Inspiring Women With Diabetes

It’s been a while since I got up in front of a group of people to talk about diabetes. Three years ago I took a full time job, and writing about diabetes and being connected with the diabetes world was sidelined (I quit a year ago, as working full time and raising three kids pushed me over the edge). So when Elizabeth “Beth” McCrary e-mailed me a few months ago and asked me to speak at a conference for women with Type 1 diabetes, I immediately said yes.

I was excited about the opportunity to reconnect with women like me, but as the date grew close, I began to regret my decision. This happens to me all the time. I’m really good at saying yes and really bad at following through. As the event drew closer, I started agonizing. Why had I ever agreed to go? What was I going to talk about for 45 minutes? I hate speaking in front of a group! I moved from agonizing to brainstorming possible excuses. Maybe I could tell Beth that one of my kids was sick, or maybe I’d say something happened to my car. I didn’t want to be a quitter, but I also didn’t want to step outside of my comfort zone.


I thought about how many times I’d lectured my kids about not being “quitters.” I thought about how I would feel if I let Beth down. Women had paid for tickets to attend the event and I was expected to be there.

The day finally arrived. I woke up early on Saturday morning (because who am I kidding, I always wake up early) to go over my PowerPoint. Then I went for a run. It was a beautiful crisp morning, and I played my presentation over in my head as I ran. By the time I got in the car and headed toward Columbia, I was calm. Everything was going to be fine. My presentation was solid. I listened to podcasts for the two-hour drive and arrived 20 minutes before my presentation. The room where I was going to speak was bigger than I’d imagined. There was a podium and a microphone and a sea of expectant faces. The conference was called “Women of Type 1” and was for any woman whose life was touched by Type 1 diabetes. I hooked up my laptop, took a big gulp of water, and stepped to the front of the stage.

My PowerPoint was called “Smart and Inspiring Women with Diabetes: The Power of Positive Role Models” and included a story I’ve told before about my very first role model. The abbreviated version of this story is that soon after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 14 years old, I returned to my boarding school in New Hampshire where the only other person at my school of 250 students with diabetes was Lillian, the head nurse who’d had Type 1 since she was a child. Lillian was probably in her sixties, she wore her graying hair short, cut above her neck, her white uniform was ironed, and she wore the shoes to match. Lillian told me not to use diabetes as a crutch, and I wanted to scream. I hated that we shared this disease. I didn’t want to be like her, I wanted to be like my friends. I wanted to be free from injections, free from talking like a doctor, free from blood stains on my clothes, free from calloused fingertips, free from highs and lows. I wanted to feel not so alone.

As I told this story to the group of women in the audience I noticed nodding heads, smiling faces, and even tears, and I kept going. The longer I talked the more confident I felt. Standing in front of this group I felt seen, heard, and understood.

I still think about Lillian. I think about how she was trying to help but she wasn’t what I needed at that time in my life. I needed to see someone more like me. That’s why I’m so excited that 32 years later, young women with diabetes today have a variety of positive role models to choose from. Women like Becky Furtura, Stephanie Tomko, and Sierra Sandison. Women like Riva Greenburg, Nicole Johnson, and Dr. Ann Albright. These are just a few of the inspiring women I meet every day. My hope is to gather their stories and share them with you so you (and I!) will never feel alone.

What does it really mean to reverse Type 2 diabetes? Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to hear nurse David Spero’s perspective.