On one of her first nights of college, animal science freshman Lexie Hazelton’s blood sugar dropped while she was sleeping. After her parents got an automatic notification of her low blood sugar, they tried calling her repeatedly to wake her up. With no response from Hazelton, her parents called the police, who showed up at her Cerro Vista Apartment to make sure she was okay.
Hazelton, from Wasco, Calif., relied on her parents to help her manage her Type 1 diabetes since she was diagnosed nine years ago. Now, she’s learning to control it on her own while she’s at Cal Poly.
“Before I came, I was like, ‘I got this, it’s gonna be okay,’” Hazelton said. “But then I got here and realized how much I relied on my parents. It was a little bit scary.”
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, a hormone that is needed to store glucose in people’s muscles and organs. When the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, glucose can get into the bloodstream and cause many problems. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 is irreversible and never goes away.
Diabetics like Hazelton test their blood sugar multiple times daily, give themselves insulin through injections or insulin pumps, and constantly have to make sure they correctly count carbohydrates in their meals in order to avoid incidents of low blood sugar or high blood sugar, both of which can send them to the hospital.
Hazelton said the biggest difficulty she’s faced so far is going low in the middle of the night. Though some diabetics are woken up by their hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) symptoms, Hazelton is not.
“My parents would come to check on me in the middle of the night just to make sure my sugar wasn’t low,” Hazelton said. “Somehow they knew every time they checked on me.”
Hazelton also had to make some adjustments to her insulin regimen when she started school, especially during Week of Welcome. She’s had to adapt to her new lifestyle as a college student.
“When I first got here, I had to take less insulin because I was doing way more activity than I had ever done with all of the hills and the walking,” Hazelton said. “I messaged my doctor about that, so that was a little bit of an adjustment … now, I’m just back to normal so I’m pretty much doing the same, but just checking a lot because the physical activity does tend to make me go lower at times.”
Adjusting and adapting to the college lifestyle is a common difficulty among Type 1 diabetics. Software engineering sophomore Michael Pangburn also lives with Type 1 diabetes and said it was difficult to adapt to a new schedule and routine that his body wasn’t used to during his first year at Cal Poly.
“Diabetes is such a scheduled, dependent disease that when things get switched up a lot, adjustments need to be made,” Pangburn said. “You may not be eating at the same time that you did before or exercising at the same times … Each quarter, I had to make a couple tweaks as my schedule changed.”
Pangburn also had some advice for students dealing with Type 1 diabetes on campus.
“Being as adaptable as possible helps,” Pangburn said. “It’s also the little things, like making sure you always have ‘low’ supplies in your backpack … Cal Poly has a diabetes club … that’s a good resource for sure. Also establish contact with the [Disability Resource Center] so you have those resources available to you.”
Pangburn lived in the Cerro Vista Apartments during his first year at Cal Poly, like Hazelton does now. Hazelton said she thinks living in the apartments makes her diabetes management easier.
“I have a fridge, so I can keep my insulin cold and I can keep a lot of juices around and all of my snacks,” Hazelton said. “I feel like if I wasn’t living in Cerro, I would be having a more difficult time, just because I do have to have a lot of food available because I never know when I’m gonna go low.”
Campus Dining’s registered dietitian Megan Coats had some recommendations for diabetic students who have to purchase food on campus.
“The top concern for those with diabetes is knowing how many carbohydrates are in foods in order to regulate their blood sugar with insulin,” Coats wrote in an email. “Those with Type 1 diabetes become experts in estimating the carbohydrates in foods; however, dining does have an online nutrition calculator that lists the amount of carbohydrates in all its food that is offered.”
Though dealing with diabetes can be difficult at times, Hazelton doesn’t let it control her life.
“I think of diabetes as an obstacle … I think most people think about it like that,” Hazelton said. “But an obstacle is just a bump in the road, so I’m not gonna let that obstacle define who I am as a person. I’m going to define it.”