We can be heroes

Bonnie Belec
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Singer George Canyon. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

John Porter has struggled with the highs and lows of Type 1 diabetes for 25 years, but he said the latest development blindsided him.

His 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed just before Easter.

“It was March 29 actually. It was very hard. Not something we choose, obviously, but she was drinking a lot and always thirsty, so I said we better check your sugars,” Porter said Monday evening during the George Canyon & Friends Diabetes Heroes Tour 2012.

“She grew up with it and knows all about it, living with me since she was born. So we checked her sugars and they were high and brought her to the Janeway and sure enough, on to four needles a day,” he said.

Porter, who is in his 40s, said he took his family to the show — which uses music and stories of inspiration to help instil perseverance and pride in people living with Type 1 diabetes — so Hannah could hear for herself how young people are not letting diabetes control their lives.

“For me, being the age I am, it doesn’t make a difference because I know what I can and cannot do and what I’m comfortable with. But this is great for children who can look up on the stage and see these young people who are ECMA award winners, hockey players, snowboarders, or pilots and it gives them the feeling, ‘I can be whatever I want to be. … Yes it is a crutch, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living your life as long as you are within your right frame of mind and you control your diabetes,” he said.

His 10-year-old is mature beyond her young years and piped up that diabetes will not control her life. She said she will control it.

Hannah said watching her father take care of himself has taught her what to do and she will do whatever it is she wants to do in life. But for now, she was looking forward to hearing from the heroes on tour — Jordan DePape, Lindsey Carswell and Mike Fisher — and enjoying the event.

“I think this is a great idea,” she said at the Majestic in St. John’s. “It gives people with Type 1 the opportunity to enjoy themselves and watch other people with diabetes and other people onstage and show that this isn’t going to take over our whole lives,” she said.

Living with diabetes

While Canyon was the main reason 18-year-old Jessica Way of Harbour Grace made the trek to St. John’s Monday night, she said she came for the whole package.

Since she has lived with diabetes since she was eight, she said, she felt inspired by the young heroes and wanted to see them and hear their stories.

And that is basically the message of the tour according to Shawn Shepherd, who heads up the Facebook site for the tour. He said the goal is to provide hope and inspiration for people living with Type 1 diabetes.

“Everybody on the tour shares their own story of how they uniquely live well with diabetes, from playing junior hockey, to being a country music star to Joe (Solowiejczyk), who is an educator. I think we all need hope and inspiration to breathe life into diabetes education. That’s really the goal of the tour to inspire people. If one person here can hear a story that will really change their life, that’s what this is all about,” he said.

Before Canyon took to the stage, Solowiejczyk, sporting a sou’wester, said he believes he has injected himself 99,623 times during his 51 years as a diabetic. “For the most part,” he said, before swallowing a glass of water to prove all those needles did not make him leak, “we all hate diabetes except when we’re in a room full of people who share the same feelings. We’re all in this together.”

It took a while for the crowd to warm up, but by the end of the night people were laughing, singing and clapping to some of Canyon’s greatest hits — and not so greatest hits, such as “The Fart Song.”

And while “The Fart Song” might not be a hit, it was certainly the song that got the most attention from the children.

Canyon said he thought it was an appropriate tune to do given the company, and told the audience if they wanted to hear it all they would have to buy the CD.

Canyon speaks

Having lived with Type 1 diabetes for the past 22 years, the Nova Scotian country singer poured out his deepest feelings about the disease, in which the pancreas does not produce insulin. This causes glucose to build up in the blood instead of being used for energy.

“I wake up in the morning and when my sugars are 16, I’m like, why? I ask my endocrinologist and he says we have no idea. Type 1 is its own animal. My first instinct is to throw down my meter, run it over and never check my sugars again. It can be so frustrating,” he told the crowd.

“But we have to have a positive frame of mind. Parents, you have to set goals and never discipline your children for their surges. Help them set goals, reach them and it will instil pride and responsibility in them.”

DePape, Carswell and Fisher also shared their stories of feeling despair and devastation when they were first diagnosed. Each told the audience they felt at the time their lives were over and it took perseverance and strength to get past it.

DePape, a 20-year-old right winger for the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers, said he thought he’d never play hockey again, but he overcame the feelings of hopelessness and now it is he who controls his life, he said, not diabetes.

Carswell’s challenges are a little different as she is working towards being a pilot. She has to follow strict guidelines set down by Transport Canada, checking her blood sugar levels before flying and keeping them within a tight target. Carswell said she takes her disease seriously but it won’t stop her from reaching her goals.

When Fisher, a 24-year-old competitive snowboarder, took to the stage he told the crowd how his life was double-whammied in his 18th year. He said he was riding a motorcycle when a car pulled a U-turn in front of him, knocking him off the bike and causing him to slide into the car. His right leg had to be amputated. Less than a year later he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“So for those of you who ask ‘why me,’ I get it. It was the second ‘why me’ in roughly a year and a half.”

This is the second year for the tour which makes its way across five provinces, visiting five cities in five days. It began in St. John’s and wraps up in Prince George, B.C. Friday.

The next event on the Type 1 diabetes calendar is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s annual fundraising walk scheduled for June 10 at the North Bank Lodge in Pippy Park. Check the website for details www.jdrf.ca/walk.

bbelec@the telegram.com

Organizations: Western Hockey League, Transport Canada, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation North Bank Lodge

Geographic location: Prince George, Pippy Park

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Recent comments

  • barb
    May 17, 2012 - 11:05

    I have been fortunate to have met many of these heros at other events and have heard their stories before. Monday night still moved and inspired me, my son who has had Type 1 diabetes for 12 years as well as my step-daughter who does not have any other connection with diabetes. Animas, their partner and the "heroes" did the Canadian diabetes community proud!

  • Veronica
    May 16, 2012 - 11:38

    The article is GREAT!! My son was diagnosed one year ago and it's a constant learning experience. It is a pleasure to have someone like Mr. Canyon as spokesperson for this cause. Since I am also Chair to the local TELUS Walk to Cure Diabetes, I thought that I should point out that the link does not work properly because of the period that was included at the end of the website address. Would it be possible to remove the period from the address and repost? Otherwise, once readers access the link, they only need remove the period, via backspace, and refresh the page. And voilà, the page will appear :-) Thank you for your support and consideration!!