A Tribute to a Friend
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost 59 years ago, when I was 3 years old. It was quite unusual then for children to know other kids with diabetes, and I remember my mother getting involved with new diabetes organizations that were forming in the Philadelphia area so that she could talk to and learn from other parents whose children had diabetes. I also remember my parents reading a small pamphlet every month called Diabetes Forecast. There wasn't much else written about diabetes in those days.
As I grew up, ADA became a household abbreviation, as my parents were involved in the American Diabetes Association and I went to Camp Firefly, the Philadelphia ADA Diabetes Camp at the time. After college, I married and became an active volunteer in numerous diabetes organizations. But it was when my husband and I moved to Minneapolis that I had one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
I volunteered to be in ADA's Visitation Program, a service in which volunteers, all of whom had diabetes, met and offered support and guidance to people who were newly diagnosed, much as ADA's Family Link does today. It was there that I met another volunteer who had also had type 1 diabetes since she was 3. That was 26 years ago, and she ended up becoming one of my closest friends in the world. We shared a passion for enjoying life—through walking, playing tennis, shopping, eating, helping others (especially those with diabetes), and doing whatever was necessary in order to stay healthy. Of course, our diabetes, our doctors, our crazy blood sugars, our insulin pumps, and all the rest were always a part of our conversations that our other friends just didn't understand. People must have really wondered about us when we said things like "I cannot believe I am 178!" Each of us knew exactly what the other was talking about, of course.
On March 26 of this year, at the age of 68, my very dear friend suddenly died. Her name was Shirley Gillespie, and she was the sweetest, nicest person anyone could ever have as a friend. I am so thankful that I got involved in the ADA Visitation Program in 1983, because it was there that I met my diabetic "sister" and forged a friendship that I will never forget.
Sheila Fleisher lives with her husband, Ron, in Belleair Bluffs, Fla. They have two sons and a grandson. She works as a part-time registrar for Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Fla., and is a recipient of the Joslin 50-Year Medal.