A person holds a blood glucose monitor in front of different kinds of fruit.“Knowledge is crucial,” advises Michelle Miller. “The more you know, the more you can deal with what you have.”

Miller has had a lot of time to acquire knowledge about her Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed as a little girl 50 years ago after her parents noticed that she was especially thirsty, with frequent trips to the bathroom. In those days, a diabetes diagnosis required a lengthy process: an all-night fast, then to the doctor’s office to drink glucose syrup, followed by a blood test.

Because some family members had diabetes, her parents weren’t surprised at Michelle’s condition.

“There was a time when people thought (diabetes) was only genetic,” Miller recalls.

But researchers have since learned that a person’s genetic makeup is not always a factor. In fact, neither of her two grown children has diabetes.

Michelle is not a typical Spectrum Health patient: She lives in northern Indiana, but returns to Grand Rapids every few months for checkups. Although originally diagnosed with diabetes by a doctor in South Bend, Ind., where she lived for much of her life, she moved to Grand Rapids after marrying. In 2006, her husband’s job returned them to Indiana.

She renewed her relationship with Spectrum Health three years ago when she was visiting her daughter in Grand Rapids during the holiday season. A malfunctioning insulin pump, plus a temporary lapse in her usually careful eating regimen, landed her in Butterworth Hospital, where she met the Spectrum Health endocrinology team.

They helped Miller with her medication and got her glucose monitor and insulin regimen back on track. When that episode passed, Miller decided to continue her care at Spectrum Health.

“The staff treated me like gold. I was important to them,” she recalls. “They helped me through some rough times.”

She willingly rejoined the Spectrum Health community and reports that she is “extremely” happy with the level of care she receives from the endocrinology team.

Miller talks easily about the advances in diabetes care that she has experienced. As a girl, she’d be the only child at support group meetings run by the American Diabetes Association. But her parents kept her informed about her condition, and she came to accept it as a routine part of her life. “I had a normal childhood,” she reports, with sleepovers at friends’ houses, and plenty of play dates and outside activities.

“When I was young, I didn’t have time to be afraid,” she says, noting that diabetes is not something to be feared. “Children with diabetes shouldn’t be singled out as if they’re unusual or special. …Encourage them to get up, go to school, play sports.”

A few months ago, she reports, she was in a restaurant and noticed a little boy wearing a glucose monitor. She started a chat with him, and they wound up comparing their monitors.

“If you want to live feeling sorry for yourself, you’re creating limits,” Miller says. Not her. “We can live with what we have. We just have to be smart about it. Healthier living is a lot of it.”

To those who’ve been recently diagnosed with diabetes and are still in the adjustment phase, she offers a specific suggestion: “Make yourself as knowledgeable as possible,” such as by joining a support group. Even after many years, Miller says she still talks to diabetes educators and attends informational group meetings when she can.

“The more people you know with what you have, the better the support system,” she says.

The timesaving technological advances in diabetes care she has experienced over her life have been gratifying. The first glucose blood monitors were introduced less than 30 years ago. Until then, urine testing was the only self-monitoring system.

Other advances include the advent of carbohydrate counting, a menu-planning system that did not exist when Miller was young. Now commonly used by people with diabetes, carb counting acknowledges the importance of carbs in maintaining a proper blood sugar level.

“It doesn’t matter where the carbs come from, as long as you’re counting them,” Miller says.

She began using an insulin pump about 10 years ago, which required instruction, but which she looked forward to because of the convenience. She’s now also using a glucose meter–she wears it on her arm–that precisely tracks blood sugar highs and lows because she has hypoglycemia. The meter has an alarm loud enough to wake her up at night, if needed. And Miller is looking forward to more technological advances, such as the new combined units that monitor glucose and dispense insulin.

“The biggest thing is, learn as much as you can about your condition and how to tailor a treatment for your own situation,” she advises. “We’re still human. We just follow the guidelines. There really should be no limitations on what we can do.”