The last memory I have of my grandfather was on Thanksgiving in 1997. I remember his throaty, tired laugh as my dad and uncles washed him in the bathtub. I remember his pale, shriveled face with sunken eyes, his body swimming in blue-striped pajamas. I remember him holding my newborn brother for the first and last time. He was dying of cancer.
I believe in being grateful for what you have and giving to others. When my family goes to North Carolina every other year for Thanksgiving, we always visit my father’s hometown and my grandfather’s grave. The death of my grandfather taught me not to take loved ones for granted. People die. They disappear forever, taken by the forces of nature. All I have left of my grandfather are sparse memories. But visiting Lillington, the tiny community where my father grew up, is a reminder of what the Senter family accomplished, what they began. Seeing the Senter Tractor Company and riding on the brightly painted tractors as a child, I am thankful for what my grandpa started and the people he left in his wake. His death and our tradition of celebrating ancestors have taught me to cherish my family forever and to love them with all my heart.
As a four-year-old, I had never heard of diabetes, and knew almost nothing of the world of chronic disease. I didn’t know that eating spontaneously should be considered a luxury, that a life without endless injections and finger pricks was a blessing. After my diagnosis, those freedoms vanished before I’d even had the chance to truly enjoy them. Despite losing the ability to eat thoughtlessly, and whatever and whenever I wanted, today I am happy just to be alive and able pursue my passions. Although diabetes has scarred my fingertips and my body, it has motivated me to help children battling more debilitating illnesses than mine.
On September 8, 1998, one of the most dedicated, caring men I have ever met, wearing a Winnie the Pooh tie, visited my hospital room. His name was Dr. Weinstein, and he was to be my endocrinologist for the next seven years. Although he moved to the University of Florida in 2005, I interviewed him two years later for a school project I was doing on Glycogen Storage Disease. The information he shared instantly hooked me on helping the patients condemned to daily cornstarch to prevent hypoglycemia and death. Diabetes and Dr. Weinstein made me value my comparatively easy life, and both inspired me to become an endocrinologist and help less fortunate patients.
I believe that limes can make lemonade with enough perseverance and care. It just takes the ability to appreciate them for what they are and not wish that they were lemons instead. I am grateful for my family and the disease that has opened my eyes to suffering. And I hope that I can give back to the world, too.
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