachers at the Little Red Schoolhouse preschool, who mentioned some unusual behavior she had been exhibiting. And I’m so very thankful that I put all of that together, followed my instincts and took her to the doctor on Oct. 1 instead of waiting until her December birthday checkup. Without all of that, she might have gotten really sick. Instead, even though she now has this devastating disease that she will live with until a cure is found, we caught it early, and I still can hug my baby every night knowing I’m doing everything I can to keep her healthy. And one more thing: I’m so incredibly thankful for this wonderful little person who can brighten my day with a smile and four simple little words: ‘I love you, Mommy.'”

Three years later, even after this latest diagnosis, she is still the most brave, wonderful little person I know, and I’m so thankful she’s mine.


Rebecca Dravis

Pittsfield native Rebecca Dravis is a former journalist who lives in north Berkshire County with her husband and daughter in Williamstown, MA. In Just My Type Rebecca shares her experiences as a parent raising a child with type one diabetes. – Check out Just My Type on the third Monday of every month.

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