When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1994, there were no famous faces or voices championing this disease—at least none that I knew. After a week of terrifying statistics, lists of dos and don’ts and pages of food exchange charts, I sat in a hospital bed with an orange and a syringe of saline, feeling scared. My nurse smiled gently and asked me,
“Do you know who Mary Tyler Moore is?”
I looked at my mom and smiled. We watched reruns of the “Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Mary Tyler Moore Show” as a family.
“Well, she has type 1 diabetes, just like you,” the nurse said. “I bet you didn’t know that, did you?”
I shook my head no.
“Look at all she’s done with diabetes! You can, too!”
I don’t remember the conversational details after that, but I remember the pamphlet with scary statistics being thrown away—the one about blindness and amputations and kidney failure. I remember going home and watching the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” with a new-found acuity. Look at what this woman had done. Diagnosed with T1D as a young professional actress, the cards were stacked against her. She didn’t have the technology we have today, and her management of the disease in the workplace must have been incredibly tiresome and overwhelming.
She lived an incredible life, full of great moments and full of heartbreaking moments. She fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. She gave a louder voice to those without a microphone and pushed for broader diabetes research opportunities in DC.
She used her voice in politics for issues that mattered—to her, to me, to most reading these words. Her impact on JDRF funding for type 1 diabetes research and congressional votes is far-reaching, much of which we’ll never fully know.
To an 11-year-old, she was an iconic figure, a person to be admired. I wanted to be like her, and in some ways, I was. I grew up to become a professional journalist, like her most famous character. As I’ve grown older, I have become a T1D advocate, too. I didn’t take no for an answer, and I never let diabetes stand in my way. There have been heartbreaking moments in my life, and there have been overwhelmingly joyous moments. Never did I cower and take the easy way. Never did I give up, and never did I let diabetes steal the show even when it tried. In no small way, Mary Tyler Moore taught me these things. She gave me hope, and she was the first person in my life with type 1 diabetes to show me how to live life with it. She was a hero at 11 and she still holds that spot in my world.