Living Longer

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I just read about the results of a study showing dramatically improved life expectancy for people living with Type 1 diabetes. The study compared life expectancy now as compared to life expectancy in 1975. The difference was over 15 years. Aside from being good news, it’s an important reminder.

I’m the first person to admit that complaining comes far too easily to me. I can whine with the best of them, and have wasted plenty of time in my life bemoaning what’s “lacking,” or lamenting my own obstacles. And living with a chronic, incurable major disease has certainly given me fuel for the fire on many occasions. In fact, my first reaction to the news was, “well, thank goodness it’s not 1975, but diabetes still takes some years off” (which it does — when compared to the life expectancy of people without diabetes, we still fall about 10 years short). But then I softened a little bit, and some gratitude for living in this day and age of advanced management capabilities leaked into my outlook. And after reflecting a little further, I found an even deeper sense of gratitude.

In 1912, diabetes was a death sentence. It was an absolutely incurable, progressive disease that led inevitably to death. In 1921 that changed when humans first isolated and injected insulin — cow and pig insulin at first, much less effective than the engineered rDNA insulin we use today. In the time between 1921 and today, technology has continued to advance in all areas, and each step has made management of this disease more effective. Home blood glucose monitors have gotten better and better. Insulin has evolved to give us true fast-acting insulin that more closely mimics our bodies’ missing natural response. Insulin pumps have progressed from bulky, awkward machines to small miracle-workers. On the horizon may be a cure within my lifetime. I’m not counting on it, but if I have children they may inherit a world where Type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean day-to-day management, but every-six-month injections of self-regulating medication, or even a cure.

The point is this: Every single moment I have on this Earth is an immeasurable gift. It is, as I have said in the past, “bonus time.” I like to think of it as a game show, and I’m in the bonus round. My guaranteed time ended when I was 15. That’s when I was diagnosed. It’s been “bonus round” ever since. It’s all borrowed, or gifted, time. So whether life is treating me “fairly” or “unfairly,” “nicely” or “meanly,” the fact that life is treating me AT ALL is something to be grateful for. And there’s something else, too.

But if it’s a gift that means…darn it!
Yep, if my life is a second-by-second gift from God, the cosmos, or “insert other deity/source here,” that means I kind of owe it to the world to make something of it. It’s one thing to be lazy, or be a jerk, or waste your time, when generations of medical pioneers haven’t dedicated their lives to making YOUR life possible. Nobody should waste their life, of course, but I can’t help but feel a little more pressure to use my time wisely. And I’ve only marginally succeeded in this lately. I’m not saying I’ve been particularly bad or mean or anything, but I’ve been lazy in moments that called for daring. I’ve turned away from the spotlight in moments that invited taking a chance. In other words, I’ve “deferred to tomorrow what should be done today” a few times too many.

And so, I’m starting something today, and I invite fellow Diabetians reading this to join me. I am going to say what it is I ought to do with my gifted seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years of life. I’m going to share it here. And I’m going to commit myself to following through with passion, with continuous effort, and without excuses or laziness. I’m not going to let small setbacks turn me away; I’m not going to let petty grievances fracture my resolve; I’m not even going to let MAJOR obstacles be my excuses.

Next week, and for a number of weeks after today, I will update how I’m doing, right here. Nothing motivates like mass approval, and so I’m putting myself out there for motivation.

So here it is: Music. I will dedicate myself to improving my own ability every single day, using my mornings to practice instead of wasting them on Netflix. I will go out and FINALLY network with my fellow musicians the way I should have been all along. I will drop excuses to turn down opportunities, excuses to skip practicing, and excuses to fail on my follow-through of the little things. That’s my commitment. I know music is my deepest love, my deepest joy, and if I’m here for anything, it is to SHARE that joy with the world around me.

I invite all of you to share your commitment in the comments below. Share with us what it is you will dedicate each gifted moment of your life to. Share with us what you expect will be your obstacles, and how you’ll overcome them. Encourage one another, support one another, and move forward. Let’s move mountains!

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