A diabetes diagnosis is shocking at any point in life, but a new diagnosis can be especially difficult in college. Most college students are alone during their diagnosis, which is why education and support are crucial during the first few months.
After the Diagnosis
Thousands of students with diabetes have lived fun, interesting, and successful lives while in college. Having diabetes does not mean your life will automatically become boring, but you will have to take extra care to make sure you stay healthy. After returning to campus, it’s important to establish routines around your diabetes management. Testing regularly will help you understand how your blood sugars are affected by food, exercise, and stress. Stay in regular communication with your endocrinologist or your diabetes educator during this time, as they will be the best resource for answering questions about how to adjust your insulin and can suggest strategies for eating healthy, exercise, and alcohol.
“My new doctor was amazing,” says Riely, 22, diagnosed a year ago. “Immediately following my diagnosis, while I was hysterically crying in a random patient room and on the phone with my parents (who live 300 miles away from me), she contacted an endocrinologist. My endocrinologist, who is equally amazing, told her to send me to his office immediately, even though the clinic was past closing time. I then met with him and my new Diabetes Educator. I met with my DE, Adele, for two hours that night. She comforted me, reassured me that my life wouldn’t change as severely as I’d anticipated, confirmed that I would still be able to have children if I ever chose to, and showed me how to inject my basal insulin.”
Professors and School Staff
When you return to school, it’s important to meet with the department of student life on campus. Under federal law, any school that receives government funding has to abide by the American Disabilities Act, which means diabetes is recognized as a disability and you can arrange to get special accommodation. Private schools don’t need to follow this, but it’s still a good rule of thumb to meet with the office to see what arrangements can be made. You will want to discuss things like: what you need if your blood sugar is too high or too low for you to take an exam (or finish an exam you already started); how to handle sick days if your class has mandatory attendance; and if you need to eat during a class where food is not allowed. A discussion or letter from your endocrinologist will probably be requested and after your accommodations are met, you will need to inform all your professors during the first week or two of class. This might seem like a lot of work, but it’s important during unexpected emergencies to have the support of the school on your side.
You will also want to have a discussion with your roommate about the new diagnosis. Tell your roommate about the symptoms of low blood sugar and how he or she can help. Keep juice in an easy to reach spot so your roommate can get it for you. Also, purchase a glucagon kit and teach your roommate what to do in case you have a seizure. Tell your RA or other students on your floor as well. Keep a stash of food in your room and let your roommate know that this is for you only-that way, you will always have something in case of low blood sugar.
Fun and Friends
Other aspects of life will also change. You may find your concentration is affected by your blood sugars, which is why testing often will help you keep your mind focused on your school work. Spending a little bit of time on your diabetes will let you spend more time later with your friends and schoolwork. Parties, with tons of fattening food and alcohol, are not an impossibility with diabetes but they do take some forethought. Before you go to a party, talk with your educator about the best approach for handling a party. Alcohol will often drop your blood sugars, and in the energy of the party, a low blood sugar can often be mistaken for drunkenness. It’s important to continue testing while you’re out. There’s no need to give up the fun, just make sure you are paying attention to your body.
Keeping your diabetes to yourself can be very dangerous. If you have an emergency where your blood sugar is too high or too low, you will need help and the best way to get help is if someone knows what’s wrong. You don’t need to broadcast it to the world, but telling your close friends on campus will make life much easier. Explaining diabetes to new friends or a new romantic interest should be done at your own person discretion. It’s always better to be open and honest, but you should talk about diabetes when you’re comfortable.
Outreach and Support
Besides talking to campus staff and faculty and your friends, it’s also important to talk to people who really know what you’re going through. Your student health center might be able to put you in touch with other students with diabetes. Your local Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation chapter may also have suggestions for local college students or young adults with diabetes who you can talk to. There are also several places online where you can find support. TuDiabetes.com, a social network for people with diabetes, has almost 3,000 members, including dozens of young adults. They also have a special group just for college students with diabetes. DiabetesTalkfest.com is also a great resource. They host regular chats with some of the leading experts in diabetes.
“It wasn’t really until I immersed myself in the Tour de Cure and began talking on TuDiabetes that I became okay with what was happening to me,” says Jess, a 22-year-old college student who was just diagnosed in December 2007. “It was good to be with people that understood what I was feeling and empathized with my concerns. Even just to make fun of ourselves sometimes was just what I needed to get through the day. Now I couldn’t imagine not having my diabetic community there to support me.”
Living a healthy, happy life in college while you have diabetes is absolutely possible. “There has been nothing in my life, since my diagnosis, that I have not been able to accomplish simply because I am diabetic,” says Riely. With some hard work, support, and an open mind, you can accomplish everything you set your heart on.