Thatcher Heldring, freelance writer and author focused on Type 1 Diabetes

Thatcher Heldring

Thatcher Heldring is a freelance writer and author focused on type 1 diabetes, environmental education, and other issues related to children and health. He has partnered with clients working on literacy, sustainable communities, youth leadership development, and health policy. He is also the author of four sports novels for young readers and the father of an 11-year-old T1 and a 14-year-old T3. You can reach Thatcher through his website at

Even before the governor closed the schools, I think we realized COVID-19 was going to be a really big deal. Still, for many of us, that was the day it hit home. The virus was going to alter the way we live, work, learn and connect with others - maybe for years to come. 

In the moment, all my wife and I could tell our two sons was that we’d never seen anything like this. At least not on such a global scale. As the days passed and we scrambled for a new normal, I realized there was something strangely familiar about the way our lives had been turned upside-down. We had been here before… as a family.

My younger son Peter, now 10, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease, a few days before his third birthday. T1D is for life. There is no cure. There are no breaks. It cannot be managed with diet and exercise alone. Peter is insulin dependent forever. Those realities are still hard enough to comprehend. But the real weight a family carries after a T1D diagnosis is in the unknown. That’s what feels so familiar right now. 

Sure, at the time of his diagnosis, we had a million medical questions. How does type 1 diabetes affect his body? What are the short-term risks and long-term consequences? What about those unnerving stories we hear, old men losing limbs, or worse? Those were heavy concerns, but we worked through them. With good blood sugar control, Peter can lead a long, healthy life. At its core, the impact of the diagnosis was not about physiological health. 

Diabetes may be rough on the body, but it is merciless on the routine. The diagnosis infected nearly every aspect of our daily lives, forcing us to question everything we had taken for granted. Overnight, all the little things were no longer little things.

Can he still go to school?

Are playdates, camp and sports okay?

What about birthday parties?

What is the new normal going to look like?

We just didn’t know.

Seven years later, here we are asking the same excruciating questions.  Except now, we are now confronting much, much bigger unknowns that will reshape the routines of an entire planet.

Can I leave my home?

Are my loved ones - who I’m far away from - okay?

Do I still have access to my medicines and medical supplies?

What is the new normal going to look like?

Coping with this kind of uncertainty is a test of resilience. We look for any source of positive energy we can find. In our house, exercise, Legos, books, Netflix, soccer and walks in the park have helped. Digging deeper, I believe our family experience with T1D has given us an extra dose of we got this just when we need it most. 

Like Peter’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis, we know COVID-19 will challenge us, and we will grow from it. Like then, this moment reminds us what it means to be human on this earth and to be grateful for everything we have. Like then, we know there are strangers fighting for us on the front lines and in research labs.

And, like then, we find strength in community. Ten-year-old-Peter-Heldring-looking-out-ferry-window

The T1D community is where our family goes for wisdom, laughter and spare insulin pods. These are the people who speak our language, feel our pain and welcome newcomers into the club we never wanted to join but can’t live without. They remind us we are not alone. Today, with COVID-19, we are a community of billions, reminding each other that we are not alone.

Functioning pancreas or not, we are all up against something fierce and mysterious and humbling. We didn’t ask for it, but here we are, standing united, sheltering in place, keeping our distance for the greater good.  We may be in our homes, but we’re a community nonetheless, gathering in the warm glow of text messages, Xbox, Whatsapp and Zoom.

We are human beings. Nothing keeps us up at night like the unknown. That’s been true for a million years, and it’s true now.  Today, as I look for positive energy anywhere I can find it, I tell myself this: we have faced the unknown before - as a family, and as a planet. We can do it again. And, though we are healthier apart, we are stronger together.  We got this.

Living With A Disease

April 17, 2020

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