Moving to a different city can be an exciting milestone in one’s life. I remember my own move to New Jersey, and looking forward to exploring new restaurants, neighborhoods and community activities. I imagine living with diabetes adds another layer of complexity to a move, including finding new friends who will be supportive of health needs. After a move from Connecticut to New York City for a dietetic internship, Karen Jensen faced just this situation, and I’d like to share her story with you today.
When Karen was 13, she noticed a few symptoms, which she wasn’t aware were related to diabetes. “I was eating and eating, but I wasn’t gaining weight,” she said. “I was also always going to the bathroom, and I was really irritable. But we never really put the pieces together. Everyone thought that I had an eating disorder. The guidance office at my middle school made me go to my doctor. She did a blood test and it came back that my fasting blood glucose was near 580. That’s how we found out I have type 1 diabetes.”
The next day, Karen and her mother had their first meeting with a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE*). “My CDE was a dietitian, and she was a really good influence on me,” Karen said. “She really sparked my interest in nutrition. I also liked that she wasn’t just there to provide me with medical and nutrition information, but also acted as a support system for me. She became my mentor.”
In September 2012, Karen moved from Connecticut to New York City for an 11-month dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She stayed in a dorm that housed other dietetic interns, nurses and pharmacy students. She made a point to get to know other interns before her internship began, and they banded together to explore the city.
Using mealtimes as impromptu education sessions, Karen found that her new friends were accepting and curious about diabetes. “When food would come out and I had to take out my insulin pump, I would just explain to them that it wasn’t a cell phone or a beeper; this is my insulin pump,” she said. “It’s a nice conversation starter. Sometimes people are a little uncomfortable with it, but most people are curious. They’ll ask questions about when I was diagnosed, or what it’s like having diabetes or if I can eat sugar. Even though they don’t live with diabetes, I made friends who seemed to understand what I was going through, which really helped,” she said.
One friend in particular went out of his way to learn about diabetes, and became a core source of support for Karen. “He didn’t really know much about diabetes when I first met him,” she said. “He ended up becoming really interested and did research about it. He would just listen to me about the challenges I was facing. I taught him how to give me glucagon. He made himself available to learn about diabetes, which was nice. He seemed to really understand what I was going through.”
Another issue Karen found challenging after moving was a change in physical activity. While her internship kept her moving, she was used to a regular routine of workouts at the gym. “One of the biggest adjustments I had to make was not having a gym to go to,” she said. “The first few months I wasn’t very active and I was a little scared to go running in the streets. That was a big adjustment for me, being comfortable with going out into the city and running.” After plucking up her courage to venture out, Karen came to enjoy running along city streets and park paths.
Aspects of daily life as an intern were also challenging. “As an intern, you don’t have an office,” she explained. “You maintain patient charts on the floor. I had to keep water and fruit candy in my lab coat. I also had to become comfortable testing my blood sugar either in the bathroom or right in the nurse’s station. I learned I had to proactively think about my health and stand up for myself.”
Growing up, Karen didn’t know anyone else who lived with diabetes, so she turned to the Internet for support. A search online led her to Kerri Sparling’s diabetes blog, and through her, the diabetes online community (DOC). “I really liked the idea of blogging, so I decided to start a diabetes blog myself when I was a sophomore in college,” she said. “It was a way for me to find other people that live with diabetes or have children who live with diabetes to talk to about our experiences. It’s kind of nice to have another person who’s going through the same things as me. It’s a means of social support.” Karen maintained her blog throughout her internship, which helped provide a foundation of support from the DOC.
Karen believes living with diabetes has helped her be more empathetic in her work, allowing her to offer support to others. “I feel like I know what some people may be going through,” she said. “I know how hard and frustrating diabetes can be, and I think that helps a lot. My team and I saw one girl in New York who had diabetes, and she and her mom were refusing to do carb counting. They told us we didn’t know how hard it was to count every piece of food you put in your mouth. I told her that I had diabetes and I knew what she was going through. It really helped, especially with her mom.” Now that Karen is a registered dietitian, she is looking to become a Certified Diabetes Educator.
Having made several big moves myself, I admire Karen’s courage to uproot and reestablish herself in order to achieve her dreams. With her enthusiasm, determination and appreciation for a solid support system, she’s likely to provide great support for others. How have you fared with moving while living with diabetes? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below. My thanks to Karen for sharing her story.
All the best,
Disclosure: Karen Jensen received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.