Today I mark five years as a diabetes fighter. Five years ago I got involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
I was just about to graduate from college with my BBA in marketing. This is the time when young 20 somethings go crazy thinking about getting a job. I knew that as a college graduate, I had a better chance of scoring not just a job, but a career. One that offered me a position to be creative. I just didn’t know the first step.
Professor Funnierthanmost distributed a lot of job and internship opportunities to business students. I had sat through multiple career days and presentations from companies wanting fresh talent in entry level positions. Nothing panned out for me, or even peaked my interest. Then I came across one for a Marketing Intern for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Right up my alley, I thought! Marketing! Plus, Dad had diabetes (didn’t remember which type) but it was not fun and he suffered with it. It was unpaid, but I had gotten an internship with the Office of the Governor (also unpaid), so I thought more experience to go get a paid position with! So, after an email thread, I went to meet my new “boss.”
Picture your pantry. Then multiply by two and a half. That was the size of the old office. One narrow teeny space, starting with the door ending with the manager’s office separated by a wall with a window in it. Other than her desk, there was a small desk facing a wall. I feared that would be mine, if selected.
I very quickly realized this was a disease I was completely unfamiliar with. There were pictures of kids all over the walls. What? Dad took shots, but it was so long ago, that I didn’t remember. Dad was only on oral medication at that time, so I knew diabetes as a disease that required pills, watching what you eat, pricking your finger, getting blood, and yelling. “What the…?” “Are you kidding me?!?” “I took my pills!” “I barely ate anything!” “I’ve been outside working for two hours!” Well, you get the idea.
The first person I met with type 1 diabetes in that little office was hooked up to a pager-like device. She tried telling me about it, but I think I was so focused on how to respond, that everything flew over my head. What I learned from that interview was that a healthy young woman my age could have diabetes, children could get diabetes, it’s a sophisticated disease and it needs nothing less than a cure. My Dad was in visible pain from having type 2 for so long, and I knew that JDRF would help him, too. My new boss offered me a summer internship. I would come in half days three times a week. Thinking back, I now know how respectful if was of her to interview me. I was interviewing to volunteer, but she really made me feel as if I was entering an organization that took a formalized process. It made me feel special. I called Dad two steps out from the office, and told him I was going to cure diabetes.
Before even starting, my new boss invited me to see JDRF in action, at an event. It was the Corporate Engagement Breakfast for the Walk to Cure Diabetes. I suited up. My gray suit was way too big for me, so I was pulling on it constantly. It was all I could think about. The talk was about what diabetes is, and how JDRF is out to eradicate type 1 diabetes. Then Jennie (names have been changed in this blog as a courtesy) and her family came up to speak. Jennie was very, very ill when she was diagnosed. Her parents talked about their fears for Jennie and her daily life with diabetes. Jennie was fidgety. She was up on a chair, then down on the floor, then sitting on the chair, then on the floor. Jennie had eaten breakfast, and she needed a shot. I watched her mother give her a shot, and this was the first time I had seen it. It surprised me. Jennie wiggled, but her mom held her and gave her a shot in her arm. Her little arms had bulges right below the shoulders. I realized later that it was lipodystrophy. She hated to feel her shots, and fought new sites. What floored me is that this scene had to repeat itself several times a day. I don’t know what the look was on my face, but I’m pretty sure it looked like the expressions I have witnessed over the years at these events from those that don’t know type 1. I became really close to Jennie and her family. I saw them in our teeny office so many times during that summer. I spent more time on the floor than at my desk, and Jennie drew pictures while her mom volunteered. She drew one of me. I was helping her cross the street. I still have it framed in my office. It reminds me that I started with JDRF to help Jennie, and I remain with JDRF until she’s safe.
At the end of the summer, my boss was given the go-ahead to hire a temp. Part-time. I took it. So now the office had two paid employees! I worked as a temp for eight months. Then I was hired on as a full-time employee.
You take this job, one day at a time, one season at a time, one task at a time, but always looking towards the goal – a world without diabetes. My old boss is now my colleague and I recently asked her how many Walks she had done. It was hard to count. I have worked 10 Walks, 5 golf tournaments, 4 galas and countless events that fall within those realms. Every 5am start, every 9 hour time frame in heels, every U-Haul loaded and unloaded, every mailing, every phone call, every email – means something. It means a step closer. It all is part of a bigger picture, a bigger event, a bigger amount raised, a bigger breakthrough funded.
Before I moved to our Chapter for a manager position with JDRF, I spent three and half years with fiscal year objectives and reviews that started with my boss saying, “I know JDRF might not be the end all for your career as it is for me…” But it became that somehow. On that five year road I am staying on, it has become that for me. I have a family here. For those you living each day with diabetes, you might only know my name, you might have seen me once and I talked to you and then you see me every once in a while when you need some advice or a resource or just a voice on the phone. I might have been one of the first voices you heard when your child was diagnosed or that weird girl that told you about all the cool events for adults with type 1. I could be the person asking you for time, for advice, for your story. In any capacity I am needed, I can fit that role. I can be at your doorstep with Rufus, or at the hospital with magazines or on Facebook forwarding your blog. I get to be a friend for a living. How much better can it be?
I do get thank yous for serving families and adults with type 1 diabetes. It goes both ways. What a coincidence that to mark my five year anniversary, I have taken on an unpaid intern to work with me this summer. My hope is that this organization serves her as it has served me.