Donna L. Zegalia

Growing with Diabetes

Donna I will be celebrating 27 years with juvenile diabetes this May. I was diagnosed in 1969 with a blood sugar of 565. It has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life! I learned about diabetes in a biology class and realized I had all the symptoms: frequent urination, increased appetite, loss of weight, thirst, etc. I went home and told my father (a widower) and I was told I was crazy! Sure enough, less than two weeks later, I was in the hospital learning all about the big "D". Unfortunately, I had little family support and was terrified of my doctor who told me about all the terrible things that could happen if I didn't take care of myself- blindness, amputation, etc. I was unable to deal with the challenge of diabetes and unfortunately, I didn't take care of myself or my diabetes. As a teenager and young adult I smoked, drank alcohol, and didn't take urine tests (that's what we did back then!) or get exercise. I avoided my diabetes at all costs.

Getting Smart

In my mid to late twenties, I found a physician who also became a close friend. He helped me face my disease and not only accept it, but I learned to love it. I became a whole new person. I stopped smoking (3 packs a day!) and started exercising. Because I worked in a low paying position, my physician helped me get a blood glucose monitoring machine and strips. I began to look forward to each day. I was determined to make up for all the time I had wasted. Since then, I have been through many medical problems - none, however, relating to my diabetes! I have no signs of vision problems, or any of the other complications associated with diabetes.

The Terrible Teens

These were the worst days of my life! I desperately wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. I suppose that's why I smoked and drank alcohol. For a long time, my doctor told me to forget about what I did in the past and just concentrate on what I could now and for my future. That is the most important lesson of all. We are all human, we make mistakes, we become scared, and without the right support, we give up! Don't dwell on a day when you "cheated" on your diet or didn't take your insulin, or whatever your "escape" is, just start over again. Most importantly, look at your diabetes as a chance to be a better, stronger, and smarter person. The sooner you accept diabetes as a way of life, the closer you will be to getting on the road to being a happy, healthy, and successful person.

Where I am Today

I have been married for 9 years to a man who has provided me with more support than I could ever imagine. At the age of 38, I went back to college, received my degree in Early Childhood Education and I now run a Child Development Center. I have had the opportunity to work for the American Diabetes Association where I was able to provide support and guidance to many parents and children who live with diabetes. I was also an advisor for our local teen diabetes support group.

To any parent, child, or young adult living with diabetes, you need to know that living with diabetes is not unlike going through '"stages" like everyone else does. A parent's tendency is to protect their child. DON'T. Support your child; be there for them, listen to them, allow them to express their feelings. Be assured, there will be times of frustration, fear, anxiety, as with any challenge. But facing these challenges as a family can be the most important contribution you make.

If would be happy to share any of my experiences with anyone who may be interested. You can email me at donnazegalia AT

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Last Updated: Sun May 14 16:06:17 2006
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