Pat McAlister has been living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) for 68 years. Through the years, a lot has changed with regard to her life with T1D—from types of insulin used to treat the disease, to blood sugar monitoring, and how insulin has to be administered—for example, insulin used to be extracted from cows or pigs, and injected with needles that had to be boiled for sterilization before each injection; now, insulin is synthetic—or, grown in labs—and can be injected with single use syringes with tiny needles, pre-filled insulin pens, or by using a small device called an insulin pump. Today, Pat shares some of her experiences with us in recognition of National Diabetes Month, and World Diabetes Day on November 14th.
Kerri: Hi Pat! Thanks for taking some time out to share your story today. How did your journey with type 1 diabetes start?
Pat: I was raised in a small town in northern Montana. When I developed all the signs of diabetes no one knew what was wrong with me. My mother took me all over the state and finally a doctor 50 miles from us knew immediately I was diabetic. That was 68 years ago. I graduated [high school]when I was 17 and had 2 dreams – have a daughter named Beth and be a teacher. The college and the high school both said I couldn’t be a teacher – as a teacher stands on her feet all day and a diabetic couldn’t do that. They said I could be a nurse?? They also said I would never have children. If you wanted a job and they knew you were diabetic you would not get the job. The excuse was “we can’t insure you”. The methods to control diabetes were primitive or nonexistent.
It’s fortunate that more professionals have caught on to the truth that people with diabetes CAN (and should!) do everything they aspire to. For young people with diabetes, role models can also be helpful… Did anybody else in your life as a kid also have diabetes?
There were no other diabetics. I wanted to see someone older than me with diabetes so I could see what it had done to them. I was 16 when I met a diabetic boy, when my family was visiting the west coast, and we agreed to keep in touch. . . He didn’t, so I called a friend and she said they didn’t want to tell me he was killed in an accident right after I left. I was 24 before I met another diabetic.
It’s hard to imagine now that you could go nearly another ten years without meeting anyone else with diabetes, given the strength and size of the Diabetes Online Community now! How did things go after you were out of high school?
I moved to Denver when I was 24 and had wonderful, knowledgeable doctors and also meet many diabetics. I also met a Texan, who I married. He knew my dreams and was determined to make them come true. We have Beth and also Mike, and a granddaughter. [My husband] encouraged me to start college and I taught ESL [English as a Second Language] and reading at Reed Rock Community College. I later broke my foot and the doctor said it wasn’t broken so it turned into a diabetic Charcot Foot. I’ve worn a walking cast for over 30 years. I can’t dance, but can do everything else.
And, you’ve done a lot! While you chased, and achieved, your primary dreams of having your daughter—and son!—and teaching… but you didn’t stop there.
I needed another degree, so went for a Management with computer specialization. I fell in love with computers and my advisor designed my degree to teach computers. I had my own business, taught for the government, and ended up back at Metro State University (where I received my first degree) in the Business School teaching the Microsoft Office programs. I retired when I was 70 and they kept calling me back. I loved it so much I always went back. At 75 I quit for good.
I’m sure with all you’ve shared you didn’t stop there. What are you up to now?
I’m involved with a diabetic optimist club, T1DOC, and write a diabetic newsletter for them. I belong to Jewels for Hope. We take donated jewelry and sell it for the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes. In 10 years we have made $300,000. I’ve started a church supper club and I just joined a[n insulin] pump club (have a pump now). I’m probably too busy, but I am loving my life and am grateful to be here with my wonderful husband and family. My life has been blessed.
I don’t think “too busy” is ever a bad thing if you’re enjoying every minute of it—and it sounds like nothing’s going to stop you anytime soon. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Pat!
Pat has offered her e-mail for anybody who is interested in learning more about Jewels for Hope or the T1DOC. You can connect with Pat at jewelshope[at]gmail.com