November is national diabetes awareness month, but for those that live with it, every month brings new awareness.
Langford resident Jessica Koch was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 21, about 14 years ago. At the time she had been focusing on a new diet and exercise regime. “When I started losing weight I assumed it was because I was exercising so much,” she recalled in a recent interview with the Gazette.
She attributed her extreme thirst to that exercise and believed her constant need to urinate was a factor of all the water she was drinking. While all are textbook symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, they can be easy to dismiss and as Koch said, “in my head, it all made sense.”
It wasn’t until her sister, whom she was living with at the time, pointed to a diabetic co-worker who had similar symptoms, that Koch started thinking something else might be wrong. “(But) they initially diagnosed me with Type 2,” she said, mostly due to her age at the time.
While it was originally referred to as juvenile diabetes, Type 1 has lost the juvenile descriptor, as it wasn’t representative of the disease or those burdened with it. However, many individuals are still in the dark about the differences between the two types and how they are treated.
In those with Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, eventually eliminating the body’s natural production. Without it, cells cannot absorb glucose, which is needed to produce energy, among other things. Type 1 cannot be prevented and those affected are insulin dependant.
In Type 2 diabetes, formerly referred to as adult-onset or non insulin-dependent diabetes, the body is unable to use insulin the right way and as Koch noted, it can be treated with diet, exercise and/or oral medication.
“I eventually ended up in the hospital for a proper diagnosis,” she said, after becoming painfully aware of the differences. “I had to sort it out on my own and it was okay at first.”
But she remembered hitting a wall after a couple years. “As an adult, there are some places that are better equipped than others,” she said. While many programs are geared towards children that present with the disease, she noted, sometimes there are limited supports in place for adults.
Koch moved to Victoria from Calgary when she was 25 to finish her undergraduate degree. “I had been Type 1 for three or four years,” she recalled. But she didn’t know many people who had been diagnosed in adulthood.
After corresponding with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – now known worldwide simply as JDRF – she worked for the organization as a summer student and has worked or volunteered with them ever since.
The foundation was started by a group of parents in the U.S. more than 40 years ago and has morphed from being mostly a support system to now also focusing on raising funds to find a cure.
“The organization funds really high-level research around the world,” Koch said, adding some of that work is taking place in B.C. and Canada. “There’s no cure yet, but there’s been huge improvements in treatments.”
Koch is now manager of fundraising and development for the Foundation’s Victoria arm, a position she’s held since August. Before that she was working in downtown Victoria as a family lawyer doing litigation.
In 2015, her son was born and “it got to be really tough,” when she returned to work after maternity leave. “Just having an hour or two with him before he went to bed,” she noted, was especially hard.
When she heard about the position at JDRF coming up, she got excited about the opportunity. “I’m obviously passionate about it, being Type 1 myself,” she said, adding the position also allowed her to work from home. “It was an easy change to make for me … I’m able to spend more time with my son.”
To learn more about the JDRF or their fundraising efforts, go to jdrf.ca.