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 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.”
Just before her 12th birthday, Bernice’s weight plummeted and she recalls insatiable hunger and thirst. When her mother found Bernice up at night eating and drinking, she was taken to the doctor and immediately hospitalized. They were told she live until late teens or early twenties – if she was lucky.
At Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s, a diabetes education program for inpatients had just begun. Bernice was the program’s first patient.
“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.
Bernice became a nurse – a profession that, on sheer whim, would bring her to London. For the next 37 years, she worked at St. Joseph’s and University hospitals. If there is anything others can take from her 52-year journey, it’s reassurance that diabetes need not derail hopes, dreams and adventures, says the 65-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.”