Getting on Board with T1D

Lauren Rapaport
Featured Podcast Episode
June 8, 2023

Five years ago, I went on the best vacation of my life. A group of friends that have maritime training invited me to go sailing around the islands of Thailand with them. They chartered three catamarans and away we went, creating our own version of yacht week. It was absolutely magical! So when those friends reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to join them for another sailing trip this May, this time in the British Virgin Islands, I jumped at the opportunity!

Wait a minute… five years ago, I did not have type one diabetes. I was diagnosed in 2021, about a year and a half ago. Since then, with the help of Risely 1:1 coaching and a lot of support from my friends, family and the diabetes community, I have learned how to make T1D a part of my normal routine and not let it inhibit my lifestyle.But… this trip would mean living on a boat for 7 days and that presented many new challenges that were intimidating! After an enthusiastic RSVP, a deposit to reserve my space, and an order for more new bikinis than was necessary, the realization that this trip could be much harder with diabetes suddenly started to sink in.

The scary realities that I was facing:

  • We’ll tie rafts to the edge of the boat when we’re anchored. How will I keep an eye on my Dexcom readings if I’m floating in the water, out of range of transmission to my cell phone, for hours at a time?
  • We’ll be very active. How do I bring backup sugar with me when I’m on a paddleboard, swimming from the boat to the shore, diving in and out of the water, snorkeling, etc?
  • We’ll be drinking cocktails. How do I keep my blood sugars in range when enjoying sugary tropical juice drinks like rum punches and pina coladas?
  • We’ll be in the sun all day and drinking more than usual. How do I avoid the threat of dehydration?
  • We’ll be in humidity and salt water and covered in sunscreen. How do I keep my Dexcom and Omnipod adhesions from falling off?
  • We’ll be on a boat in the middle of the ocean. What do I do if I have an emergency and need to get to a hospital?
  • We’ll be in a foreign country and on islands with limited retail locations. How do I get a hold of backup supplies if I run out of something that’s critical?

A year ago, these questions would have terrified me and stopped me from going. In fact, even writing them all down right now is making my heart rate go up! But I remembered what I learned through coaching: that I have the tools and resources that I would need to manage these challenges and so I made an active choice not to let anxiety get in the way of having fun!

How I prepared for 7 days at sea:

  • Making a list and checking it twice. I packed WAY more supplies than I thought I would need. Past experience has shown me that sometimes my Dexcom and Omnipod malfunction when I’ve been in the sun and water all day. So I went overboard (pun intended) and packed enough pods to replace them daily if needed. I called the pharmacy and found out that my insurance allows for one exception a year where you can order supplies earlier than they are normally due to refill if you have plans to travel and will not have access to the pharmacy, so I packed extra insulin. I also brought plenty of test strips and syringes, in case my devices were giving me grief and I needed to go “old school” with manual finger pricks and insulin shots.
  • Nominating a first mate and educating the crew on T1D. One of my best friends was going on the trip with me. It was really comforting to me to sit down with her in advance of the trip, before the chaos began, and walk her through how to read my devices, where to find my supplies, what to do in an emergency, etc. And then when we arrived on the boat, I followed up the Captain’s safety lesson with a T1D lesson for everyone. I played them the sound of my alarms – they were definitely going to hear them throughout the week when living in such close quarters. I explained what my devices do - there’s no chance they’d be hidden in a swimsuit so the topic was bound to come up at some point anyway. I showed them where my juice boxes were located - those were to be treated as my own personal stash rather than as a tasty treat for everyone to enjoy. And I explained the hypo signs to watch out for and how to help me if they noticed those signs.
  • Enabling choices that would feel good. That started with packing a giant Yeti water bottle that would keep my water cold and my body hydrated throughout the day. I prepped for enjoying fruity cocktails by looking up the average sugar content of ingredients that I don’t typically have at home, like guava juice, so that I could guesstimate the insulin that I would need to stay in range. And I made sure that the boat’s grocery list included some items that were both yummy and gentle on my sugars, such as salami, veggie sticks, string cheese, etc., for those days when I was tired of guesstimating and just wanted something easy to eat!
  • Giving myself grace. I could have been super frustrated every time a device malfunctioned. I could have looked in the mirror and hated the infusion sites that marred my body in a bikini. I could have been irritated that my Dexcoms and Omnipods left uneven tan lines. I could have let anxiety take over any time I was swimming away from my devices. And I’d be lying if I said that all of those thoughts didn’t creep in a little bit each day. But I conquered them by acknowledging them head on. I went on the trip with the expectation that these were all challenges that I would be facing and knowing that I was as prepared as possible to deal with them. That way, instead of being surprised each time that diabetes decided to diabetes and letting it ruin my day, I was able to take each challenge in stride and not give it the power to make me feel bad.

Overall, the trip was AMAZING! We danced, we swam, we dove, we snorkeled, we hiked, we sailed, we tanned, we sang, we ate, we drank, we paddle-boarded, we fished, we went on a scavenger hunt, we made new friends and we laughed and laughed and laughed. I say WE because I did everything that the rest of the boat did. Sure, it took me a little bit of extra prep work that the rest of the boat didn’t need to do. Sure, I felt a bit more drained of energy than the others the day that my guesstimating for a pina colada was inaccurate. Sure, my friend and I had to swim back to the boat to chug a juice box while the others stayed out snorkeling. But fifteen minutes later the two of us were right back out there with the group again and our experience was no worse for it! I used to struggle with asking for help when I needed it and I remember Coach Jess telling me that I deserve to have just as much fun as everyone else does, so if that means asking someone to sit with me while I drink a juice, then I should advocate for myself and ask for it. I am so PROUD that I was able to do that on this trip so that I could enjoy my vacation the same as all of the non-diabetics. When I got home and reflected on my experience, I couldn’t believe how far I had come since being diagnosed. To all my fellow T1D friends - get out there and set sail, you can do it!

Written by Emery Downes