Over the weekend, my Facebook friend, Brad Slaight, shared a story that got me thinking. He summed up perfectly the power of connections and the value of speaking with others sharing our experiences.
I’ve not met Brad. We know each other only through social media. He is a funny guy – in fact pretty much all of his posts make me laugh out loud. You can read all about him, and the ‘Diabetes Hero Squad’ here.
I have read this piece several times and each time I am struck by just how the family in is story would have walked away from their encounter with Brad feeling relief, support, less isolated and less alone. It is how I feel whenever I connect with others living with diabetes.
Brad has kindly given me permission to publish his post here. Thanks, Brad!
I’m always interested in meeting another person with diabetes and after the secret handshake I enjoy listening to their story, their struggles, and their methods of control. Even with strangers it is always an immediate bonding because we are conjoined by a common life threatening, daily maintaining condition that cuts through the awkward veil of trust.
But tonight it was different. I went to a party at a beautiful home in the Pacific Palisades. An upscale community near the ocean with homes that in the Midwest would be expensive, but here in Los Angeles you have to be in the top 1% to own. This party was catered, valeted, and lavish.
I never feel out of place at these kinds of things even though my socio-economic status is not quite on the same level with the majority of the other guests. But since I am in the entertainment business I usually fit right in and can charm my way past any portfolio flaws. Money and power does not always mean personality. I’m pretty gregarious and make friends easily and tonight was no different. Flitting around from one group to another I came upon a stunning couple who looked like they just stepped from the pages of Forbes Magazine. Young Republicans I thought. Well groomed. Fashionable. Rich.
I planned on walking right past them because I saw nothing in common. And then, the woman grabbed my arm.
“You’re Brad, right?” She asked. A wave of paranoia came over me. What had I done? How did she know me? What did she want? I made some lame joke about not being Brad Pitt and she forced a laugh but I could see some unexpected pain in her eyes.
“I don’t mean to be forward,” she continued. (Forward? Who fucking talks like that, I thought to myself) “Shannon told me you have diabetes.”
Oh my God, I’ve been outed. As if I really care. But why was she asking me this? I would have preferred that she said something like, “You’re a comedian, right?” or “I recognize you from TV” or anything else that would be complimentary. I don’t mind people knowing I have diabetes, but it’s not really what I want to be known for?
The next thing that happened completely took me by surprise. She told me that their 7 year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two weeks ago. This was the first time they had been out of the house at night since then. And they had to force themselves to come to the party even though they wanted to stay home and hover. Immediately they were one of us. Diabetes – the great unifier! They were in the club. I understood their pain and at that moment I also felt it because it hit me in the gut. Seven? Fuck. I was fortunate enough to get it when I was already an adult. Seven!
We talked for the next hour and a half. The rest of the party became an oblivious blur. They listened to me as if I were Yoda as I told them my story and stories of others who I have known from the D.O.C. They hungered for knowledge about diabetes. Where do they go? What do they do? Why did it happen to their precious boy? When will it be cured? How will he deal with this horrible disease? The same questions we all have had, and many that we still do.
I told them about the usual links and sites they should explore. The JDRF, the ADA, TuDiabetes, and others. But what they wanted to hear most was how I’ve survived for 30 years with diabetes. What do I do? How do I manage? Have I gotten any of the terrible complications they’ve been told about? And it was then that I realized how important all of the diabetes online community has been for me. How important it is to not feel so alone. So isolated. And how terrifying this disease is for those who are newly diagnosed and the people who love them, because it changes their life as well. I told them what I could but made sure to remind them that, even though we all share the same disease, we are all different and finding a good endo is key.
Most of all I told them how important it is that they were scared because that means their boy has great parents who will make sure he gets the best care possible. The fear will lead to knowledge, which will lead to the best kind of advocacy of all. And I told them that they need to seek out other parents who have CWD because they too need to understand they do not have to face this all by themselves.
Next week I am going to have dinner at their house and meet their little boy. I won’t tell him about all the technical stuff. In time, he will learn all that for himself, because he will have to. No, what I will talk to him about is that there are many of us. He is not alone. And I will give him an autographed picture of The Diabetes Hero Squad. I will tell him that he is a diabetes superhero. And I will make sure I don’t cry until after I leave.
I went to a party. I found out about another one of us. He’s seven.
We need to find a cure!