From the Basketball Court to the World Stage
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during my sophomore year of high school, right in the middle of basketball season.
I can vividly recall that day. Cowering in the hospital bed in a complete daze, I knew my life had just changed dramatically, but I had no idea what to expect. Would I still play sports and be involved in the school newspaper? What about my friends? Would diabetes turn me into a total recluse?
I decided the only way I was going to find out was to get up and face the disease head-on. The next 2 1/2 years of high school were by no means easy. I grew up in a small town in western North Carolina where diabetes resources were scarce. There was one endocrinologist in town, and he was on the verge of retirement when I was diagnosed. There were no support groups. The only other person I knew who had diabetes was my aunt—and we didn't discuss it.
The topic was rarely discussed at school, either. One of the only times I remember it coming up was at the annual athletic awards banquet, when the coaches recognized each player. My coaches talked about what I contributed to the team—on top of managing my diabetes. They didn't know exactly what it involved, but they knew diabetes required extra work.
Since the majority of the people at my high school had no understanding of the disease, I had a huge stage for playing the role of "girl with diabetes." I tried to demonstrate that I could still achieve the same success, even with my diabetes.
I jumped back on the basketball court to finish the season immediately after my diagnosis. I also played softball and ran cross country. I became the editor of my school newspaper. I took honors classes and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class.
Now, I have an even bigger stage for playing this role and setting an example—I'm a "woman with diabetes," and my stage is the world.
My high school experiences taught me how my actions can impact other people's knowledge and perception of diabetes—intentionally or not. Now, I encourage my family to eat healthy, I teach my friends about diabetes, and I offer support to those who are newly diagnosed. I try to be a positive role model for kids, too. The other day I was in the grocery story and met a girl who had just been diagnosed with diabetes, shopping with her mother. They were confused and frightened. In just a 5-minute conversation, I was able to provide support, motivation, and education. Opportunities like this exist all around us, and we all have roles on that stage.
| Brandy Barnes, MSW | is the founder and executive director of DiabetesSisters (www.diabetessisters.org), a nonprofit organization for women with diabetes. She lives in Durham, N.C., with her husband and daughter.