People to Know: Nikki Lang
At 12, Nikki Lang wrote her first song. By 16 she was performing at Los Angeles clubs. A few years later, the singer/songwriter put out a six-song EP. That she did all of this while managing her type 1 diabetes is admirable, but Nikki, now 20, doesn't see her disease as a hurdle she's had to overcome. "After the initial shock of the diagnosis, I was normal," she says.
That is, if normal means going on international tours, playing big-name music festivals, camping out in the recording studio, and getting her songs on the radio and in TV shows. What's winning over crowds, aside from her mature, velvety voice, is her dedication to diabetes awareness and advocacy.
Two years ago, during November's American Diabetes Month, Nikki donated all proceeds from downloads of her song "Feel Better" (which, incidentally, is not about diabetes) to the American Diabetes Association. She regularly plays diabetes fund-raisers and conventions. "Being in the public eye," she says, "it can raise awareness, and it lets people know they're not alone."
It's for this reason that Nikki is open about her diabetes. You can even see her insulin pump in one of her music videos. "People were like, 'Don't you want to hide [your pump]?' and I was like, 'No. I'll never hide.' " That said, her songs don't deal with diabetes outright, though certain tracks, like "Elevator" on her upcoming album, were inspired by life with diabetes.
Staying on her game takes dedication to diabetes management. The adrenaline that comes from playing for a crowd can raise Nikki's blood glucose, so she tests every hour for the four hours before a performance. The real difficulty comes with touring, when dinner on the road often isn't diabetes-friendly. To stay on track, Nikki focuses on nutrition facts—she's practically memorized the Calorie King book—and follows a low-carb diet. Another factor that drives her blood glucose higher is stress, which she promptly punches in the face. Literally. She boxes with a trainer regularly and credits the sport for her in-range glucose.
The hard work is worth it, says Nikki, who feeds her wanderlust by touring. Now, she's playing shows across the country and recording her first full-length album. Through it all, she hopes her fans with diabetes take away one message: "You're going to be OK," she says. "You're not alone."
—Tracey Neithercott is an associate editor at Diabetes Forecast.