Wednesday, 5 December 2012

It Changes Nothing

If there's one thing I don't speak a lot about in my life, it's my everyday concern with a disease known as diabetes. Those close to me know about my affliction and how it has affected my life, but I refuse to let it define me or even affect me in ways that normal people would assume. Most people who find out are surprised that I "suffer" from it because I'm far from being frail or weakly, but it's just another common misconception. Of course, there have been some very famous hockey players who played with the disease - Bobby Clarke, Curt Fraser, and Nick Boynton - but there are two men currently toiling in the AHL on the same team who are doing their part to get the message about diabetes out.

The AHL's Texas Stars are very aware of the disease thanks to players Toby Petersen and Taylor Vause. Both players are afflicted by the disease, but that hasn't stopped either of them from playing professional hockey. Petersen has even skated in the NHL!

"A lot of people feel that diabetes will hinder your life, that it will stop you from doing what you want to do. That was my worry," Vause told the AHL's Stephen Meserve. "You can go out and have fun with life, play sports, do well in school and live a healthy life with diabetes."

Taylor's symptoms - weight loss, fatigue and dry mouth - were classic signs of diabetes. I can honestly say that I had those same symptoms, and, like Vause, found myself frequently urinating and always being hungry. While dry mouth sent Vause to the doctor for an examination, I was far worse than Vause when I arrived ay my pediatrician. I was already well inside the point of diabetic ketoacidosis, and my doctor knew almost instantly what was going on.

The most important thing to remember when playing any sports, as I found out throughout my life, is that you have to be prepared for a sugar low. D.J. Amadio, the Stars trainer, ensures that the pick-me-ups that his two players need when low are available on the bench whether the Stars are at home or on the road.

"It's important that I have those things on hand," Amadio told Meserve, "whether it's a Coke, an easy fix, or someone else needs fruit juices. We have to have those in our kits all the time. If someone wants a juice box, we can't just go to the vending machine to get that."

The best part of the whole experience for these two is that they are phenomenal spokesmen for diabetes in general. Vause was awarded the WHL Humanitarian of the Year Award for his work with diabetes awareness campaigns his time in the CHL. Petersen has worked in fundraising and awareness campaigns for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) since 1999 when he was a player at Colorado College. Having two players like this reaching out on behalf of diabetes awareness is a great help for fundraising and research initiatives.

Some of the older players are still heavily involved as well. Curt Fraser was diagnosed in 1983, and he still is actively fundraising for and promoting ideas for diabetes research. Curt was already in his fifth year in the NHL when he was diagnosed, and Nick Boynton was diagnosed in 1999 at age 19. Boynton has done some great work since being diagnosed, including making a great video about how the disease shouldn't be a deterrent to do anything! Both of those diagnoses were older than normal for juvenile diabetes, but I'm glad both men were able to move on and live normal lives.

There's a fantastic People magazine article on Bobby Clarke from 1983 that shows how diabetes has affected his life, but not controlled it. This is a must-read article, in my opinion, and I'm glad it's available on the web. While the disease itself can be scary given the right circumstances, it's not half as bad as other diseases because it can be managed. Bobby Clarke speaks volumes about the management of the disease, and I think it's an excellent piece.

For me, I live life as best as I can. I try to keep myself moving and exercise when possible, and I do like eating well. I wouldn't say that I'm a specimen of health by any means, but reading stories about guys like Toby Petersen and Taylor Vause make me realize that I can always do more.

Being diagnosed with diabetes was scary at first. Since that time, though, I can honestly say that my life has changed very little other than cutting out sweets. I can tell you, though, that finding out that some of the people I look up to have the same disease that I do inspires me to be better myself. And that's extremely important to me, my family, and my friends.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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