Diabetes Creativity: Putting Type 1 Diabetes on Display

Posted by ellie on Thu, 09/18/2014 - 09:54 in

Check out 13-year-old Ellie Kumer’s story about how she doesn’t let type 1 diabetes stop her from staying active and how she actually uses type 1 diabetes as creative inspiration.  What does diabetes inspire you to do? 

Two months before my fourth birthday, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Needless to say, that was a changing point in my life. Suddenly, my parents were responsible for monitoring my diet, exercise and blood sugar throughout the day. They were giving me 4-6 insulin shots each day and constantly evaluating and adjusting different factors to keep my body functioning properly.

Over the past nine years, as I’ve continued to grow and mature, I have succeeded in juggling diabetes on my own. I have lived with diabetes twice as long as I have lived without it – and can’t remember a day when I didn’t have to poke my finger or dose insulin.

This summer, I participated in Milwaukee Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program. For six weeks, I danced five days a week from 9:00-5:00, ending with a performance at the end of the summer. This was an opportunity that I auditioned for in January and am so thankful to have experienced.

Balancing Diabetes with Ballet

Ellie-Kumer-Ballet-with-DiabetesI’ve been taking ballet classes for 10 years and it is my passion! In order to participate in a program like this, it requires a fair amount of planning and preparation – not only ballet training, but diabetes training, too.

For long rehearsals, I have to make sure I eat prior to dancing and I also have to bring food for breaks and lunch. For some students, grabbing a package of chips or cookies would be fine – but I know that because of diabetes I will need to eat several balanced mini-meals throughout all the hours of dance classes. This requires me to plan out my meals and snacks and experiment with different proteins and carbohydrates to keep my blood sugar in check throughout the day.

Managing my Blood Sugar During Ballet

During the summer Intensive program I definitely had some low blood sugars to treat, but I am learning how to keep my body fueled and to check my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) often to ensure I stay in the best blood sugar range possible. I have to be acutely aware of my body and my glucose levels to perform to the best of my ability. If my blood sugar is rising, I can dose more insulin. If my blood sugar is dropping, I can temporarily lower my insulin basal rate with my insulin pump.

Ellie-Kumer-Acting-with-DiabetesBeyond ballet, I also love to sing and act. I have performed in seven musicals through school and community theater. I’ve also danced in Milwaukee Ballet’s The Nutcracker and Romeo & Juliet. In each situation, I assess what I need to do to be best prepared for whatever diabetes-driven situations could arise and what measures need to be in place for me to feel safe and perform at my best. This can be as simple as having a safe place to keep my diabetes bag or determining where to place my Omnipod insulin pump to fit underneath my costume. At other times, it is maintaining the balance of food and activity level or remembering to turn off alarms on my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor.

Typically, I don’t have pockets to store a juice box or glucose tabs when I’m on the stage, so I usually place some small candies backstage or in the wings. If my blood sugar is high, I cannot concentrate on the dance steps, song lyrics or have accurate timing. I will check my blood sugar often before a performance to make sure I can correct with insulin before I step onto the stage.

Getting Creative with Diabetes

Ellie-Kumer-OmniPodAlong with my love for ballet and acting, one of my favorite classes in school is Art. One of our assignments last year was to save 75-80 of one item (small enough to fit in your hand) that could be recycled into a sculpture at the end of the term. I chose to save my Omnipod insulin pump Pods. This sculpture is a reminder of all supplies I need to stay alive!

Another way I put my diabetes on display is by decorating my Pods and wearing them on my arm where they are noticeable. My insulin pump Pods are now another way to show my creativity and style – and can often spark a conversation with others. I like taking opportunities to educate people about type 1 diabetes and I want to be a role model for other young children diagnosed with diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes never goes away – it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I have to think about my diabetes every minute of every day as I go about my daily life. I am proud that diabetes has not stopped me from chasing my dreams and it is something unique about me!

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