My diagnosis story – 19 years old and burning the candle at both ends

My name is Christel and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1997. This is my diagnosis story…

Something was off

I grew up in Denmark, and in the summer of 1997, I had just graduated from high school and was working two jobs to earn enough money to backpack through India for 3 months before going to University.

I was working hard and partying hard (the legal drinking age in Denmark is 18 years old). My friends and I were going out every weekend including “little Friday” (Thursday night) so it was no wonder that I was deadly tired all the time. I would fall asleep any time I had the opportunity, including times when I should not, like when I was watching over the children at nap time in the kindergarten I worked at.

I was also increasingly thirsty, always carrying a water bottle with me and drinking a liter of milk with lunch daily. And not only was I thirsty, I was also eating A LOT. I’d often go through a pint of ice cream at night and, despite my excessive eating, I didn’t gain weight.

Finally, there was the need to run to the restroom all of the time. I couldn’t sit through a movie or sleep through the night without having to go pee.

But I rationalized to myself that all of this was normal. I was tired because I was working and partying a lot, I was drinking a lot of water because that was healthy, and I could eat a lot because I had a stellar metabolism and lived a very active lifestyle.

I didn’t realize that something was wrong until Christmas came around and I started spending a lot of time with my family for the holidays. They quickly noticed that something was off (probably because I wanted to sleep all the time) and an aunt urged me to see my primary care physician (PCP).

The diagnosis

Once I arrived at my PCP’s office, he started by giving me a lecture on taking better care of myself, but he also asked the right questions. When I told him about my water drinking habits, he decided to measure my blood sugar.

He took one look at the glucometer and told me that I had diabetes.

He might have explained what a diabetes diagnosis meant, or he might not, I honestly can’t remember. I was completely overwhelmed and I walked out of that office thinking I’d been handed a death sentence. I knew nothing about diabetes and had no clue what it meant. I was scared and confused.

Fortunately, my mom (who’s a nurse) was there when I came home and she could explain the basics. This was Friday afternoon and we got an appointment at a diabetes clinic for the following Monday.

Getting the right care

Monday morning, my mom and I went to Steno Diabetes Center, a fantastic diabetes center that happens to be located 10 minutes from where I grew up.

And this is when I met Lotte, the pediatric nurse assigned to help me. I’m so incredibly thankful that I met Lotte, for she taught me not only the basics of diabetes management but, maybe even more importantly, she was the one who emphasized never to let diabetes prevent me from living the life I wanted.

When I was in doubt about whether I could still go backpacking in India, she was the one who told me that “of course I was still going”. I took that attitude to heart and I’ve lived my life that way the last 23 years since my diagnosis.

Living with diabetes

Under Lotte’s guidance, I backpacked through India within a year of my diagnosis. This was before cellphones so we kept in touch by fax (!).

I lost contact with Lotte (up until the summer of 2019) but continued to live the life I wanted, prioritizing my diabetes, but not letting it stand in my way.

I continued to travel the world, I got my degree in Finance & Strategy, I got married, my husband and I moved to the US (we settled in Santa Monica, CA), I competed in bodybuilding shows, I created a corporate career, and I created Diabetes Strong, a website for people living with diabetes.

I love the life I’ve created for myself and I’m so thankful that Lotte helped me down the right path for my life with diabetes.