Wilson-Bennett reflects on life-changing diabetes diagnosis

by Breanne Wilson-Bennett

In 2016 my life completely changed. I was a sophomore student and women’s ice hockey player at Colgate university when I began feeling overwhelmingly ill. I lost about 20lbs in two weeks, began drinking water faster than I could get it down my throat, and could barely get out of bed because I was so exhausted. My list of symptoms continued to grow, so of course I turned to the internet for a diagnosis. Every link associated with these symptoms pointed me to the same disease — type one diabetes. I mentioned it to medical staff, but they insisted type 1 diabetes was a juvenile disease and I was far too young and healthy to have type 2.

I continued to suffer and pressed on with the taxing demands of being a student-athlete. I kept losing weight, and then my eyes began to blur to the point where I could no longer see the white board in lectures. Still, I was told it was probably just exhaustion from exams and the beginning of the playoffs. I was sent to an optometrist for a pair of glasses and was told my vision would improve. It didn’t. I knew my body and knew that something just wasn’t right. However, I am a stubborn and hard-nosed individual, so I refused to stop playing my dream sport at my dream school.

Colgate had made the ECAC tournament, a first in program history. I decided I would stay and finish out our season. Thankfully for my health we lost out of the playoffs and our season ended. I was finally able to go home to Canada and see my doctor.

Before my appointment I tested my blood glucose levels on my stepfather's glucose monitor and I’ll never forget my parents' faces when it read “HIGH”. It would not give a numerical reading as it turns out my sugars were much too high to read. My mom took me right to the hospital where my sugar level exceeded 50mmol/l. For reference, a healthy range is between 4-7. I was dangerously high and had been for a few months. I was close to falling into a diabetic coma.

The nurse turned sheepish white and went to get a doctor immediately. A few moments later I was hooked up to two IVs. A doctor walked out, and I remember like it was yesterday him saying, “where’s that diabetic”? My mom and I looked at each other and I slowly raised my hand and said, “I think that’s me”. The doctor let me know that a nurse and diabetes Canada representative would be in to help me the next day and walked off. To him it was routine, but for me my world turned upside down.

There was so much going on in my head that it was dizzying. Fear and anxiety mounted, and I could almost feel it piling on my shoulders. Despite the growing pit in my stomach, I spent that night with a smile on my face knowing my mom needed that from me. I could sense her fear as she wondered what this meant for her child. Neither of us slept that night and after a few very draining days in the hospital I was briefed on how to deal with my new companion.

I adjusted fairly well to the new lifestyle I was forced into. As an athlete I had been well prepped to deal with adversity. I had a day or two of a pity party, but quickly began my learning curve into this chronic disease. I distracted myself from the nagging negative thoughts by rehearsing my mom’s wise words. She would remind me that I’m lucky to have a manageable disease and that I am in complete control. Ever since she said that I have attacked everyday with diabetes with a positive attitude.

I bought books, read online research and worked with my diabetic team at Markham Stouffville hospital to learn everything I could about diabetes. I believe in always being a sponge, constantly soaking up new information as it comes. While I am hopeful for a cure, I remain diligent in being my own doctor and staying on top of my diabetes management. I continue to be a student of the disease.

Just as NHLer and type one diabetic Max Domi wondered after his diagnosis, I wondered what would happen to my hockey career. I have come to realize that I am just like any other healthy individual as long as I keep a healthy glucose level. It can be difficult at times, but after some time you become pretty good at counting carbs and administering your own insulin. My coaches over the years have never looked at me differently because of my disease. They are understanding when I may need a moment to prick my finger or take a sip of juice. To them I am just a hockey player and I am so thankful that I can continue to pursue my career and grow the game I love so much.

However, I still have my moments at times where I think “why me?” A lot of those moments come at night while I am alone with my thoughts. Sleeping was and still is very nerve wracking. Right after my diagnosis I can remember waking up to footsteps in my room because my mom wanted to make sure I hadn’t taken too much insulin. She would whisper “I’m just making sure you’re still breathing”. Five years later and this still happens. Diabetes will make you hyper aware and even obsessive at times. However, you have to be this way in order to keep your numbers in a healthy range. It’s a constant that requires your attention 24/7. It’s always on my mind, but I am still able to do anything and everything that a non-diabetic person can.

I will never allow diabetes to rule my life. The odd time it may win the day, but overall, I have mastered it. Since I was diagnosed, I have graduated magna cum laude from a top university, lettered in two NCAA division one sports, lead my team to a national championship final and have pursued a professional ice hockey career in both Sweden and now in the National Women’s Hockey League for the Toronto Six.

I look toward my future with my lifetime companion with excitement, rather than fear or denial. The possibilities of what we can accomplish are endless. I say we because this disease is a partnership. I have to work with it and listen to it in order to understand what my body needs in terms of exercise, nutrition, insulin, sleep, etc. I think of my diabetes as an annoying younger sibling. It requires constant attention and can wreak havoc at the most inopportune times, but overall is a small nuisance if you constantly keep an eye on it. I am actually quite thankful for it for keeping me accountable for my health as I am forced to keep healthy habits.

I do hope this can inspire those struggling with any disease or hardship to attack every day with a positive outlook. The way you perceive things can change your life!

Main image courtesy of Kasumi Kobo/NWHL