MIKE & JOSH - Portraits of Diabetes

Mike and Josh Medicoff smiling at the camera


Type 1 diabetes-Mike diagnosed 2004 / Josh diagnosed 1999

I hope Josh sees me handling my diabetes properly because in all aspects of being a parent, you try to model positive behaviour and hope they pick up a little bit of it.
- Josh's father Mike

In 1999, Mike Medicoff spent three restless nights sleeping on a gurney at the Stollery Children's Hospital after his then fourteen-month-old son, Josh, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The first night was especially long and uncomfortable-not just because of the makeshift sleeping arrangements, but because Mike was preoccupied with how his family would handle the coming years. But he felt more at ease over the next few days, as medical staff taught him and his wife Gillian Clarke how to help their son.

Five years later, 40-year-old Mike was told he also had diabetes, though initially there was some confusion as to the type. He was first told he had type 2. For Mike, who had always had an active, healthy lifestyle, it came as a surprise. He didn't realize that while obesity, lack of proper nutrition and a lack of exercise are risk factors for type 2, other influences such as heredity, one's environment and heritage can also play a role. Doctors eventually realized he actually fit into the type 1 category, which is normally diagnosed much earlier in life.

The new diagnosis did not really change the course of his treatment, but Mike believes it did affect both his perception of his disease and that of others. Some people with type 2 diabetes experience judgment from those who believe the person's lifestyle may have contributed to the development of the disease, even if that is not the case.

Now, Mike's less focused on how he's perceived, and dedicated to managing his disease as well as possible while making smart choices. "I hope Josh sees me [handling] it properly because in all aspects of being a parent, you try to model positive behaviour and hope they pick up a little bit of it."

Josh's sister Sydney is 14 years old, and when asked how diabetes has affected her own life, she simply shrugs, stating it's something that's always been in the background. She doesn't worry about being diagnosed, she says, because she's already seen two of her family members manage well with the disease. "It's become normalized," explains Josh, now 19.

Along with diabetes, Josh also has celiac disease, a condition that causes an immune reaction to gluten and is more prevalent in those with type 1 diabetes. Over the years, it's meant Josh has to be particularly careful about what he eats, adding another layer of complexity to the management of his health; but he's had plenty of help from his family.

Both Mike and Gillian have modelled a healthy lifestyle while being involved in fundraising for diabetes research. Gillian has a busy career as a lawyer, but finds time to volunteer as chair of the board of directors for the Alberta Diabetes Foundation. She's excited to contribute to the Foundation because of all the international research and knowledge the Alberta Diabetes Institute generates. Gillian has been impacted by the disease her entire life as her sister was diagnosed at a very young age, then her son and finally her husband.

As a child, Josh didn't notice the ways in which his parents were involved both in his own life and that of others with diabetes. But now, it's something he can really appreciate. "They want to see me live and prosper with a better body health and mental health. It's just a way for them to wordlessly explain how much they care about me," he says.

Josh is now majoring in political science and geography at the University of British Columbia and recently went on a month-long trip through Asia. After landing in Vancouver, he drove to Edmonton to visit his parents.

Gillian paid for his phone plan while he was overseas and used an app to track his progress as he drove home. She has worried about Josh's safety ever since the day he was diagnosed, and she anticipates that concern will always linger. But just as Josh works to live a full life without constraints, the whole family is inspired to do the same.

The Alberta Diabetes Institute spans the spectrum of research from ground-breaking discoveries at the molecular level to population-based research that guides new health practices with expertise in many forms of diabetes including type 1, type 2 and gestational.

Photography: Richard Siemens Writer: Caroline Barlott Editor: Sasha Roeder Mah Creative Director: MJ Fell

MIKE & JOSH in 2007

Mike and Josh in a field near a school in 2007.