How Do You Mark Your Diaversary?
By Alexandra Frost
For some, the date is seared in their minds — the moment their lives changed forever, as a medical professional explained that they had diabetes. Each year, many observe their “diaversary,” the anniversary of their date of diagnosis.
Like any life-changing moment, these observances vary from full-blown celebrations to solemn moments of remembrance, to other acknowledgments of the challenges and triumphs the moment has brought.
Diaversaries aren’t for everyone, and some don’t even know, or recall, when they were first diagnosed. Rachel Kohls, a diabetes care and education specialist at Texas Diabetes and Endocrinology in Austin, said, “Simple truth, I don’t think most of my type 2 diabetes patients know when they were diagnosed. They guess – ‘Oh it was a long time ago,’ or ‘Sometime in the 1990s.’”
But Kohls said that for many with type 1, they can almost always tell her the month and year, and often the actual date.
“Their diagnosis is often unforgettable as they likely ended up in the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), or maybe the patient was less than 5 years old and it was a traumatic experience for the parents,” she said.
While some build in a sweet dessert, others gather with close family or friends who have been there along the way to mark each year that passes.
diaTribe reached out to members of the diabetes community through social media to find out the various ways people celebrated their diaversaries. The following first-person accounts describe how they celebrate in their own meaningful ways.
From denial to pride
“I barely acknowledged my diabetes for almost a decade, so the concept of celebrating something that I hated and ignored seemed bizarre to me. When I got engaged to my husband, and we started to discuss potentially having children in the future, I realized that my body was barely functioning, so I'd never be able to carry a child. I was slowly killing myself and something needed to change.
With his help and support, I began my journey of re-diagnosis, starting with the basics: I carb counted, I calculated my insulin, and I experienced the highs and lows of living with diabetes. Eventually, I stumbled across the diabetes online community, and I couldn't believe there were diabetics out there sharing their journeys and supporting one another. I started a diabetes blog to share more of my journey and that developed into Organising Chaos - a diabetes brand offering accessories to decorate diabetes and make it a little more colourful.
Now I wear my diabetes with pride! Every year I do something different to celebrate my diaversary, but it always involves cake or treats! Because cake is definitely worth the bolus, especially on your diaversary.”
—Claire Panchal, 32, United Kingdom
“I was in middle school—one of the most vulnerable times in my life—when I was diagnosed. For a long time, I didn’t care for my diabetes, even hiding it from friends. As I grew older, I started to realize that I am more than my diabetes and I shouldn’t be ashamed!
I didn’t start celebrating my own diaversary until my daughter was diagnosed with T1D (see photo to the right). At that point, I realized in order for Emma to feel proud and see her strength I needed to show her that it’s worth celebrating and being proud of! My husband and daughter also both have T1D, and we are stronger and more empathetic.
It’s important to celebrate our diaversaries because it marks another year of strength. There are no easy days with diabetes, but when you have another year to reflect, you start to realize what amazing accomplishments you’ve achieved! We celebrate with a small party with our diabuddies, and we come together on each other’s diaversary. We have food and cake. It’s like a birthday party to celebrate our strength.”
—Michelle Trites, 28, New Hampshire
A moment of reflection
“I am a parent of an adult with diabetes. My son was diagnosed when he was 2 years old and is now 25. He doesn't celebrate the day. Thankfully, he doesn't remember it. On the other hand, I personally will never forget it.
On March 17 of each year, I take a moment and pause. I try not to be sucked into the terror that filled me the day he was diagnosed. I instead try to focus on the fact that my son continues to thrive despite type 1 diabetes. It rarely stops him from living the life that he wants.
I take a moment to be grateful for the incredible people that diabetes has brought into my life. You can hear more of our story here or read more about it here.”
—Barb Wagstaff, Mom of Liam, Age 25, Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador
“I didn’t start celebrating my diaversary right away. I think after time passed and I got more comfortable with diabetes, I naturally started to reflect and celebrate. My diaversary sparks reflection.
Whether that year I’m in a good place or in need of improvement, the anniversary of diagnosis brings so many emotions. Regardless, I acknowledge that another year of resilience and lessons learned has passed. I think that in itself deserves a reward. To celebrate I go out to eat with a friend or I buy myself a treat. I just take the opportunity to do something and celebrate.”
Motivated to defy the odds
“I have celebrated my diaversary every year since I was diagnosed in 2007 at age 10. From the day I was diagnosed, I knew I could handle it. Being a kid who loved sports and being active, I told myself that I was never going to let T1D stop me from anything.
With a combination of determination and hard work at managing it, I was able to become stronger and thrive with T1D. I became the high school national record holder in the long jump, 2x NCAA D1 Champion, USA champion, and Olympic trial finalist. It’s important to celebrate my diaversary because it helps me see my positive journey with diabetes. It helps me acknowledge — even though I wish there was a cure — I’m stronger because of it.
My diaversary is my day to be proud of everything I have overcome. This year it was celebrated with friends. In the past, it has been making my favorite meal or going on a hike. I celebrate it because, to me, it’s a happy day because of how strong I have become because of diabetes.
—Kate Hall-Harnden, 25, Maine
“At age 14 at my diagnosis, I was told that I would not live more than 40 years. I am pleased to still be here. I would be lying or making light of it if I said it had been anything but difficult. That is not the same as saying I haven't had a good life, but when I look back, a lot of the moments of happiness have been tinged with extra effort needed to be me.
I always knew when my diagnosis date was, but prior to the online diabetic community, I never really recognised it as a significant date. It forms a basis of recognition that I have survived another year and given that I was told at age 14 that I wouldn't make it to age 50, I do celebrate defying the odds for yet another year.
I try to eat a special meal, but I don't eat sweet things like desserts because I can't be bothered counting the extra carbs for a dessert.”
—Paul Pritchard, 64, North Wales, UK
Celebrating with your village
“My diabetes journey has certainly had its ups and downs, especially early on. I certainly would not have done well without my family. They gave me my injections and were just very supportive and protective of me. After 3-4 years, though, I felt like I knew it all. I stopped checking my blood sugar, (no CGM at this point), and I would tell myself that I knew my blood sugar range based on how I was feeling. I took insulin but more than likely it was not the correct dosage that I needed. When I would go to my check-ups, I would write down random numbers on my logs. When the truth came out, I felt terrible and told myself that it would never happen again.
After that I had a renewed sense of taking care of myself. I started challenging myself to do difficult things. I started running, and I've run 11 full marathons since, climbed mountains (sometimes alone), and have just done some awesome activities that I would not have done ten years ago.
I know I wouldn't be the person I am today without my diagnosis, and it's given me strength, perseverance, responsibility, and work ethic. I think it's important to reflect on the journey that we've been on. My diagnosis is just a few days after my birthday, so one thing I know that I always do to celebrate is eat a big piece of cake, or a donut, or just some type of sugary sweetness!
—Ben Musselman, 31, South Charleston, Ohio
“Tia has always had an incredibly good attitude about her diabetes, and for many years she was somewhat of a poster child for type 1. She got involved in many clinical studies, embraced new technologies, mentored younger children with diabetes, and spoke about diabetes at various conferences. She was very open to sharing her story and showing other people the ropes.
She’s now 22, and she is less involved in the diabetes community but is still very open about it. When I first heard about ‘diabirthdays,’ [diaversary] I was a little surprised by the idea. But when it was explained to me, I totally and wholeheartedly embraced it. It's a celebration and acknowledgment of my daughter's resilience and hard work that she puts into managing her diabetes, all day every day. She bears the brunt of the burden, and we are grateful that she does.
We've celebrated in different ways over the years. The first few years we would have ice skating parties with a whole lot of her dia-buddies and their families. We usually go out to eat at a restaurant of her choice with our friends and then have diabirthday cake with syringes instead of candles. I would always get her a diabetes-related gift or gifts for her diabirthday. It could be diabetes t-shirts (see photo) with sayings such as "World's Greatest Diabetologist'' or "Never Underestimate the Power of a Diabetic."
—Tamar Sofer-Geri, Los Altos, CA (Mom of Tia Geri 22, Israel)