Is my pancreas ‘extinct?’

Often on social media there are comments across the type 1 diabetes online community stating with understandable frustration: “dodgy pancreas,” or “if only my pancreas worked!” But what is this organ and what exactly is so faulty about it, for those of us living with this condition???

It is not often the average person thinks too deeply about the organs inside of us and the differing roles they play to essentially get us up and running each morning! The most popular in general knowledge, the ‘cool-kids’ of the organ types, would surely be the brain, heart and perhaps even the lungs to make that cut too… but in living with diabetes we suddenly become very focused about another: this weird looking, sweetcorn-esque / sponge-like organ called the pancreas.

Given the immense job we have to do 24/7 to try and manage our blood glucose levels as a result of a diagnosis, it can easily seem as if there has been an immense failure with the whole organ.

If the pancreas was a rugby player it would be a ‘Fly Half,’ the one making all the kicks for the extra points: it plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells.

Okay, so in our case perhaps a retired Fly Half like Jonny Wilkinson, then??

The pancreas is located in the abdomen & operates with 2 main functions: the Exocrine to assist in digestion, and Endocrine, which regulates blood sugars. As you might have guessed by the name alone – seeing an endocrinologist at your clinic check-ups – the latter ‘endocrine’ function is where our dia-beef is at…

This section of the pancreas consists of islet cells which create and release hormones into the bloodstream. Two of the main hormones being insulin, to manage & lower blood sugars, and glucagon.

On the other side we have the exocrine glands producing enzymes for the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The exocrine function makes up about 95% of the pancreas… so this means the endocrine function is around 5%. The “faulty” part of it, which led to our diagnosis, is the inability to produce insulin hormones, so essentially around 2.5% of our pancreas has led to us working butts off every day, trying to figure out answers & making crucial decisions to work with diabetes 24/7.

While we’ve every right to be ticked off at the half-slacking endocrine part of the pancreas – which, sympathetically, was attacked by the immune system – we can also spare a moment to stop & think:

…How incredible are we?!

All this incredible work is going on right inside of us, every second; from every breath to every heartbeat, to give us this something-of-a-miracle opportunity called life!