Diagnosis Day and Living Beyond: Stephanie’s Story
Editor’s Note: Stephanie ‘Bambi’ Northwood-Blyth is a supermodel, entrepreneur, and Global Ambassador for Beyond Type 1. On the 16th anniversary of Bambi’s T1D diagnosis, she received this reflection from her mother Jill.
It was just a normal Saturday in the Northwood Blyth household in Melbourne on the 10th of November 2002. We had taken our 3 daughters to netball games and — as they all loved shopping at the local outlet stores — we were wandering around bargain hunting.
As a mother I noticed that Stephanie seemed tired, perhaps withdrawn on this occasion, which was most unusual as she thoroughly loved fashion! The following day we had extended family over for brunch and I noticed Stef rapidly drinking loads of pineapple juice — but didn’t know what to make of that. My sister-in-law observed a considerable tiredness in our Stef and weight loss. Upon reflection I’m aware that sometimes we cannot see what is happening in those closest to us, but when it was pointed out to me I could suddenly see it clearly.
We decided to act quickly and headed to a local hospital. As we were walking in I said to Stef, “darling this could be nothing or it could be something like diabetes.” I have no idea where that idea came from but it only took 10 minutes and a blood glucose test to confirm this hunch. This was the 11th Day of the 11th Month of 2002 — Armistice Day — an important day in the calendar now not only for remembrance of those men and women who died in the First World War, but also now a life changing date in our daughter’s life, and indeed in the lives of our whole family.
Stephanie and I then spent 5 nights in Melbourne’s renowned Children’s Hospital, with me sleeping on a mattress beside her bed. On the Monday morning Dr. Fergus Cameron came in to see us and delivered the blunt but essential information: “Stephanie, you have Type 1 diabetes and you will have this condition for life and will learn how to manage it” — such a BIG message to receive & our tears flowed — but then he added “and I will have you back on the netball court on Saturday.” These words ring in my ears to this day. They were serious, necessary and clear, but importantly they came with a message of hope: You will be able to resume your life.
Our family will always be incredibly grateful to the team at the Melbourne Children’s Hospital, including the specially trained team of Type 1 diabetes nurses. Ken, my husband, and I learned so much in that hospital stay: how to test blood sugar, how to inject insulin, what a hypoglycemic event meant and how to manage it, and SO MUCH MORE. A special friend from school, Courtney, came in with a Paul Frank monkey for Stef which she’d named “Needles” and thereafter Needles accompanied Stef everywhere…..and she still has it to this day.
We were fortunate as a family to be able to create both a circle of love and care around Stef at diagnosis and beyond. As a mother and father team we often needed to split tasks so that our two other daughters could continue their lives with parental involvement and time. Taking Stephanie home from the security of the hospital was incredibly challenging. The nurses weren’t wrong in their farewell message when they said this is like taking home a baby for the first time — you will watch over her like a hawk! And we certainly did!
Over the years since Diagnosis Day we all learned a great deal more about this illness. After a couple of years Stephanie was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to use an insulin pump and it was life changing — no more stigma of injecting insulin in public places and much better control of her blood glucose level (BGL). Ironically Stephanie was also the first person to “lose” an insulin pump when skylarking in a boat at a Diabetes Camp. The pump detached, hit the water and could not be found again.
Of course there were other challenges, lots of anxiety and fear across the years especially with parties and alcohol. I can say I spent a few worried nights asleep on the floor of her bedroom with an alarm to wake me to check her BGLs. The mid-teen years, with a whole term camp located in bushland 6 hours from Melbourne, took a lot of organisation, assistance from teaching staff and courage! We wanted Stephanie to be able to participate in anything she wanted to — and she was determined to do so. When she informed us she had (secretly) entered a modeling competition at the age of 14 we weren’t thrilled! As she subsequently won this competition and it became the first milestone along a road that would lead to a global career in modeling we absolutely supported her right to follow her own path.
We are grateful for quality of the ongoing care of the Children’s Hospital staff who oversaw Stephanie’s diabetes journey until she turned 18. The consistency of staff and the presence and the availability of the diabetes educators helped us as parents to contain our anxieties, and, in turn, helped us to trust that Stephanie could and would manage this condition across her life.
As T1D must be managed right across one’s lifetime we are regularly reminded of the dangers of Stef’s condition especially when we witness hypos. This is still quite a shocking reminder of the vagaries of T1D. Even this week I had to urgently FedEx some diabetes supplies to Stef in New York, as they were neither readily accessible nor affordable where she was.
As Stef has now been travelling the world regularly for her work as an international model for many years, we have faith that she can — and is — doing her utmost to attend to her condition, proving she is more than her diagnosis.