I’ve been a friend of Sherry on Facebook and Twitter for quite a long time. She’s one of my go-to moms, especially when we both hop on at 2:00 am after a middle-of-the-night blood sugar check! (It’s 1:00 am her time.) Her daughter Jenna was just 9 weeks past her second birthday at diagnosis.
I’d like to introduce you to Sherry of Jenna’s Pet Monkey.
Tell me something about your child.
Jenna loves paper. She loves creating things with paper. She has invented a craft activity that she calls “Tuck ’n’ Stuffs.” She draws a character on paper (or asks me to draw it), colours it, cuts it out using two sheets of paper, then she stuffs tissue between the two cut out shapes and tapes the edges together. She then plays with her characters like dolls! She is quite proud of this invention!
What is your child’s favorite 15 gram carb (or less) snack
Hard to list only one. Jenna loves popcorn, pretzels, cheese and crackers, pistachios, sunflower seeds, raw veggies, apple slices, watermelon, cantaloupe…but I guess if I had to pick just one item it would be yogurt.
How do you manage diabetes?
We use the Animas Ping pump. We aren’t ready to add a CGM to our techno-management team yet. I would love for the technology to improve more before we take that step.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at diagnosis
I wish I had been more aware of the ignorance and misinformation the general public has regarding type 1 diabetes. I might have been better prepared for the judgment my daughter and I have been subjected to over the past three years. Needless to say, one of my passions in life, aside from supporting the efforts to find a cure, is to educate the misinformed in an attempt to make the world a kinder place for people with type 1 diabetes.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been constantly trying to find balance in life. I am always trying to gauge my reaction in an effort to avoid overreacting. I try to be aware of how my responses to diabetes-related situations impact Jenna. I don’t want to be paranoid yet I don’t want to relax too much and let my guard down.
How do you and your husband maintain your relationship?
My husband and I share the management of Jenna’s diabetes. I am the parent that stays at home but that doesn’t mean that I am the only one getting up in the night. Neither of us are strangers to wee hour alarms to do checks. I am also a strong proponent of communication. We talk. A lot. It’s what gets me through the tough stuff in life. This is likely part of the reason why I felt compelled to start my blog. It is very much like therapy.
Your daughter’s name is Jenna, but what’s this I hear about a pet monkey?
The name of my blog was born from a moment I had just days after Jenna’s diagnosis when I was still trying to come to terms with this new challenge. We were on our way to another part of the hospital with our Diabetes Nurse Educator, waiting for the elevator, when I was sort of thinking out loud – “…It’s like our little Jenna now comes with a pet monkey that we have to feed, take care of and constantly keep out of mischief. Day and night. Forever.” It was just my way of trying to put things into some sort of perspective. When I decided to start my blog just three months later it was the first thing I thought of as I was trying to come up with a name. My husband agreed that it had to be “Jenna’s Pet Monkey.”
What have been your challenges sending your child to school? Triumphs?
We have had a few informal meetings with staff at the school Jenna will attend next fall. For the most part teachers and other school staff have shown a considerable amount of interest and genuine concern for Jenna’s well-being. They seem eager to learn about her diabetes and how they can ensure her safety while at school. Having said that, the real test will be next September when she starts full time kindergarten.
What sports/activities does your child do and how does it work with diabetes?
Jenna loves swimming. I use swim time as an opportunity for her to go pumpless. Swimming is such good exercise that she really doesn’t need the basal insulin while she swims. We also enjoy family bike rides. Jenna loves riding her bike! Jenna also takes gymnastics. I usually try to give her time off from her pump during gymnastics as well. Jenna loves dancing at home so I foresee dance classes in her future as well.
What vacations have you taken and how did you deal with diabetes?
We are a family that loves road trips and we have put a lot of miles on our vehicles doing just that. I find the main concern with lengthy car rides is gauging her basals accordingly. With prolonged inactivity, Jenna usually requires at least a 40% increase in basal rates. We also try to keep the carb consumption down so finding snacks that are car-friendly and low carb is helpful. Of course, the usual worries of trying to ensure we have enough supplies and being prepared for the unexpected are always a concern with traveling.
Have you found a babysitter, and if so, how?
We haven’t found a babysitter yet. My husband and I don’t really get any date nights. When we go out, we do so as a family. For the most part it works for us. Although, I do miss golfing every now and then. A few weeks ago the girls’ grandma babysat while my husband and I golfed together for the first time since Jenna’s diagnosis! It was only 9 holes but we thoroughly enjoyed that two hours we spent together. It was my Father’s Day gift to my husband, but really, it was a gift for both of us.
How has diabetes affected your other children?
My oldest daughter, Jazmine, has had to watch her little sister go through a lot. But Jazmine is a very compassionate, smart kid and is an amazing and valuable part of Jenna’s support team. Jazmine is very in tune with Jenna’s situation and has been known to spot a low, initiate a blood sugar check and promptly inform me of the need for intervention. I have been careful to include Jazmine in most aspects of Jenna’s care. But still it has had its impact on Jazmine too. This disease affects every family member in one way or another. Jaz has had to understand that Jenna sometimes does require more attention due to her diabetes. Again, we encourage communication. I make an effort to spend some 1:1 time with Jaz now and then.
How do you find time for yourself?
This is a challenge, for sure! I was going to yoga classes twice a week for a long time. It was my escape. They were evening classes and my husband would be at home with the girls so I was able to have a worry free hour of exercise and relaxation twice a week. We have moved to a new city, however, and I have been trying to find an evening yoga class that I could participate in. I think I have found one for the month of August. I can’t wait!
What have you done to help your child become independent in their own care?
I am always encouraging Jenna to do what she can on her own. But I don’t want to make it a stressful experience. I let Jenna set the pace and praise her for every step toward independence she initiates. On the days she is feeling fed up and burnt out, I pick up the slack without shaming her or making her feel guilty. It is a hard disease to manage. She has a lifetime ahead of her doing it on her own. There’s no need to rush the independence issue. Jenna is aware of the importance of certain aspects of her diabetes management and she is proud of the strides she makes toward her independence. If the past three years is any indication, she will continue to a steady progression toward increasing independence.
What research organizations do you support and why?
How do you deal with tough diabetes-related questions from your child?
We deal with tough diabetes-related questions as honestly as possible and with as much sensitivity as we can given Jenna’s age and level of understanding. I don’t think hiding the truth from kids is wise. They are far more perceptive than that. I want my girls to know they can trust me just as I want them to know how important it is for me to trust them. Honesty is crucial in establishing trust. This disease can be pretty scary. I don’t hide the darker side of diabetes from her, but I temper that honesty with a matter-of-fact approach and emphasis on what is being done to improve the lives of PWD. We work at staying positive and playing an active part in making things better for PWD with fundraising and encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle. If she asks a question, it deserves an honest answer. Jenna knows we will always be here to support her.
How has diabetes affected you financially? Have you been successful in getting the insurance coverage you need?
This is an expensive disease, no doubt. But we have been able to take advantage of our provincial government health care programs to offset some of the costs. We also have additional, work-related coverage that helps.
Healthcare in the US is privatized, meaning that most people have insurance through their employer. The cost of diabetes and access to doctors and medications/devices varies so widely depending on a family’s insurance coverage. Could you tell me about the healthcare system in Canada?
In Canada virtually all of our basic care costs are covered by provincial health care benefits. Dental and vision care are usually not covered by the government so employment benefits are necessary. Pharmaceuticals are also not covered by basic provincial plans except for the elderly and for indigenous peoples. Again, pharmaceutical coverage through work is required. Having said that, if a Canadian resident experiences financial hardship, there is coverage available. No one need go without necessary healthcare in Canada. Several provinces have, in recent years, enacted coverage for insulin pumps and pump supplies for children 18 years of age and younger. Ontario now covers insulin pumps for all type 1 diabetics regardless of age.
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