Living with diabetes can sometimes feel like a lonely disease – but one Public Health student is making strides to ensure that all students with diabetes are not alone – and have the support they need on campus.
Samantha Cueva recently created the Type 1 Beavers Club– a student-led organization aimed at supporting, educating and providing resources to those with and without diabetes.
“In high school, students have their parents’ supervision, their pediatrician and the safety net of their high school nurse,” Samantha says. “Suddenly, when they come to college they’re on their own, they’re doing their own grocery shopping, they’re going to parties and eating on campus and they don’t have the same resources as before. This club will help provide those resources and the support on campus that will allow students to take better care of their diabetes.”
The club meets once a month and provides a safe place for students, their peers, community members, families and loved ones to talk about the struggles those with diabetes face on a daily basis, what to do in case of an emergency, exercise techniques, healthy eating tips and how to manage diabetes, among a variety of topics. Guest speakers including Nutrition and Exercise and Sport Science faculty also address these topics at meetings.
“It’s fun,” she says. “You definitely get to talk about stuff that neither your friends nor family can fully understand because they aren’t experiencing it. It’s fun talking to other people who know exactly what you’re going through. You’re able to open up.”
- Type 1 Beavers is hosting a discussion on the effects and benefits of physical activity for diabetes from 4 – 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Plageman Student Health Center room 322. Stay afterward for a free yoga session.
- Everyone is welcome to meet elite Ironman triathlete and member of the U.S. National Team, Jay Hewitt, as he shares his experience with diabetes and motivates others to overcome their adversities from 6 -7 p.m. Friday, May 17, at Withycombe Hall room 109.
- Join Type 1 Beavers for the Dash for Diabetes 5K Walk/Run at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at the Native American Longhouse. The event is free and will include free health and blood pressure screenings for type 2 diabetes. Registration begins at 9 a.m.
In addition to the meetings, club members participated in the Healthy Community Fair and are planning several upcoming events for OSU Diabetes Awareness Week (see event details to the right).
Samantha, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 18, initially created Type 1 Beavers as part of an assignment to design a health promotion program for a public health course she took last summer with Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell.
She came up with the idea after receiving an email from Student Health Services regarding interest in starting a diabetes support group. Samantha ran with the idea, researched the topic and came up with Type 1 Beavers. She’s currently working to develop the club as part of her internship with Student Health Services.
“I started talking to others on campus and realized that most people with diabetes say they’ve never met other diabetics,” Samantha said. “That’s when I realized there was a great need on campus for the support group, and I wanted to be the one to make sure students received the help they needed.”
Samantha says one of her personal struggles was finding people who understood what diabetes was – and being comfortable with herself having the disease.
“I used to hide it; I used to go into the bathroom to check my blood sugars or give shots,” she says. “I was a little bit in denial the first year or two in college, but I finally realized it’s not something to be ashamed of. I no longer hide it, and I make sure my friends, family and teachers are all aware of it. It makes me unique, it makes me who I am, and I’m proud of that.”
Samantha describes taking care of her diabetes as a 24/7 job – it’s something she never gets a break from, and her body never lets her forget.
“I wake up, I test my blood sugar,” she says. “If it’s high, I have to give myself insulin; if it’s low, I have to eat some sugar.”
But all her work controlling the disease didn’t come naturally. Samantha’s continually learning through trial and error and always educating herself as much as she can – something she suggests everyone works on doing.
Part of the club’s goal is to make others aware of what’s needed if you’re high or low, and the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
“A lot of people don’t understand how your sugars react to different things,” she says. “It’s really important for people to know basic information such as insulin lowers your sugar and food has sugar, which makes it higher.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, only 5 percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. It’s an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce insulin – a hormone needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes – the American Diabetes Association reports millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. With type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, as well as seniors.
Everyone can react differently when experiencing high or lows, but Samantha says for her, a low blood sugar count makes her anxious and gittery, and a high blood sugar count means she gets very sick. One resource that has been helpful to her at Oregon State has been the Student Health Services.
“My first year here I remember experiencing low blood sugar in the middle of class and I didn’t have money to buy juice or food,” she says. “I went to two different food stands on campus asking if I can have juice and they said, ‘Sorry, you need to buy it.’ I ran to Student Health Services and they immediately sat me down and gave me juice and crackers for free. All they wanted to do was make sure I was OK. That’s what they do. It was good to know that if anything was going to happen, that’s where I could go.”
Samantha uses her personal stories as examples of the stresses students with diabetes can face on a daily basis. She currently serves as a motivational speaker providing information about Type 1 Beavers and diabetes in general as part of the OSU Dietitian Lynn Cordes’ Diabetes 101 presentations in Oregon State classes.
“After learning about diabetes from the dietitian, I come in and give the personal experience so students can see how it actually applies,” she says.
Samantha plans on using the knowledge and experience she’s gained during her time as Type 1 Beavers club president and at the Student Health Services internship in her future career where she hopes to develop programs to improve people’s lives – whether that’s with diabetes, obesity prevention or HIV/STI prevention.
“I wear my insulin pump with pride and I hope that through this new club, every student with diabetes will feel the same way,” she says. “This has been such a great experience so far, meeting new people, helping others and creating the foundation of this club that will be passed on for years to come.”