Thursday, October 31, 2013

Type 1 By The Numbers: Zero

Welcome to November (almost), a month dedicated to “no-shaving” and Diabetes Awareness. Since I am having trouble growing my beard out, I will focus on writing about Diabetes Awareness. This year I will be basing my posts on the “numbers” associated with the disease, hopefully this will keep things somewhat interesting (although I’m not convinced an autoimmune disease that attacks one’s own pancreas is all that interesting, but I will try ;-). I won’t be posting every day, but these posts will, in their nature, cover a wide variety of topics related to the disease. T1BT#


One of the most common questions I am asked about Type 1 Diabetes is, “How many other people in your family have it?” My answer is the first post in this series: zero.

A portion of my absolutely gorgeous family (why didn't we take a pic with all the "Zuber" side?!?! Crap, side note, also Rich, Vicki, Jacob and Joe do NOT have Type 1 Diabetes!).

It is a common misconception that all forms of Diabetes are hereditary. In fact no one in my immediate or extended family has Type 1; my only living blood-line relative with anything similar is my grandpa who was just recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

The research existing on the subject of triggers and/or diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes is generally inconclusive. While some patterns exist in the data, it really doesn't pinpoint the reasons someone may contract the disease. Here are some patterns from Dr. Warram of Harvard School of Public Health:

  • If an immediate relative (parent, brother, sister, son or daughter) has Type 1 Diabetes, one’s risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes is 10 – 20 times the risk of the general population. The risk can go from 1 in 100 to roughly 1 in 10 or possibly higher, depending on which family member has the disease and when they developed it.Correlation to Nerdy April’s situation: essentially none, like I said, no one in my immediate family has the disease. 
  • If one child in a family has Type 1 Diabetes, their siblings have about a 1 in 10 risk of developing it by age 50. Correlation to Nerdy April’s situation: my sister has an increased risk of contracting the disease.
  • The risk for a child of a parent with Type 1 Diabetes is lower if it is the mother — rather than the father — who has diabetes. "If the father has it, the risk is about 1 in 10 (10 percent) that his child will develop Type 1 Diabetes — the same as the risk to a sibling of an affected child," Dr. Warram says. On the other hand, if the mother has type 1 diabetes and is age 25 or younger when the child is born, the risk is reduced to 1 in 25 (4 percent) and if the mother is over age 25, the risk drops to 1 in 100 — virtually the same as the average American. Correlation to Nerdy April’s situation: neither of my parents had Type 1 Diabetes, and since I am now 26, the statistics say that any child I might have in the future has nearly the same risk of contracting Type 1 as an average American. **thank goodness**
  • If one of the parents developed type 1 diabetes before age 11, their child's risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes is somewhat higher than these figures and lower if the parent was diagnosed after their 11th birthday. Correlation to Nerdy April’s situation: again, neither of my parents have the disease, and I was diagnosed just a couple months shy of my 12th birthday, therefore lower risk of development in my children.

While all of these patterns are noticeable, they definitely aren't all-inclusive. My situation with the disease breaks the mold on each of these pattern types. Dr. Jason Baker reports that, “although family history is important, 80% of people with Type 1 Diabetes do not have another relative with the disease.” The risk for Type 1 Diabetes in the general population without a family history is about 0.4%...lucky me!

There are so many “risk factors” out there: you may be at a higher risk if you have other autoimmune disorders, or if you are exposed to cow’s milk before age 1, or if you didn't breastfeed for at least 3 months, or if you are a Caucasian in America, or if you are from Finland or Sweden, or if you had a history of childhood viruses. The list is extensive, and the links to the disease are not always robust. And even if your mom read and incorporated all of these facts before giving birth to you, there is no guarantee (at this moment anyway) that you will not contract the disease.

The mental half of this story is tough. Throughout my experience with this disease I have researched and googled and inquired and read and calculated and analyzed all these factors. But try as I might, I have not been successful in finding a solution, and neither have the doctors. I struggle with this concept almost as much as someone struggling to understand religion. I wish this disease had something substantial to pin the blame on, I just really want to know why this happened to me.

The whole experience of Type 1 Diabetes, and especially my specific situation with no identifiable patterns, has made me extremely sensitive to the idea of having children. I am downright terrified, not just because I’m afraid they might get diabetes, but because I’m scared that anything could happen to them at any time – Type 1 Diabetes isn’t the only poorly understood disease. And more than that, if I’m not a great parent, ready to deal head on with these types of situations (mentally more than physically), things could really get out of hand. It is probably obvious from this post that the mental stigma is so much more debilitating than the physics of the disease itself. Yes, shots hurt, but attempting to accept the reasons (or lack thereof) for being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes is really, really hard. As much as I trust in God, there are still days that I really struggle to understand why I must endure this trial.

The moral of today's story:
Zero is a powerful number – I am so thankful that it describes the rest of my family.