Devoted mum Kelly Belcher reveals her secrets for achieving the ultimate balancing act between managing 13-year-old son Will’s type 1, and letting him still be a kid.
Did you have any sense that Will was seriously unwell before his diagnosis?
Not at all. He’d just had bad tummy aches. But the weirdest thing happened on the way to see the doctor. Quite out of the blue, Will said, ‘I wonder if I’ve got diabetes.’ To this day I don’t understand where that question came from. I said, ‘No way. You’re just really constipated. I’ll fall off my chair if you’ve got diabetes.’ Will is the first person in our family to be diagnosed with type 1, so we didn’t know the first thing about it. It wasn’t on our radar.
Did you flip out when you got the news?
No, funnily enough, I was totally relaxed because I didn’t really understand the severity of it and Will looked fine. The doctor told us to go to the hospital and I said, ‘I’ll just pop home first and put some clothes on the line.’ The doctor replied, ‘No, you really need to go to the hospital right now.’
What has Will’s little sister made of it all?
Cailyn may only be three, but she loves keeping her big brother on track. She says, ‘Test your levels, Will’, and tells him where to put in the cannula in his tummy. Will always smiles and says thank you.
So Will has an insulin pump?
Yes. For the first 18 months he was injecting himself with insulin every day, but now he has a pump. He has to change the line and rotate the cannula site every three days or so.
Has the pump made life easier?
It has, but things can still go wrong. We got a scare recently when we tested him at midnight and it read 20, when he should have been between four and eight. It turned out he hadn’t fully clicked his cannula in after his shower, so he wasn’t getting any insulin for a few hours. We learned yet another lesson from that alarming experience. He also got down to 1.4 recently, which was his lowest reading ever. That was a bit frightening. We had climbed a hill to watch planes take off and land at the airport, and he didn’t eat enough food quickly enough. It’s such a tricky balancing act.
Does he have lots of medical paraphernalia?
He started off with a small cooler box and moved up to a larger plastic container. Then he needed a couple of storage boxes for all of his ketone strips, reservoirs, fusion sets, sharps containers and alcohol wipes, and the rest. Now he has started taking over my pantry, which is something I wouldn’t normally let anyone do. He has a whole shelf!
Do you do stocktakes on his supplies?
My husband and I decided early on that it was important for Will to manage his own supplies, and to make sure he never runs out of anything. One day he is going to move out and will do it on his own, so the training starts now.
What has helped you rest easier?
I think the more you understand something, the less you fear the unknown, so I decided to study a Certificate II course in Diabetes Management. Understanding more has been really good, but it’s also heartbreaking to realise the damage that occurs when you don’t have good control. When Will’s blood sugars aren’t in range, I think, ‘What is going on with your heart, veins and arteries, right now?’ I know we’re doing the best we can and we’re managing it well. But I still lie in bed at night sometimes wondering if I am doing the right thing or if there’s anything I could be doing to manage it better.
What has been the hardest thing to explain to Will about his condition?
Will has always been obsessed by planes – his room is full of them – and his dream is to be a pilot in the air force. It was horrible breaking the news to him that he would never be able to fly a commercial plane or fly with the defence force. My husband and I were worried it would kill his passion, but it hasn’t. He’s now looking at becoming an engineer, so he gets to work on planes. And he also plans to get a private pilot’s licence and buy his own plane so he can fly for fun.
Is it hard letting go when Will isn’t by your side?
We live in Cairns and, recently, he went to an airforce cadet camp in Toowoomba, 1700 kilometres away. I found that hard because it was the first time Will was entirely responsible for managing his diabetes. But he was fine. Right from birth Will has been an old soul, but the diagnosis has forced him to grow up quickly and be responsible. He loved the camp. He got to fly a Cessna aircraft, and came back so excited that he started looking into getting his private pilot’s licence. He’s now counting down until he is 14 years and nine months so he can get a job and start saving for it.