Derek Theler: Diabetes Warrior
It’s a superhero! It’s a Baby Daddy! It’s a Dexcom Warrior! It’s … Derek Theler!
The Marvel’s New Warriors actor is the face of Dexcom’s Call of the Warrior campaign, launching this month. Derek spoke to Beyond Type 1 about what it means to be a superhero — both on set and while managing diabetes. Having been diagnosed with Type 1 at age 3, he knows a lot about both.
Derek shared tips for maintaining the warrior-like focus that he uses in nearly every aspect of his life: reaching out about CGM technology as a spokesperson for Dexcom, preparing for a day on set (a diabetes bag is essential), connecting with other “diabetic buddies” he meets (in real life!), and problem-solving when things go wrong in the most inconvenient of places, like in an audition room or out on the open ocean off of South Africa.
Tell us about partnering with Dexcom on the Call of the Warrior campaign!
The way it works is, we want people to post either photos or videos of themselves giving their best Warrior Call on our Facebook page and Instagram and use #WarriorUp. It’s a shout in the face of diabetes. It’s a great campaign because people can be creative with it, and anyone can do it.
For each post, Dexcom will give a $1 donation to a bunch of different diabetes charities. I’m really excited for this because it’s not a campaign where I have to ask people for money — all you have to do is use #WarriorUp and Dexcom will donate the money.
How were you first introduced to Dexcom?
My younger sister is also a Type 1 diabetic, and she’s the reason I got turned on to the Dexcom. She was trying to get pregnant and she realized that a CGM is a really helpful technology when it comes to maintaining your blood sugar. Now I actually have a nephew, which is really cool news.
I like to talk about growing up with her because she and I were the only ones who understood what it was like. She didn’t have any diabetic friends and nobody who went to her school was diabetic. It was something that we really shared together.
How did using a CGM help you achieve your goals like it helped your sister?
It was a game-changer for someone like me who has a crazy schedule — it’s all over the place. If you don’t have a continuous glucose monitoring system, it’s hard to know where you are. Having the Dexcom check your blood sugar every five minutes really helps you know not only where you are at that moment, but where it’s heading, and when it’s dropping or when it’s rising too fast.
It affects my workday in a positive way for sure. When I have to go get body makeup done during my lunch break and push lunch out, or go do an interview during my lunch break, I know where I’m at and can plan for my future. My worst fear is holding back a 100-person crew from shooting because I have to take care of a low blood sugar. Time is money in this industry, and you never want to be the guy that everybody’s waiting on.
Are you ever worried that someone will catch sight of your pump or CGM at an audition?
At first, I was worried about telling producers or directors in case they thought I couldn’t handle long hours or a major role. These days, as soon as I get a role, I go straight to the director and say, “Just so you know, I’m a Type 1 diabetic. I have it under control. If anything happens, you just need to give me sugar. If you have any other questions, I’m happy to talk about it.” That’s my normal spiel.
During the [audition] process for Baby Daddy, I actually had a dangerous low. It was actually a perfect storm: I woke up a little late, and there was somebody at a director’s session right in front of me and they took a lot longer [than expected]. My call was at 11 a.m., right around lunchtime, and I didn’t get in there until 12:30, 12:45, and I hadn’t eaten any lunch. My blood sugar just plummeted.
As I was going through the scene and working the script, I just started melting. My whole body was sweating. I was having a dangerous low, but I didn’t want to give them an excuse — I didn’t want to be the guy who didn’t perform and had an excuse for why. I didn’t tell them I was a Type 1 diabetic, which now I regret. I wound up getting back to my car and finding some bars in the trunk and eating them, and finally calling my mom in tears, like, “I might have ruined one of the biggest opportunities.”
She told me I had to call them and tell them what the problem was. I called the casting director, and I let her know that this wasn’t something that happened often and it was really bad timing. They were really sweet and understanding. I’m really glad I called them because nobody could figure out what was wrong with me — I was slurring my words and I was very pale. I wound up getting the job, so that’s a cool success story!
That’s a really important message for everyone with diabetes to hear. What other advice would you share?
You shouldn’t be ashamed of it. You have to be more responsible, but you can still achieve any of your goals. I was diagnosed when I was 3 years old. There was a moment in my life — I must have been in high school — when I wasn’t as responsible about my health as I should have been. It didn’t last long, but I think a lot of people can probably relate to that. I think I would tell anybody going through that now that they should try to focus and be responsible with it because it’ll pay off in the long run. The sooner you get healthy, the more fulfilling your life will be.
Do you ever run into other people with diabetes on set?
Yeah, I call them my diabetic buddies! Anytime I see someone wearing a pump or a CGM, I run up to them and start talking about it. It’s a community that I really want to be a part of and I want to build as much as I can. Not just other actors, but cameramen, stand-ins … I’ll see someone who’s a Type 1 diabetic and I’ll sit down and talk to them all day.
No one really notices my pump and CGM because I keep them somewhat hidden (none of my characters are ever diabetic!). But in the new project I’m working on, Marvel’s New Warriors, I haven’t really been wearing a lot of clothes so my sites have been exposed. Everyone asks questions — I love to talk about it because I think it’s important to talk about when it comes to educating people about diabetes. I get a lot more questions when I have fewer clothes on, that’s for sure!
How do you prepare for a day on set?
I always have a bag. If I’m going to guest star on a TV show for two days, or if I’m working on a movie in South Africa, I always have a bag on me with supplies, extra supplies, a test kit, glucose, Gatorade. It’s part of the lifestyle of a diabetic: when you leave the house, you have to have all of these supplies on you. You get into trouble when you don’t have backup supplies and something fails.
I remember a time when I was in South Africa shooting a shark film and we spent five full days on the open water. I was in the ocean every day. And my pump failed. That was a really, really scary situation because I wasn’t very familiar with how to give myself injections and follow my scale and time it out. I got on the phone with my endo, and luckily I got someone on the crew to help me get my pump working again because there was a problem with the battery pack. So that was a scary day and a half: I was a million miles away from home and just come up with a plan on the fly.
Which screens can we catch you on next?
I just shot an episode of Desperate Housewives, which will air in November, and I also shot the first episode of Marvel’s New Warriors.
I’m really excited about working on that show — I think it’s phenomenal and I have really high hopes for it. It’s always been a lifelong goal of mine to play a superhero and wear a pump under my suit.
Learn more about the Call of the Warrior campaign and how you can get involved!