My name is Kathy Allbright and I am a Type 1 insulin dependent (juvenile) diabetic of 30 years. I suffer from a condition common among Type 1 diabetics called Hypoglycemic Unawareness. As a result, I am unable to detect when my blood sugar drops rapidly until I am having a severe episode of hypoglycemia (i.e; stomach pains, dizziness, confusion, etc.) Normal blood sugar is between 80-100 and my blood sugars would drop well into the 20’s and 30’s on a weekly basis. My most severe occurrences would happen at night when I was asleep.
A few years ago, as an active person, I felt like my life was slowing down due to the frequency of my lows and became scared to do the activities which I most enjoyed, like hiking, swimming and cycling. I had no diabetic friends and no doctors that seemed to offer any helpful suggestions on how to prevent these. I didn’t talk much about my condition or my diabetes, as I was very self conscious about my disease and didn’t want my friends to worry. I soon became isolated, frustrated and depressed and I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life. Then one day my life changed for the better.
A few weeks after one of scariest lows I had ever had, I ran into a woman with a diabetic service dog. She explained that the dog was trained to detect rapid drops in blood sugar and alert her before an episode was to occur. I had never heard of anything like this and was in complete disbelief–that was until the dog, as we were speaking, correctly alerted me!
I found out that the organization where her dog was trained is called Dogs4Diabetics and is located in Concord, Ca. Dogs4Diabetics is a non profit organization and the dogs are free of charge to those who qualify. I immediately went home and contacted them. Determined to get a dog I applied and waited. After being accepted and after many months of waiting, I began my training. I was paired with a small, adorable black lab named Odetta, that has since been the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Over the last few years Odetta has kept me from the horrible episodes of hypoglycemia that I use to endure on a regular basis. During rapid blood sugar drops Odetta wakes me when I am asleep, makes me pull over while driving and stops me on hikes. I have not had one severe episode since our partnership in 2009. She is my guardian angel and best friend. She is my closest companion, my soulmate. Since having Odetta in my life, I have met more type 1 diabetics, made more friends, and am healthier than I’ve ever been before. I am an active volunteer within the D4D organization, a mentor and have helped trained over 5 D4D dogs. I cannot thank Dogs4Diabetics enough for what they have given me.
Unfortunately, last summer, I found a lump on Odetta’s check and a biopsy revealed a fibrosarcoma (aggressive) tumor. I was completely devastated by her diagnosis, as Odetta is just four years old. After an aggressive surgery, which removed her entire cheek bone, dirty margins remained. The oncologist told me that our only hope for removing the microscopic cells was radiation therapy at UC Davis, though she said it could take time to get an appointment. Since Odetta’s cancer was very aggressive, waiting wasn’t an option. She has saved my life so many times and now it was my turn to fight for hers. I frantically emailed and called everyone I knew, hoping for a connection to UC Davis, and a few days later my hard work paid off. I received a call from Gordon Theilen, the 83 year old founder of the UC Davis veterinary oncology department and author of the world’s first comprehensive veterinary oncology book, “Veterinary Cancer Medicine”. Gordon explained that he had heard about Odetta’s cancer through a prayer chain started by a work colleague of mine. He was amazed by her service (his wife is also a diabetic) and immediately scheduled a meeting with the best UC oncologists. I moved to Davis in July, where Odetta successfully completed 17 rounds of radiation. Almost 8 months later, Odetta’s energy and fur (which has turned white as the result of radiation) have returned. We have follow up appointments every three months for the first year, though she will be monitored closely for the rest of her life. I, of course, email Gordon on a regular basis, updating him on her current condition and appreciate his continued support.
Cancer is agonizing for everyone. There have been many times when fighting Odetta’s cancer has felt completely overwhelming both emotionally and physically. In the beginning, I felt consumed by feelings of loss, guilt, and anger–emotions I experience with my own disease. And without the endless support of my community of friends, D4D, family and veterinarians this journey would be impossible for me to make. It is now my turn to share the support that so many people have given to me. Odetta and I volunteer each month at Family House in San Francisco, visiting families and their children who are afflicted with cancer. During our visits Odetta bring smiles, inspiration and empathy to these children on their journey with cancer, and I get to share what so many people have shared with me: hope.