Back in September I was asked if I would like to receive and review a copy of Elle & Coach by Stefany Shaheen.
Coach is a D.A.D, a diabetes alert dog. Elle is a CWD (child with diabetes).
I responded to the invitation with candor. While I have not been anti-D.A.D. I haven’t been pro-diabetes alert dogs either. I have a couple of friends who had awful experiences with a particular dealer in DADs and I also had some misgivings regarding how having a service animal for diabetes could potentially label the PWD (person with diabetes) as being disabled. Without knowing where Coach came from I shared that I would be happy to read the book and provided that Coach didn’t come from a particular dealer I would be happy to share my thoughts.
I received my copy of Elle & Coach in September. It happen to come on a day I wasn’t scheduled to work and for a few hours I devoured the first half of the story. However, before I started reading I flipped through the book until I came to the chapter that revealed where Coach had come from; the organization that trained Coach was not the dealer I am familiar with so I was happy to invest my time in learning about Elle, her family and her best friend Coach. Life, a new school year, work, and the beginning of the holiday season meant less time to read and write blog posts so here I am a few days into December finally sitting down to share my thoughts about Elle & Coach.
Stefany writes in a way that allows the reader to believe she (Stefany) is sitting at the kitchen table sharing her story over a cup of tea. Stefany begins her story with something anyone who has diabetes or has a child with diabetes can relate to, the diagnosis story. While all diagnosis stories have unique circumstances they are also very similar to each other. Something isn’t right, there is excessive thirst, exhaustion, excessive urination, changes in behavior or attitude and often times the belief that the person about to be diagnosed has a stomach bug or some other minor illness. For parents of children diagnosed one or both parents often just know something isn’t right. Some diagnosis stories coincide with other events such as a family vacation or a holiday while other stories begin on a random weekday and culminate in an extended hospital stay. Regardless of what time of year, the location of the diagnosis, the age of the person diagnosed or other life circumstances of the family, one thing remains the same for all those with a diagnosis story – life changes for everyone involved and a new normal emerges.
As a mother of 3 kids diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes I am no stranger to diagnosis stories and while the two subsequent diagnosis were less eventful than my youngest sons diagnosis (the first child diagnosed) I remember vividly every moment of each. Still the first diagnosis; the one that landed my son in the ER where he lost consciousness, was revived and stayed 5 days in a room in the same hospital wing as children with cancer while his dad and I learned about diabetes and how to keep our 2-year-old alive, is the diagnosis I relived as I read Elle’s diagnosis story. Stefany shares her experiences in the hospital with Elle in a way that allows all readers, regardless of past experiences, to experience the fear, pain and exasperation of learning about diabetes and how to keep a child alive after diagnosis. I tell you this because this book isn’t just a book for people ‘in the know’ to read and relive. It is a book that will allow extended family, friends, neighbors and the general public a better understanding of what it is to manage diabetes. It is never a pity party or a plea for sympathy. It is a story of a brave and clever girl diagnosed with a life long chronic disease that while difficult to manage is manageable and as the reader continues on through the book he/she will understand that diabetes doesn’t restrict what can be done – it just changes how things are done.
Oops – I got ahead of myself, back to the story.
I believe the most powerful moments of each persons life typically begin with “me too”.
I didn’t count the number of ‘me too’ moments in this book but I assure you there are many, including how for parents of cwd and pwd – diabetes is often the last thing we think about before bed and the first thing we think about in the morning. Then there are the daily diabetes reminders and the fear that our questions as parents are seen as nagging. No parent wants to be the nagging parent and we all wonder if we nag too much or not enough. Since I have a fully functional pancreas I can’t speak for pwd but I know as a parent I am constantly asking if I am doing enough, do I have the best tools for my child(ren), do I do too much, will they be safe, etc. I am guessing many adults with diabetes ask the same questions of themselves. Stefany’s questioning of her own support, the tools she and Elle used to manage diabetes and some unique events, lead her to research diabetes alert dogs.
I don’t want to tell you where Elle and her family got Coach. I really want you to read the story for yourself because I don’t want to take away from the moments in the story you will experience the same joy and relief that I did while reading it.
I will say that while I still have concerns regarding diabetes alert dogs being the best option for all pwd or cwd I do feel Coach has been a priceless addition to the Shaheen family.
A pet is a full-time job. Well, maybe not all pets – cats are pretty self-sufficient and I’m pretty sure a fish won’t wake you up in the early morning for a walk, but a dog is a huge commitment. A service dog is an even larger commitment because the dog needs to work. It can’t be a part-time service companion and Elle agrees. If you are considering a diabetes alert dog or any service dog for the many reasons dogs are trained to be service animals, it is another reason to read Elle & Coach.
You can pick up a copy of Elle & Coach at a bookstore near you or order a copy online at Amazon.
You can also read more about Elle & Coach on their Facebook page.
Diabetes is never a one-size-fits-all disease. Every person, every child, diagnosed will have different experiences. There is no magic formula that allows for perfect diabetes management. What worked last year, last month, last week may not work tomorrow. The human body is ever-changing. Our life circumstances are ever-changing. I believe the best way to approach diabetes care is acknowledging the ebb and flow of it all and finding the resources that best fit your family and life. For some that may be a CGM (continuous glucose monitor), for others it may be a huggable, playful companion that has your back. It could also be that having an endless stream of numbers or a pet (service dog) that has to be fed, walked, and with you always may be too much. The point is – everyone is different and the best thing we can do for each other is respect the choices of our brothers and sisters in the diabetes community and beyond.
Act Justly, Live honorably, Walk Humbly and Love Fiercely