Mama, What's a Pancreas?

Talking to my daughter about diabetes.

DeannaBy Deanna Glick

Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

December 2012 — Count it among the things you think you'll never hear as a parent:

"Mama, what's a pancreas?"

My daughter asked me that very question recently. She had no idea of the significance.

"Where'd you hear about a pancreas, sweetie?"

"School. When we learned about the body. We learned about the gall bladder, too."

Ah yes, that's right. She actually called me a "Smarty Gall Bladder" the other day in an odd attempt to get creative on the smarty pants clich.

So, I tell her. It's an organ in the body that makes insulin. Insulin is something you need to make your food into energy so that you can run around and do things.

"And your pancreas doesn't work," she says.

"That's right. Mommy's pancreas doesn't work," I say.

Some may consider a chat about internal organs with a 6-year-old a bit odd. But they haven't met my daughter. Everything's fair game when it comes to discussion topics. She devours information and thrives on it. She's growing up.

When I first began writing this column, my daughter was just a babe. I would chronicle the challenges of managing diabetes while meeting this little being's demands. She was barely speaking or walking let alone learning and talking about internal organs. Diabetes was invisible and unknown to her. And over the years, that has changed.

Along with the awareness and understanding of my illness my daughter has acquired has come another change I've noticed recently. My little girl — once a great detriment to diabetes management — has slowly become my greatest source of support. It comes in the form of wondering out loud if I'm having too many marshmallows in my hot cocoa or if I need to pick up my "medicine" from the pharmacy. Sometimes it comes in the form of suggesting we do some exercise: on the balance balls in the living room, the expansive hill cascading down from our mountaintop cottage, or the stretch of Appalachian Trail across the road.

This comes at a time when I've lost much of the support I once had. My mom is gone. I've recently moved to a new neighborhood as a result of my divorce. And, well, I'm going through a divorce. As hard as it is to watch the baby days disappear into the past, my daughter's maturity is rather timely.

But I certainly don't want to lean on my little one. The role of a child most certainly should not be one of supporting her parents. But the support I glean from her is not the conventional sort. It's more natural and effortless. It comes in the midst of her simply being her and saying what's on her mind at the time. And in a world of so many things scheduled and deliberate, from basal rates to doctor appointments, her style of support becomes so refreshing and welcome. Yet another reason to feel thankful every day that she's in my life.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.


Last Modified Date: July 17, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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