Dear Diabetes: An Open Letter


Emma Shapiro

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had Type 1 diabetes. With the intensity of school, academics and athletics, it can sometimes be more than I can manage. Diabetes is stressful, time consuming and difficult, but it also has given me a new approach and perspective to everyday matters.

Going to Harvard-Westlake and being a diabetic is a difficult endeavor when it comes to tests and time management. Type 1 diabetes primary affects kids. Having diabetes affects every aspect of my life, including school work, sports and social life. Diabetes can be almost impossible to manage, especially with fluctuating stress. My mind fails to function properly when my blood sugar is low or high, and it is hard for me to have consistent blood sugar levels. 

In the academic environment, most teachers are understanding about the limitations that come with being diabetic. However, during large assessments, it becomes more of an issue because stress and pressure causes my blood sugar to falter and drop in the middle of tests. Being a diabetic can also be an unfortunate disadvantage as a member of the athletic community. With intense practices and weight lifting, my blood sugar drops very low, which is problematic during tennis matches. I often find myself sitting out due to blood sugar drops, and while my coaches say otherwise, it makes me feel like an uncommitted athlete.

That being said, because of diabetes, I was given access to a whole new community, one much different than the one at Harvard-Westlake. It is a community with a unified purpose—curing their disease and offering empathy. This community has introduced me to people from all different backgrounds, and helps widen my perspective by pulling me out of the “bubble” that students fall prey to. Diabetes is universal and connects people from all social, racial and religious backgrounds.

Diabetes makes empathy a big part of my life, since I can relate to those dealing with the same illness. Along with a few other students on campus, I face diabetes alongside 9.4 percent of Americans. Recently, I’ve discovered an online forum for newly diagnosed people called Type One Nation where diabetics can post questions and concerns regarding their condition. I’ve learned that the diabetic community offers an extensive network of individuals who deal with similar challenges and can help you grow and manage your diabetes better. Since I am the only diabetic in my family, it is beneficial to reach out to a group of people who can address my concerns in a way that neither my endocrinologist nor my parents can.

This past summer, I interned at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating a lasting change for diabetics. I worked alongside the team as they prepared for an upcoming walk. Through this internship, I was able to see the tremendous effort and dedication that goes into funding for a Type 1 diabetes cure. I also was able to gain an understanding of the commitment of these individuals and realize that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Making calls to newly diagnosed families was an eye-opening and rewarding experience.

Since I was diagnosed in 2004, diabetes has grown to be a part of my life, something I can’t imagine myself living without and something that has become second nature to me.
I learned that it isn’t something that I can change, but something I can continue to use as a tool to grow.