A Dose of Comfort




photo by Natalie Haywood

photo by Natalie Haywood

People offer support to each other in a time of need. A basic human trait, kindness can be a salve during a difficult period. For people with type 1 diabetes, that time of need is ongoing, 24 hours a day. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Without insulin to allow glucose into cells to produce energy, sugar can build up in the bloodstream, and life-threatening situations can occur.

The Sugar Mommas of Texarkana understand the management of type 1 diabetes because they live it every day. As the mothers of children with diabetes, these women learn quickly how to provide insulin to their children, monitor their symptoms, and watch for complications. These women are also there for each other as an online support group. Their Facebook group was started in 2015 by Melanie Allen, Robin Hilton, and Emily Ransom. These mothers connected immediately, as they had been navigating the diabetic ups and downs of their children, now all in their twenties. Realizing the need for other parents to communicate, they launched the Facebook group, which has 48 members currently.

The Facebook group provides an outlet “to talk to each other and ask questions,” explains Emily. Mothers post everything from questions about insurance and the availability of extra supplies to Thanksgiving carb counts, healthy recipes, and even an Elf on the Shelf with insulin pods. Robin adds, “So many people think that our children will grow out of it; that it’s a kid’s disease, but it’s not.” Laura Spicher can attest that there is no cure. She’s a member of the group who is a diabetic mom, and offers the perspective of having grown up with the disease since she was diagnosed at age 12. “I teach second grade and carry two insulin pens,” Laura states. “I can show the side of becoming a mother. I’ve gone through two planned pregnancies, and despite being high risk, I delivered healthy babies (who are not diabetic). I’ve juggled blood sugar with midnight feedings.”

Emily’s stepson, Coyt, was diagnosed in 2000 at the age of 18 months. When she took on the role of stepmom, she had to learn to inject insulin into an orange for practice. Mixing insulin in a syringe was then the norm, while now many people use an insulin pump and CGM (continuous glucose monitor), which comes as close to an artificial pancreas as technology has yet developed. Staying aware of and comparing these different innovations is one of the uses of the Sugar Mommas Facebook group.

The positive support that Sugar Mommas offers is invaluable. “We do try to meet twice a year, but it’s better to shoot messages through the group,” says Ali Deal, mother to John Morris. “We’re getting good at answering questions.” The more seasoned mothers with older children can reassure the ones with more recent diagnoses. Melanie Allen, whose daughter, Kelsi, is 22, has been there since the beginning. “This is a great source of support for moms,” she states. Kristi Brown, who has navigated diabetes since her daughter Kamryn’s diagnosis in 2010, agrees. “I think that this group is a way for all of us to feel normal in an abnormal situation.”

Heather Doddy, whose 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed in October 2016, remarks about the instant connection of group members. “Type 1 diabetics in Texarkana are a small group, and you feel like you’re all alone. Larger cities have endocrinologists, diabetes walks, etc. But, this is a place to help you or to complain to, where everyone has been in your shoes.” “If you need to vent, Sugar Mommas provides fantastic support,” concurs Brandy Debenport, mother to 8-year-old Natalie, who was diagnosed in 2015. “You don’t know this until you’ve lived it.”

As serious as type 1 diabetes is, children with the disease live full lives. Seventeen-year- old Mariah Coleman was crowned Homecoming Queen at Liberty-Eylau High School this fall. She is an active teenager who plays softball, volleyball, basketball, and runs track while managing four insulin shots daily. Mariah’s mother, Nidia, comments that “it’s been more of a mental struggle for Mariah and me. Sugar Mommas gives strong support to build our mental outlook.” Robin Hilton’s daughter, Kayce, a 21-year-old at SAU, recently completed an internship as a Walt Disney World cast member.

Like their moms, the Sugar Mommas’ children have the opportunity to interact with each other at the K.I.D.S. summer camp at Camp Preston Hunt. K.I.D.S. stands for Kids Improving Diabetes Safely. In its 27th year, this week-long free day camp allows children with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to experience typical camp activities in a safe setting with qualified medical professionals on staff. “The majority of staff have children with diabetes or were former campers themselves,” explains Mary Jackson, camp director. Mary’s son, Mark, had attended diabetic residential camps elsewhere in Texas and Arkansas, and wanted to have a similar experience in Texarkana. Through Mark’s Boy Scouts leader, the first session was offered in the summer of 1993 with 11 campers. These days, 45-50 children attend. “The camp is funded entirely through community donations, with the Kiwanis Club as our biggest sponsor,” Mary states. “It’s a great way to make lifelong friends.”

The Sugar Mommas share a unique perspective on motherhood, and offer each other love, support, and a place to release their concerns and questions. “Our forum gives people a little peace that they’ll make it through,” Emily Ransom explains. In the wide world of parenting, this little group provides a big dose of comfort.