It’s truly amazing what a person you’ve never met can do for your soul. When someone asks if I have a hero, I say yes and proceed to begin rambling off names like my grandparents’, but for the non-relative heroes, Mary Tyler Moore tops the list. She’s been a hero for many years — 18 to be exact.
As a child, my parents cared deeply about how I spent my time — what music I listened to, the friends I spent time with and the things I watched on TV. I spent many nights curled up with my mom and dad watching shows from earlier generations — shows like “Golden Girls,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Mork and Mindy.” Two of my favorites were “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I may have been the only 9-year-old in the world to call those two shows a “favorite” but they were. Even though they were in reruns, I watched wide-eyed and laughed every time Dick Van Dyke tripped over that stupid ottoman.
Around the same time I was staying up late to watch Nick at Nite (and by late I mean 9 p.m.), I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I spent about a week in the hospital learning about the disease and how to manage it and my new lifestyle. To an 11-year-old, that can seem incredibly overwhelming. You hear so many scary things about your future — whether you’ll have children, the possibility you’ll need dialysis, the sobering statistics of adult blindness and amputations. But after all the scary stuff, they handed me a list of names of all the famous people who also lived with type 1 diabetes. I can barely remember the names now, but I still remember one — Mary Tyler Moore. I knew her. She was the actress on two of my favorite TV shows.
I wasn’t happy she had diabetes, but I was inspired because if she could live with this, then so could I. I mean, look at everything she had done in her life WITH diabetes. It was in that moment, I realized I was going to be OK. Not long after leaving the hospital, my family became active in JDF (later renamed JDRF). Mary Tyler Moore was the national spokeswoman for the organization and spoke out in favor of research, advocacy and awareness — long before the DOC existed or even before the Internet (like, whoa, I’m old) offered a vast network of support.
I began reading and learning about Mary’s life — about her ups and her downs and about how she’d gracefully survived so much all with the burden of type 1 diabetes. She was more than an advocate; she was an inspiration. It seems so cliché to simply say “inspiration” but what Mary Tyler Moore did for me, I will never be able to truly express or to thank her for.
When Kim started the “You Can Do This Project,” I immediately thought back to my first realization that I could do this — and it traced back to a hospital bed in Birmingham, Ala., when I realized if Mary could do this, I could do this. I’m told Mary is a private person, but to know the few details of her life I do, she is incredibly courageous. She’s overcome many trials, many troubles and many heartaches all while successfully managing type 1 diabetes. She’s had a brilliant and successful career while juggling diabetes without the technology we have today. She shared her diabetes with the world when few actors would’ve done so — or did. (Which even today seems difficult for some to deal with.) And now, more than 40 years later, she still fights for us — for me. Oh Mary, you will never know what you have done for me or the impact you’ve had on my life.
Mary is still active in JDRF’s Children’s Congress. She still pushes on Capitol Hill for advocacy dollars and she still speaks at various events raising awareness for this chronic disease that affects so many around the world. Mary is not perfect, and I imagine she has struggled through the years with diabetes — especially being in the public spotlight.
But Mary is real. She is like me. She’s not just a story in a magazine. She’s not just an actress in a film. She’s not just a voice in Washington. She is a friend and an ally, even though we’ve never met. We fight for the same things. We believe in the same things. We advocate for the future of our friends, our children and our grandchildren. We stand up and share with others our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses so that they might understand what type 1 diabetes is like and what it means.
I’m not akin to put people on pedestals, but I have a hard time taking Mary off the one I put her on 18 years ago. I’m also a believer that everyone is on equal footing no matter their career choice, their fame, their income or their spotlight. But I have to be honest, my admiration of Mary is not because of her successful acting career. It’s because she took that career, that spotlight, and did amazing things with it. Amazing. She stood up for herself and for thousands of others when we couldn’t, when we didn’t know how and when we didn’t have the means. And today, I am certain much of the diabetes technology I am fortunate-enough to use is indirectly from the funds she garnered through her advocacy alongside so many others.
If only others with a similar spotlight could do such things — imagine what could be accomplished. Imagine the inspiration shared, the encouragement given and determination unleashed. Imagine how much could be done.
So now, when I hear the theme song to her self-titled show, I smile realizing the lyric was the original “You Can Do This” video. Because if you have ever doubted, I’m here to tell you, “You’re gonna make it after all.”
Oh Mary, thank you. And congratulations on a much deserved honor from your working peers. From your advocacy peers in the diabetes community, know you’re honored and held to the highest regard here, too.