Wow, it's amazing to realize we've been featuring our occasional Diabetes Partner Follies series here at the 'Mine for nearly a whole decade now!
Today, we're excited to bring you another in this series of perspectives by D-partners, this one written by well-known diabetes advocate Lorraine Stiehl, whose husband Chris has been living with T1D for more than five decades. Lorraine has used her experience to champion D-advocacy in various states through the years. Actually, back in the 80s, Lorraine led JDRF's Southeast Michigan Chapter right after Mike was diagnosed in that region... small world, isn't it?!
Without further ado, we welcome Lorraine to tell her story...
A Guest Post by Lorraine Stiehl
My husband Chris and I celebrated our 30-year wedding anniversary just recently in November. We also rejoiced in the fact that we’ve survived three decades of our living with my husband’s type 1 diabetes -- on top of the 26 years he had already battled this disease before we met.
I grew up in Michigan and met Chris in a political campaign. He was a dedicated volunteer who came into the "get out the vote" phone center that I was managing. He came every night to help -- I thought he was so dedicated to my candidate but he was actually very interested in me. We started dating after the election and married a year later.
Chris grew up in California and then moved to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for grad school. After living in Indianapolis where we worked for Eli Lilly, then Alabama and Massachusetts, we moved back to Michigan where he met me. We moved to California in the early 1990s.
Chris is a market research professional who worked in numerous Fortune 500 companies until he started his own consulting firm, StiehlWorks. For 14 years I worked for JDRF in Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco. After leaving my JDRF role in 2001, I worked for the Diabetes Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Since 2015, I've been consulting for numerous non-profit organizations.
He was diagnosed in 1961 at the age of 10, but before meeting Chris, I knew very little about type 1 myself even thoughI'd had some exposure to it as a child. I had a first cousin who was diagnosed with T1D in elementary school. Since I lived in Michigan and he lived in Illinois, I really didn't understand too much about his disease. That changed when my classmate Dwayne was diagnosed in junior high school. I learned more about T1D at that time and it set the stage for my life later on after I was married.
As most spouses are well aware, marriage with a third partner -- T1D -- isn’t easy. Marriage is tough already. Add a complex world that includes hypoglycemia, pump failures, DKA, diabetes complications, insurance and Medicare frustrations -- and you start wondering how any marriage that involves a chronic disease can survive.
What are the magic ingredients that have made our T1D marriage strong? We actually have a few tips we’d love to share:
Have a sense of humor. I married Chris because he made me laugh. Even though it is hard, we try to laugh about diabetes whenever we can. When Medicare bureaucrats challenge Chris on his need for insulin (really, after 56 years of T1D this is a necessary question?), we laugh. When Chris loses his glucometer once again, we laugh. After the hot, hunky paramedics leave our bedroom at 2am after a severe low, we laugh. (Thankfully, this hasn’t happened in a few years thanks to the Dexcom CGM. Hunky firemen, I do miss you -- though I am relieved that I no longer experience the scary seizures and glucagon injections!)
Be patient. Diabetes is a roller coaster, no matter how hard your partner tries to eliminate the highs and lows. Encourage corrections and wait. Suppress whatever anger you may be feeling at the moment. Instead, give your partner a big hug. Normal blood sugars will return. Mood swings will pass. Life will get back to normal. Life will be great once again.
Be optimistic. Chris received a for surviving over 50 years with T1D. Joslin has learned that longtime survivors like Chris can have outgoing, friendly personalities. They are not victims; they embrace their disease and the management that is required. They look forward to the future. Through the years, I have learned that my own “glass half full” optimism is important to Chris -- especially in a rare moment when he is depressed. We remind each other that “each day is a gift.”
Get active in diabetes causes. Two years after we married, Chris and I became active in JDRF. Besides being passionate about funding research, we appreciated that we now had a vast T1D family that we could learn from -- and who would support us through difficult times. Over the years, we’ve been involved in dozens of diabetes organizations including the Diabetes Hands Foundation/Tu Diabetes, the diaTribe Foundation, the Diabetes Empowerment Foundation, Taking Control of Your Diabetes... and the list goes on. When you are active in a diabetes organization, you are inspired by others. You become empowered. You can manage anything that comes your way.
Each year, Chris organizes a baseball game for newly diagnosed kids with T1D, and it has been a great experience doing this for kids and also being able to help them meet celeb athletes like Brandon Morrow, a San Diego Padres pitcher with T1D.
Recently, Chris and I saw the new Star Wars movie with family, just like many of you did with your loved ones. At one point as the villains are closing in on the heros of that story, I couldn’t help but think about T1D. All kinds of challenges are being hurled at your partner with diabetes, and he/she will survive with strong support from you -- just like Han, Chewbacca, and other beloved characters survived by working as a team.
May the Force Be With You, as you and your partner travel down the diabetes pathway together. Hang on tight -- better treatments and a cure are just around the corner -- thankfully, on Planet Earth and not in another galaxy!
Congrats on the recent anniversary, Lorraine, and thanks for all you do for your husband and the broader Diabetes Size now!
Dear Readers: If you have your own "Partner Follies" to share here at the 'Mine, please let us know via email. We look forward to hearing from you.