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Emily Stunek is a college student in Minnesota who was diagnosed with diabetes just after her 7th birthday.

I can remember it so well. My birthday party was actually a month later than my birthday! You see we had moved to a new town and with my birthday being in October I was still getting to know people at my new school. Having it in November just seemed more logical at the time. At my birthday party I became sick. Flu like. I was throwing up. Extremely thirsty and hungry yet I could not keep anything down. Prior to my party, my 1st grade teacher had noticed that I was going to the bathroom more often and that I was drinking a lot of water. She alerted my parents that I might be exhibiting signs and symptoms of diabetes! My parents were not aware of diabetes prior to me being diagnosed. I did not, and continue to no, have any relatives that have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Having just moved, insurance was still a tricky thing and medical bills were something my parents knew would be expensive. With that in mind my mother drove me 2 hours to our previous hometown where our insurance was still active. I was admitted to the ER, then to the hospital and diagnosed with diabetes with a blood sugar through the roof. Having been sick, and my parents thinking it was the flu, they had been giving me sprite, club soda, saltine crackers, juice, and anything to try and settle my stomach and nourish me. Little did they know they were fueling the fire! By the time I was admitted to the hospital I was too dehydrated to walk and talk and even open my eyes.

I spent a couple days in the hospital being rehydrated and bringing my blood sugars down while my parents took a crash course on diabetes care and management! Although the insurance thing was a huge bummer, I feel extremely blessed looking back on the situation because the previous city that we had lived in had an amazing diabetes center! I received top-notch diabetes care from the moment I was diagnosed. It has played a huge part in my life and I think is a main reason I have been so successful in my diabetes management thus far. For everything there is a reason!

You are an advocate for diabetes. What inspired you to get involved in diabetes advocacy work, kind of work do you do and how has it helped or changed the way you feel about diabetes?

An interesting twist in my story is that I was inspired to pursue diabetes advocacy by a fellow smart woman with diabetes who was recently featured on this blog, Quinn Nystrom. Quinn and I come from the same home town and it was when I was in middle school that she came and spoke to myself and other diabetics at the school about diabetes, how she deals with it on a day to day basis, and what we can do to be an advocate. Ever since then, Quinn and I have become good friends and she was even a part of my wedding! Since being diagnosed I have participated in the American Diabetes Association’s Walk to Stop Diabetes almost every year. More recently, I have become involved with advocacy being apart of my state advocacy committee, going to events and encouraging people to sign up to be a diabetes advocate. I have done television and radio ads regarding diabetes, as a Team Red Captain for the American Diabetes Association. Last year I was honored to go to Washington D.C. as a part of the American Diabetes Association’s Call to Congress event speaking with legislatures regarding diabetes funding, research, and support. I am again honored to be returning to Washington D.C. this year (actually I am on my way as I am typing) to again speak and advocate for diabetes. Being apart of this diabetes community has really helped me accept having diabetes. I am not alone in this fight. The 26 million Americans who also have diabetes are fighting this battle right along side of me. I have become more open with sharing about my diabetes (although this was never a struggle for me) and accepting that as hard as I try my diabetes is never going to be perfect. It is just not possible. But it can be controlled and I can live my life in spite of my diabetes! And as an advocate I want to encourage every diabetic to do the same.

You are currently a college student in Minnesota, right? What are you studying and how do you manage your diabetes while living away from home? What was the hardest thing about leaving home and living on your own for the first time?

Currently I am studying nursing at a private liberal arts college in Minnesota. I plan to pursue my education and obtain my CDE and maybe even my CNS. Being in college is one of the hardest things for managing your diabetes, but I will be the first to tell you it is not impossible. I think moving away from home was easier for me that it was for my parents. They were extremely anxious about me living away from home, managing my blood sugars, and the well-known party scenes. For me the transition was not as scary as I thought it would be.

  • I told my roommate right away that I was diabetic and sort of gave her the 411 on treatment in case of emergencies.
  • I brought my own refrigerator that I was able to store my insulin in as well as some juice boxes and emergency snacks in case of a low blood sugar.
  • I was very upfront and told my professors that I was a diabetic and most were very accepting once I assured them I was well controlled. I think it helps to be open to them asking questions that way they fell more comfortable knowing that anything they are unsure about you can answer or ware willing to talk about.

The hardest part was being away from my parents and my support system. Living day to day with a chronic disease is cumbersome, hard, and tiring. If I had a hard day and my blood sugars were out of control I would unload some of my frustration with my parents and they would help me find my feet again. Being in college, having an extremely strange roommate (we wont even go there), and still in the process of making friends, I was overwhelmed and at times frustrated. But that too passed and now living away from home seems natural. I am coping better with my diabetes management and feeling better in my control. In some ways, leaving home allowed me to really take control of my life, my disease, and my future. 

How do you handle drinking as a college student with diabetes?

 Drinking was never an easy topic for me to approach leading up to my 21st birthday. It may be a surprise, but even while in college I did not have my first drink until a month before my 21st birthday! I was afraid of drinking with my diabetes, not having someone to help me in case of a low blood sugar, and perhaps not even recognizing my lows. When my 21st birthday was approaching I knew that a lot of my friends would want to go out. But I did not want bar hopping to be my first experience drinking as a diabetic. So instead, about a month before my 21st birthday, I sat down with my boyfriend (now husband), our very best friend from high school, and had my first drink. I trusted them to take care of me and I think they were almost as nervous as I was! I had called my mom, told her I was going to drink (maybe I was going a little overboard), I was scared of the possibilities. Having those couple drinks before my 21st birthday was probably one of the smartest things I did. It allowed me to recognize my tolerance prior to going out, making it easier for me to control the amount I drank. I did not have a low blood sugar and actually everything went smooth.

A week after my 21st birthday was the first time I went out to the bar, and ironically I went with a fellow diabetic, I know I have already mentioned her, Quinn. I felt safe, she knew how to treat a low blood sugar, and was not out to get me completely wasted. Since then I on occasion casually drink with friends with my drink of choice being captain and diet coke (I find it does not affect my blood sugars). Since I have been open about being a diabetic, none of my friends at parties pressure me to get drunk or have more. Many times instead they say, “I thought you couldn’t drink?” and I just laugh. If my blood sugars have been crazy during the day prior to going out I’ll simply carry a Solo cup with just diet coke in it. No one even questions what I have in the glass. It’s college; they are more concerned about what is in their glass. Lets be real 🙂

 What kind of advice would you give other young women with diabetes?  

I would tell young women with diabetes the same thing I would tell young women without diabetes. Love who you are. There are many things in life that are not desirable, but the only thing you can control is yourself, your emotions, and your actions. Love who you are, embrace what makes you unique, and encourage others to do the same.