Basic Training: A Patient Story

By Sarah Senn

In high school, everyone wants to fit in and no one wants to stick out. So how do you cope as a teenager when your doctor tells you that you have type 1 diabetes? Just ask Tarin Jackson. At age 14, Tarin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Before her diagnosis, she was feeling exhausted and abnormally thirsty. Her vision was blurry and she had to urinate frequently. Convinced that she had diabetes, Tarin persuaded her parents to take her to the doctor. Tarin’s blood glucose level was extremely high at 870, and she had to be hospitalized immediately.

As a freshman in high school, Tarin was very active in school sports. She was on her high school’s soccer, ski and track teams, and also competed in gymnastics. Tarin often had to travel to out-of-state meets and tournaments. After she was diagnosed, Tarin wondered if she would still be able to play sports. While her doctors warned her that this disease was “difficult enough to manage” without playing in competitive sports, Tarin was determined to stay active. She monitored her blood glucose levels frequently and worked hard to maintain her weight. With the help of her physician, she was able to devise a treatment plan that still allowed her to remain active in sports throughout high school.

Tarin’s transition into the college years was somewhat more difficult. The laidback lifestyle of the college environment created new challenges. With a new schedule and less opportunities to be involved with sports, Tarin found it more difficult to manage her diabetes. She gained weight, her A1c levels rose, and she had to take more insulin. It was Tarin’s father who finally gave her the expression of “tough love” she needed to get her condition back under control.

“My dad said, ‘If you do not take control over your diabetes, it is going to eat you up and spit you out!’” Tarin recalls. “It was then that I realized that things needed to change.” In order to get her diabetes management back on track, Tarin started exercising daily and began testing her blood glucose levels frequently.

After college, Tarin’s passion for exercise, which she describes as “the extra prescription that helped me to get where I am now,” led her to becoming a personal trainer. Her experience as a trainer heightened her already keen awareness of the concerns that many young women, especially those with type 1 diabetes, have about their body image. She prides herself as a role model for using exercise along with proper diet and insulin use to prevent “diabulimia,” a condition whose name combines diabetes and bulimia in which insulin doses are omitted or reduced in order to lose weight.

Now at 31, Tarin works as a pharmaceutical representative promoting diabetes treatment and sharing her success story with others. Tarin speaks with healthcare professionals about the challenges of control and exercise for people with type 1 diabetes. She also leads and attends support groups for people with diabetes. Despite her busy lifestyle, Tarin makes time to work out everyday, as well as track her blood glucose levels at least six to eight times a day.

In addition to all of her other activities, Tarin recently launched a business. After spending years trying to find a diabetes supply case that would fit her needs, she created her own brand of couture bags which she designed with diabetes patients like herself in mind. You can learn more about the bags at www.sugapak.com.

Although, she is a prime example of a patient with diabetes who can maintain a healthy weight, reach healthy A1c levels, and live a happy and healthy lifestyle, Tarin admits that it’s not always easy living with diabetes. She explains, “When I get overwhelmed, I have to remind myself to bring it back to the basics.”

Tarin has some advice for people with type 1 diabetes:
  • Be active. Exercise is important.
  • Find a support group or other people you can talk to about your condition.
  • And most importantly, never go anywhere without your diabetes supplies.