Hopes, dreams and adventures with diabetes

As part of Diabetes Awareness Month, St. Joseph’s presents the annual Diabetes Half Century Awards to patients marking 50 years of living with insulin-dependent diabetes. Among this year’s recipients is Bernice Jardine. While the illness came with hardship and sacrifice for her family in the early years, it did not stop Bernice from embarking on adventures and fulfilling her dreams. 

Growing up with type 1 diabetes 51 years ago in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Bernice Jardine was unaware of the sacrifices her family must have made for her. The second youngest of six children, and with her father stationed at an airforce base away from home, Bernice’s diabetes would have added significant work and worry for her mom. 

The only fruit Bernice saw came in cans – and the sugar-free options would have cost a small fortune at a time when money was tight. 

“In retrospect, I think of the hardship it must have been.”

Diabetes Half Century Awards

Today, Bernice, having lived well with diabetes for just over five decades, is among the 2019 recipients of the Diabetes Half Century Awards being presented on Nov. 1 at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The awards are presented annually by St. Joseph’s and Novo Nordisk Canada Inc. Patients with insulin-dependent diabetes who reach 50 years since their diagnosis are nominated by their endocrinologist.

They are honoured for their personal commitment and diligence in looking after their health, and for acting as a role model to all those living with the condition. Each recipient receives a print of London’s Banting House and a special medal to commemorate their achievement. 

The hardship of living with diabetes

Just before her 12th birthday, Bernice’s weight plummeted and she recalls insatiable hunger and thirst. Her mother, she presumes, was likely too busy to think anything of it, until she found Bernice up all night eating and drinking. She was taken to the doctor and immediately hospitalized.

“The doctor told my mom I would live until my late teens or early twenties – if I was lucky. I didn’t think that sounded so bad. I can’t imagine what my mother thought.”

At Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s, a brand new diabetes education program for inpatients had just begun. Bernice was the program’s first patient – and the only patient for the week she spent in hospital. 

“I was scared. They taught me how to give myself injections using an orange and how to test my urine with urine strips. I remember returning home and celebrating my 13th birthday. Instead of my mom’s usual chocolate cake, she made me an angel food cake with whipped cream. I cried and cried.”

To her credit, Bernice’s mom never limited her activities, and neither did she.  For the most part, it worked out well, except for that one silly experiment with beer in her early twenties that landed her in a coma and being given last rites in hospital. She hasn’t drunk beer since. 

Becoming a nurse

Bernice became a nurse – a profession that, on sheer whim, would bring her to London. 

“I was working nights and not happy about it. I opened up a map of Canada, closed my eyes and decided that wherever I placed my finger, I would go. My finger landed on London, Ontario. Might have well have been Africa.  I had never been out of Newfoundland.”

Her brother drove her the 3,000 kilometres to London, and her sister, who was with the RCMP, used connections to find her a place to live. For the next 37 years, Bernice worked as nurse at St. Joseph’s and University hospitals. 

Living a wonderful life

Marveling at how far diabetes management has come, Bernice says accuracy in measuring blood sugar levels didn’t exist when she was young. Today, not even finger pricks are necessary for precise blood glucose readings. Using a revolutionary flash glucose monitoring system, a painless, one-second scan gives Bernice the information she needs to stay on track. 

If there is anything others can take from her 51-year journey, it’s reassurance that diabetes need not derail hopes, dreams and adventures, says the 63-year-old.  

“When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you think ‘this is it, this is the end. I can’t live a normal life.’ It’s not true. Not only can you live a normal life, you can live a wonderful life.”

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