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Can I introduce you as, "If you don't take insulin you'll die?"

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:06am

My husband is a management consultant who lives in Brooklyn and works in Europe. It's a heck of a commute but somehow we make it work. Last week he facilitated his first week-long management course in Connecticut, a mere two hours away -- Eastern Standard Time and no jet lag. But greater than that, in the world of 'wonders never cease,' his course participants, as is the company's tradition, elected a charity to make a donation to at the end of the course and they chose (all on their own, no coaching from my hubby) Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Now, what was even more remarkable  was not only do I have type 1 diabetes, but one of the other four course leaders has a 17 year old daughter with type 1 diabetes. 

Typically a guest speaker is invited the last night of their course to talk about the chosen charity, so it was not a stretch for my husband to call me and ask if I'd come up and fill the role. Knapsack packed, I hopped a train from Grand Central Station and was soon standing in front of twenty executives from ING and five executive management instructors to compress thirty-six years of living with diabetes, and the establishment and achievements of JDRF, into fifteen minutes. Oddly enough this is fun for me; while I may get white knuckles just before showtime, after I've gotten my first laugh, which I intend by the way, my knuckles open up and I feel my audience resting in the palm of my hand. 

It was easy to draw parallels between the topic of their course, leadership, and the leadership of the impassioned parents of children with diabetes who collectively wrote letters and called senators and created JDRF, now a world class cure-focused research organization. It was easy to liken managing systems in a corporation with managing our systems in diabetes: food, exercise, medicine, stress, illness. Toward my close, I talked about my own personal passion in my work, helping people develop the emotional resilience to get up each and every day and manage this condition again, and again and again, and how still after 36 years of living with diabetes I have no assurance that Tuesday will go the way Monday did, or Sunday did, or Saturday did. As I spoke those words in particular my voice cracked, tears came and I choked, I choked right there in front of 25 executives. My husband told me later it was a great moment of authenticity and they "got it." I've spied here and there over the past year of giving presentations, that no matter how much knowledge I possess or how well I speak, diabetes comes with an emotional suitcase, and while I thought I'd only brought a knapsack to Connecticut, that emotional suitcase had accompanied me unnoticed. But it's also O.K. because it was in opening that suitcase in that room that evening that allowed for a shift in my audience from head to heart. 

When the host asked me pre-speech how I wanted to be introduced, before I answered he said, "Is it true if you don't take insulin you'll die?" I would have never have thought of that in the moment, but I said, "Yes, actually it is." He asked, "Can I use that in the introduction?" To which I responded, "Sure, why not?" "O.K., great,"he said laughing, "I'll bring them down and you bring them up." A version of good cop/bad cop perhaps, and a brilliant game plan hatched in 60 seconds. But his question, is it true if you don't take insulin you'll die, unknowingly made me feel a little vulnerable and a little heroic, which truthfully I rarely allow myself to feel. So maybe that's where my tears came from 12 minutes later. In any event, the next day 20 executives went home to neighboring parts of Connecticut, Des Moines, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Atlanta and one to Amsterdam with a little better understanding of what type 1 diabetes is, how invisible this illness is and what all us invisible people are doing all day long managing round-the-clock blood sugars. And I'm pleased to say these executives who overpaid for mugs and hats and theatre tickets to raise money for JDRF raised $2,600 and the company matches half so all tolled almost $4,000. Not bad for a night's work and a free dinner. 

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