When you think about T1D, it doesn’t often conjure up positive emotions. There is a lot of work and stress associated with the disease. Sometimes it gets overwhelming. There are so many aspects to learn about and it’s extremely involved. But there are some hidden treasures in the T1D world whose purpose is to help and brighten up your experience. Let me introduce you to The Insulin Gang.
What is the Insulin Gang?
Founded in the UK, The Insulin Gang is a T1 support group created by Donna Hall. She began the group when her then 9 year old daughter was diagnosed with T1D.
Unlike all of the other support groups on FB, the Insulin Gang has a group of very special bears who are trying to spend time with as many T1D children as possible.
Sugar, Pokey, Lancelot and their friends travel all around the world to visit with T1 families. There are bears in Australia, America, Iceland, Portugal, Northern Ireland, the UK, Africa and more.
50 bears in total (not all bears as you’ll see by our visit), some named with diabetes-related terms like “Frederick”, “Banting” (the doctor who discovered insulin), or Sugar. Other bears are named in memory of people.
They each travel with a journal so that you can document your visit. They like to stay with each family for about a month, so you have lots of time to show them around!!
Why did the Travelling Bears program start?
Often, children are struggling with their diabetes management or they feel alone. The Travelling Bears help them to feel part of a community. They can see the stories of other people, all managing the same health condition.
Some children have never talked about their T1D. With a visit from their bear, these children have stood up in class and talked about their diabetes. Others have been braver with injections and cannula changes.
It’s really turned out to be quite a significant visit for many children.
What do you do with your bear?
The bears are sent from family to family by mail. When you get your bear, it also comes with a journal.
You can write in the journal daily, or whenever you do something noteworthy with your bear. Your child can write or you can write for them. You may want to add pictures or drawings of your adventures as well.
People document everything with their bears. It can be something as simple as going to a doctor appointment or snuggling with the bear at night. It can be as exciting as going to a fair or on a vacation with your new stuffed companion.
The bears often get to meet teachers and diabetic consultants, they’ve been to beauty pageants, and met celebrities like the wonderful Robert Downey Jr (who thought the Travelling Bears program was a wonderful idea.)
The bears get taken on vacations and one even recently went for a charity trek in Peru.
Our visit with Spike
Spike came to visit us during the summer. All of my kids were excited to have him. He was introduced to Rufus and a bunch of my kids other “stuffies”.
As you can see, Spike is a unicorn, not a bear. Unicorns have a special meaning in the T1D world, so that was extra cool!
We baked cupcakes with Spike, went blackberry picking, and fed some Stellars Jays.
We went to the beach, Goldstream Provincial Park, and he came along on our endo visit.
I was surprised to find that my son slept with him every night. (He’s 8, and doesn’t really sleep with stuffed animals much anymore). We took lots of pictures and Jordan wrote about our adventures in Spike’s journal.
It was really fun taking Spike around with us. And it was heartwarming to find out that we were going to get him to the next family in time for their child’s diaversary!!
Tips and pointers
- Take care of your bear. These bears are very special. Try not to lose the bear or its journal. Yes, they can be replaced, but a T1 family created this program on their own time and with their own money. Families like to read what their bear has been up to. When a bear or its journal has to be replaced, that breaks the chain and there may be less of a community feel.
- Update frequently. As new families like to read the journal, previous families like to follow along in their bear’s adventures after their visit is over. Make sure to post updates in the Facebook group and to write frequent journal entries to make the experience more special for your family as well as others.
- Use the bear to help with fears. Your bear can be a tool for your child. If you’re having issues with injections or doctor visits, use your bear to help calm or distract your child.
- Send with care. There aren’t really rules about how to send your bear to the next family. But I personally felt a lot better having a tracking number just in case it got lost. I also paid for quicker shipping. This isn’t a requirement by any means, but I wanted our “bear” to spend as much time with families as possible, not travelling from place to place. Both of these options cost more and are not necessary, but for me, I wanted to make sure the bear was taken care of (as I’m sure most people do).
If your child is having a hard time with their T1D…
Consider a visit from a travelling bear.
Your child can see the adventures other T1 children have had with the bear.
It can be a great distraction from the 24/7-ness of T1D to have a new friend to show around and take care of.
And your child may find comfort in the snuggles from a soft, silent, understanding companion.
From Donna, the creator of the Travelling Bears:
Diabetes can be a relentless condition at times and it’s a very adult condition for a child to manage, any sense of community, any reminder that they are not alone, and that they can and will achieve all manner of things is important.
T1 is an autoimmune condition not associated with lifestyle or diet although often it comes with misconceptions and ignorance. People with the condition need to count carbohydrates with every meal and inject insulin accordingly plus need to test their blood sugar throughout the day and often the night. Many variables affect the blood sugars including hormones, illness, and stress.
I am proud to run the Travelling Bears but very proud to be part of the diabetic community, it’s so close-knit and supportive.
Thank you to everyone who submitted photos for this post! And a huge thank you to Donna Hall, who created this fantastic program!!
Donna is currently looking for more UK based families to go on the waiting list. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or look for the Adventures of the Insulin Gang Travelling Bears on Facebook.
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