Thriving Together: A Couple's Diabetes Journey
When Colby Willcut received his official diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, it was somewhat expected. Colby had experienced the classic diabetes symptoms, visited primary care, gotten his blood tested, and was now accompanied by his wife Leahtrice to meet with an endocrinologist. As Dr. Allison Schneider looked through the logs of Colby’s blood sugar meter, one number stood out. It belonged to Leahtrice, who had earlier tested her blood sugar out of curiosity. The reading was over 300 mg/dL, well beyond the ideal range and heading to a dangerous level, so Dr. Schneider recommended she be tested for diabetes right away. After getting bloodwork done at an urgent care, sure enough, Leahtrice was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and she and her husband began navigating their own diabetes journeys together.
For the couple, it was a bizarre coincidence, but one that had potentially saved Leahtrice from the serious complications that untreated type 1 diabetes can cause. Now, Leahtrice and Colby are skilled in their own diabetes maintenance and have learned the nuances of each other’s conditions. As they continue their journey, they are committed to offering their stories to others and helping them cope with this life-changing disease.
Immediately after diagnosis, managing their fears was particularly challenging. “It was a shock,” Leahtrice said, “It was life-shattering for me, because my life went from just being normal - being able to eat whatever I want, do whatever I want - to now having this disease that I have to manage.” Colby’s feelings were similar, “My world kind of came tumbling down. Now I was attached to this ongoing disease.”
But for the pair, with education came more hope, and eventually, a sense of normalcy. “My initial visit with Dr. Schneider alleviated much of my anxiety. We talked about pumps, continuous glucose monitors, things of that nature. She put my fears at ease,” Colby recalls, “Over the years it got way better.” Leahtrice also remembers the compassionate help of the endocrinology team, “I worked closely with the endocrinologists for the first six months of being diagnosed, and I was able to accept that I can be normal. I can still do what I want. I just have to do things a little bit differently.”
Those who are newly diagnosed learn quickly that diabetes maintenance is a team effort. Primary care providers are often the first point of contact in the referral and diagnosis process and take into account their patients’ complex needs and conditions during regular appointments. In addition, endocrinologists, dietitians, and diabetes care and education specialists (DCES) are quick to support newly diagnosed patients, from providing training on continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and insulin pumps, to teaching patients positive coping methods and eating habits. Each team member contributes to helping them live their healthiest life, and Leahtrice and Colby are no strangers to this medical care team philosophy. They spend their days fulfilling crucial team roles as medical assistants at Logan Health: Leahtrice in the Logan Health Nephrology office, and Colby at Logan Health Endocrinology. Both of them appreciate the many opportunities they have to empathize with patients who are experiencing anxiety with a new or ongoing diagnosis.
Their first recommendation is to meet regularly with providers and other team members to learn as much information about their condition as possible. “I would tell them to use the resources that are available,” says Leahtrice. “Make sure to follow-up with your doctors. They’re there to support us and make sure that we’re healthy.” For new diabetes patients, Colby also recommends taking advantage of every opportunity, “Definitely meet with a diabetic educator and an insulin pump trainer. They are perfect resources, and having an endocrinologist in your world is the best thing that you will ever do for your diabetes.”
Another huge aid in the world of diabetes involves technology. When Leahtrice and Colby met with their diabetes specialists, they were introduced to continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and insulin pumps, which proved to be life-changing. “I do volunteer firefighting with the Columbia Falls Fire Department,” Colby says, “and the pump has been a godsend anytime that I need to go out on long, extended fire calls. The pump has a capability feature where I can put it into activities mode and it then allows me to ride a little bit higher on my blood sugar levels, without letting them get dangerously high. My diabetes goes on the back burner, and I can operate to my full capacity.” Leahtrice recommends these tools as well, “I think that people are afraid to make that jump, but once you get used to it, you’ll love the technology.”
With all these resources and a team of experts ready to help, Leahtrice and Colby are able to thrive together with type 1 diabetes. Nothing holds them back from living their life to the fullest, especially when it comes to spending time as a family. In addition to the daily activities that keep them busy, Leahtrice, Colby and their two children take every opportunity to travel, hike, and explore the outdoors together.
While sharing a condition as a couple is quite a unique and challenging experience, it has made Leahtrice and Colby stronger, and has even given them new opportunities to help others. Their story is a reminder that we can all support those affected by diabetes and encourage each other no matter what difficulties we may face. As Leahtrice and Colby continue living life confidently and sharing their story, they hope that countless others can find strength and resilience while on their own diabetes journeys.