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Climbing Every Mountain

Mothers, daughters & life with diabetes

Sometimes, the steps a mother and daughter take to help ease their fears and worries about life with type 1 diabetes come along a lovely city path, surrounded by multitudes of people. Other times, they come on the craggy, challenging steps of the world’s highest peak, standing nearly alone. As Mother’s Day approaches, we’re celebrating women who have found a measure of peace and fulfillment, despite the different paths they’ve taken and despite all the challenges that life, especially life with diabetes, can bring.

Consider the story of Leigh Farber and her mom, Melody Howard Ritt. As a daughter, Leigh watched her mother fit type 1 diabetes into her busy life as a mom, news reporter, and businesswoman in a way that least impacted her family. Melody did all this, and managed her busy life with resilience and good humor, thinking to herself, “It’s okay. I’ll deal with what I have to, on my own.”

Until four years ago, when Leigh, an adult and a mother herself, decided to take matters into her own hands and do something in honor of her mom. She formed a team for the Boston JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes, raising more than $325,000 and sending a message to her mom: “I want to make life better for you and for all.”

“I wanted to make this my mission,” said Farber. “I knew and know almost nothing but a mother needing to take insulin, check blood sugar, fight lows, deal with highs … clearly this was not something I could fix easily. But I wanted to take control. Helping fund research seemed the right way.”

Ritt said she was ambiguous at first. Living a long time with type 1, she was of the mind-set not to invite others in, to be tough, and “just deal with it.” But each year now, when she walks along the Charles River in Boston as part of her daughter’s team, she swells with pride.

“I am very proud of all the work she has done these years,” said Ritt. “It makes me very proud of her. We raised our children to care about other people, and she certainly is doing that.”

For Christine Nolan, who lives with type 1 diabetes, and her mother, Terry, the journey meant setting a goal of mountaineering to the base camp of Mount Everest, one of the highest points on the planet. To start with the end: they made it. But as they hugged at their destination, they realized their route was much longer – and tougher – than just those two weeks of climbing, hiking, scrambling, and surviving. It had started four years prior, the day Christine was rushed off to a hospital in a helicopter, her crying mom by her side.

On that day, both secretly vowed to help the other. Terry wanted her daughter to live a full and exciting life despite – or because of – diabetes. And Christine wanted her mom, who she’d never seen cry before, to know that tears would not be needed. She would win in this life with diabetes.

The trip came about when Terry, who had long wanted to hike to the base camp when she turned fifty, could not convince any friends or siblings to go along on her trip. Then Christine raised her hand. After consulting with their doctors and getting the go-ahead, the two set out, worrying, of course, of how diabetes might affect their adventure, with high altitude being a concern (read more about how altitude may affect diabetes).

The irony was this: Christine thrived. Terry, on the other hand, struggled. When Terry felt sick from the height, Christine jumped into caretaker mode and helped her mom every step of the way, nursing her, feeding her, and boosting her up so she’d reach her goal.

“She was like Suzy Homemaker around the camp at night,” Terry said of Christine. “She’d pitch our tent, make it all comfortable for me, and get the things I needed and really, nurse me through. So ironic. We’d all worried so much about Christine, and there she was, helping me.”

When they made it to the base and celebrated their goal, it didn’t take a moment to see the symbolism and beauty of what they’d been through together.

“She was so confident and capable and making these important decisions in this really, really trying environment,” Terry said. “I realized right then and there she’s never going to be afraid in life. She won’t be afraid to face something big. She won’t be afraid to reach for goals. She won’t be afraid of the possibility of failing. It was amazing to see that – and to know it.”

And Christine, in turn, saw her mother’s pride. “I knew she knew I’d helped her and taken care of myself, too,” she said. “The only tears in her eyes that day were just plain happy tears.”

And so the journey from that difficult day to the top of the world helped both mother and child. This Mother’s Day, they plan on reflecting on their journey and planning ahead, perhaps to another big climb somewhere, maybe even back to Everest to summit one day.

And part of their plan for the future is to spread the word about achieving your dreams. “I hope I can inspire people living with type 1 and all people,” said Christine. “I see people with diabetes giving themselves such limits. And you know, I now know for sure: it’s all in our heads. We can do anything. Anything.”

Two mother-daughter teams dealing with type 1 diabetes and life. Two different routes. And yet, this Mother’s Day, two closer bonds.

Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author, and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes in the media, through books, and on her popular blog, McCarthy has appeared on CNN Live, Good Morning America, and Fox News. She was recently recognized as the JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. Her six books include the top-selling The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children With Juvenile Diabetes and the upcoming Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Survival Guide For Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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