Lillian wore her graying hair short, neat, cut above her neck, her white uniform always looked ironed and she wore the shoes to match. Lillian was the head nurse at my school. I wanted to untie her laces, ruffle her skirt, or open the infirmary window on a breezy day and watch her hair come undone. She told me I was using my diabetes as a crutch, she was sitting behind her desk and I slouched in the chair by the door, hoping desperately for another student to walk in and interrupt her lecture. I’d missed field hockey practice and told my coach my blood sugar was low. Lillian didn’t believe me.
Lillian told me a story I’ll never forget, a story about getting low when she was a teenager, like me-she seemed to suggest. How she’d been canoeing with her sister when she started to feel shaky and how she stopped paddling, told her sister to get them back to shore and how Lillian knew to just sit there, that if she’d tried to help out, to run back to the house when they made it to shore, how she would have made things worse. Lillian’s sister ran to the house, got her some juice and saved the day. “We all have low blood sugar episodes,” Lillian told me. “but you’ve got to pick yourself up again and keep going.” I wanted to throw up. I was 14 years old, I liked going to the beach, listening to music and drinking Cherry Coke (when I was low…) I did not want to think I was anything like this woman sitting across from me, this older woman with her starched uniform and her hands folded neatly across her lap who was telling me what to do. But she was the only person at my school with type 1 diabetes. She was my only role model.
That was 23 years ago and I still think about Lillian. I think about how important role models are for young women diagnosed with diabetes. I think about the diabetic role models in the media, (Patti Labelle and Mary Tyler Moore) and how we need to see young, healthy, beautiful and smart women talking about this disease. I think about how different my perceptions, my self-confidence, my alienation might have been if I had a role model like Missy Foy, ultramarathoner with type 1 or Mollie Singer (www.curemoll.com) a lovely young woman, or Kerri Morrone, (www.sixuntilme.com) diabetes blogger.
These woman are changing the face of diabetes and it’s about time. That’s why I want to write this book, because I want the next generation of women with type 1 to have different stories to tell!