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Teen Health

I Love My Life! Living Strong with a Chronic Illness

With a little help from your friends and family, you can still love your life and have fun if you're a teenager living with a chronic illness.
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Since his diagnosis around age 12, Gary had to make dramatic lifestyle changes. His doctor showed him how to check his insulin. A registered dietitian explained how to change his diet, which pretty much had been fast food at the time. "But it [diabetes] never got in the way of my drumming," says Gary. "In fact, I think my drumming has helped me with my diabetes. Drumming for hours each day is an aerobic workout, and physical activity is a must for those with diabetes."

Rob, the band's guitarist, was first diagnosed with asthma at age 7. Since then, he has relied on inhaled medications to prevent and treat the symptoms of asthma, such as coughing and wheezing. "But when I hit puberty, my asthma exploded," says Rob. "I remember waking up all night coughing, and then feeling exhausted the next day. I was on the rowing team and swim team. Many times, I'd stop competing because I couldn't stop coughing. I couldn't breathe, and I'd have to use my inhalers. I hated the way asthma slowed me down."

Rob's allergist explained how asthma caused his airways to become inflamed and why daily medication -- even when he didn't feel the symptoms -- was important to keep him breathing right. "My doctor gave me inhalers and a peak flow meter, a hand-held device that let me monitor my breathing at home and at school," Rob says. "I learned to pre-medicate before swim meets or crew races. I also learned that swimming could help build healthier lungs. At first, I was angry that I had asthma. After a while, I realized I had to manage it in order to love my life."

Living with a chronic illness is not easy for Rob or Gary. While they've both had their share of successes, they've also had some scares. "Once our band opened for the Dave Matthews Band in Alabama," Rob says. "We were so pumped! Then, after the gig, we checked into a hotel. We noticed that Gary looked confused, and then he started throwing up: he was in diabetic shock. We were so frightened, so I called 911 for help."

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