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Women in Diabetes Making History

A writer with diabetes celebrates women who inspire her

Women and Diabetes

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1985, the only female role models in the world of diabetes I was aware of were Mary Tyler Moore (who by 1985 was not the perky young woman of her namesake show) and my elderly school nurse Lillian. At fourteen years old, I couldn’t find personal inspiration from these women. For years, I struggled to find others who could help me feel less alone; it wasn’t until recently that I began to fill that void.

As I was interviewing women for my book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes, I discovered a community of inspiring women with diabetes in their lives. I’m proud to call attention to three of these women, as the work they do will continue to make an impact for years to come.

A Powerful Storyteller

After years of personal struggles with the challenges of diabetes and adolescence, Kim Vlasnik created the “You Can Do This Project”, an online community of videos created by and for people with diabetes. The site aims to provide validation, hope, and encouragement through the actual words of those who live with the disease.  She says “there is such power in positive realism, and in acknowledging and validating the really tough experiences in life. One of the most universal things I see from people with diabetes who find the online community is that whatever their situation was, they find that they don’t feel so alone anymore.” Continues Vlasnik: “I wanted to help foster that feeling in others by asking people with diabetes to share their stories – what they’ve been through, what they’re working on, and what they’ve accomplished. The project has generated dozens of videos from all walks of diabetes life, and I love that there exists this pool of videos that anyone can access whenever they need encouragement. And we’re not done yet!”

A Loving Mother

When Amy Ermel’s young daughter asked her why there wasn’t a diabetic Barbie, it was one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments. Diagnosed with type 1 when she was four years old, Emma dreamed of a Barbie who had her own insulin delivery device or even her own carrying case for supplies, and like most moms, Amy wanted to make her daughter’s dreams come true. “I think it’s important to show Emma that, even at seven years old, it’s okay to dream big, stand up for yourself and make the changes you want to see in the world. I think this idea will benefit not only little kids with type 1 diabetes, but their siblings, family members, friends, and all kids with parents who are type 1, as well.” Amy is working to get five thousand ‘likes’ on her Diabetic Barbie Facebook page in hopes that Mattel will take notice.

A Diabetes Designer

After graduating from Parson’s School of Design in New York, Jessica Floeh knew she wanted to improve the lives of women with diabetes. She just wasn’t sure how. Diagnosed with type 1 when she was four years old, Jessica was interested in the social and psychological issues of life with diabetes, and what it means to wear a piece of medical equipment on your body day after day. Gathering a focus group of women with diabetes, she started asking questions about the role of clothing, acceptance, and identity. Working with “feel-good fabrics,” Jessica created a group of fashionable products designed for wearable diabetes technologies and named it “Hanky Pancreas.” Her flattering scarves and flower accessories offer a great way to embrace, not disguise, our health and to initiate conversations about life with diabetes.

Thanks to imaginative products and resources like these and so many others out there, women and girls who are diagnosed with diabetes today will have a different experience than I did twenty-six years ago. My hope is that the hard work and creativity of women like Kim, Amy, and Jessica will pave the way for the next generation of smart women with diabetes.

Amy Stockwell Mercer is a freelance writer with type 1 diabetes living in Charleston, SC. She blogs at re-Defining Diabetes and her work can be found in a variety of publications including Charleston Magazine, The City Paper, Diabetes Health, and Literary Mama.  All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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