Diabetes Forecast

People to Know 2016: Valerie June

By Tracey Neithercott ,

Valerie June
Photograph by Dean Chalkley

Born: Tennessee
Lives: New York City
Diabetes: LADA
Insulin Delivery: Insulin pump
Occupation: Singer/songwriter
Instruments: Guitar, banjo, ukulele

Diabetes didn’t give Valerie June her talent or drive. It didn’t teach her to play guitar, help her record an album, or whisper “keep going” when times got tough. But in a roundabout way, it’s responsible for her success.

Valerie has been on the music scene since she turned 19 and moved to Memphis to play coffeehouse gigs, first with a band and then as a solo artist. By 27, she was spending her days juggling a handful of odd jobs to fund her first in-studio album and her nights playing gigs wherever she could get them. And that’s when diabetes entered the picture.

Suddenly her savings was going toward financing hospital bills, medication, and diabetes supplies. Without health insurance, the cost was astronomical. As her dreams drifted further away, Valerie’s health hit a plateau. She was on oral meds for type 2, but for three months, she was still too tired to work.

When she finally had the energy to get out of bed, she found herself jobless. “It forced me to rely more on my music,” says Valerie, now 34. “I just leapt for my dream, and I kept going.”

So she played anywhere and everywhere. At first, she could only handle a half-hour gig. Six months post-diagnosis, she had enough energy to play for an hour at a time. 

But something was still off. It took her three long years to get an answer: She has the less common latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). It wasn’t until she began insulin therapy that she felt like herself again.

Since then, Valerie’s career has taken off. Rolling Stone named her album Pushin’ Against a Stone one of its 50 best albums of 2013. Her next album, a mix of the soulful songwriting she’s being doing for over a decade along with her distinctive sound—part folk, part blues, and wholly unique—will be out later this year.

The turnaround in her life is a testament to her diabetes philosophy: If you’re diligent and vigilant, your dreams aren’t out of reach. “I learned that I can live with diabetes,” she says. “I do it every day.”

Tracey Neithercott is senior editor of Diabetes Forecast magazine. For the good of humanity, she’s promised never to attempt a music career.



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