My Wedding Was a Zoo – Literally!
I was never one of those girls who dreamed of getting married and walking down the aisle in a fancy white wedding dress. I didn’t even envision a formal wedding—let alone getting married—when I met my eventual husband. Marriage didn’t seem of importance to me—what was the significance of a piece of paper? Was it going to make me trust someone more? I didn’t see the point. And all the work that went into a wedding, why bother with all the planning when it seemed to create hassles and conflicts with who was invited and who gets to be bridesmaids. Who needs that? And, all the wedding gifts—was I really going to need more dinner plates or wine glasses? I was surviving just fine with all the casual, mismatched items that could go in a dishwasher. Luckily, one of those beliefs changed for me.
I met my husband Eric when we were 19 years old. We were both reluctantly living in the dorms as sophomores (thanks to our parents) at UW-Madison. We both went on to grad school at Madison. I was pursuing my PhD in Clinical Nutrition with a focus on endocrinology and gastroenterology. He was in business school.
Eric (still boyfriend at the time) finished grad school a year before me and got a job right away. When I graduated, I was jobless. I knew it would take me some time to find a job since my degree was rather specialized, but no job meant no health insurance. And, I was several years beyond being able to be on my parents’ insurance. This was not a good place to be in for anyone, but especially not for someone with type 1. I could continue on my grad school insurance at a cost of around $800 per month which I did for several months, but this wasn’t sustainable.
A new level of understanding
So that piece of paper that I didn’t see the significance of now was personally meaningful. Being married would allow me to get health insurance through Eric. With all the other autoimmune flares that I had going on at that point (thanks overactive and indiscriminate immune system!), time appeared to be of the essence. So after over ten years together, we decided to get married. (Yep, just as romantic as it sounds!)
I still didn’t see the need for a big white wedding. Our families wanted to be part of whatever we did, so we agreed to something super small and informal in the next month or two. Given travel logistics, it ended up being about three months before our families could all get together. As luck (or destiny!) would have it, this timing was then super close to the JDRF Diabetes Walk which we always did together in September at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Eric and I share a passion for animals and the outdoors, embrace all things non-traditional, and get joy from charity work. So the small, informal, no-planning, family wedding somehow morphed into a large, still informal, planned, family-and-friends wedding. We had over 200 family and friends join us for our diabetes-themed wedding.
There was no walk down the aisle in a church; it was a walk through the zoo on a sunny, early fall day. There was no fancy formal white dress worn by the bride; it was a “got insulin?” t-shirt worn by all. There was no offending anyone if they made the cut on the invite list; all were most welcome to join in support. There were no wedding gifts all wrapped in decorative paper with big bows; there were only lots of paper checks with the most beautiful of donations and cards with words of support. From a girl who had no dreams of getting married, it couldn’t have been more perfect.
So that piece of paper that gave me access to health insurance also raised awareness and money for type 1 diabetes. The most selfless and supportive husband has been with me every step of the way on this life—and full-time diabetes—journey. We’ve done numerous walks and countless cycling centuries for diabetes charities together (twice on a tandem in the Canadian Rockies—marriage therapy at its best since communicating bumps is important when the back person can’t see them—ouch!).
Going the distance
In April of this year, we got a call from some good friends who were at our wedding. Their 13-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with type 1. The first question their daughter asked was, “Will I still be able to play soccer?”
I started reflecting back on almost 15 years earlier when we asked for donations for our wedding to make steps towards a cure for type 1. That’s what we need for a long, happy, healthy, life together and obviously, we still don’t have a cure. But we have made progress. Research is slow (I get it all too well since I do clinical research for a living), but advancements in technology such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) have been game changers for many, including myself. And the social media platforms that are creating connections between type 1s where we can learn from and support each other is a significant yet underestimated form of progress.
So while there isn’t a cure yet, donations, support and advocacy do make a difference! The progress that’s been made over the past 15 years is what makes me feel comfortable to ask for support and donations yet again, this time in a different venue.
This year instead of walking with 200+ friends and family, I’ll be running the NYC marathon with 29 other type 1s and 50,000 of my other closest friends (ha! and yikes!) to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes and money for Beyond Type 1.
Support matters—and we are making progress! The diabetes community continues to amaze and inspire. I’m making it a goal to raise more than we did at our wedding—we raised over $20,000 that day. I’m aiming for $26,200 this year, a number that just so happens to correspond with the 26.2 miles that I am so determined to run to show that we are all beyond type 1—and to raise money for this amazing organization that has given me this humbling opportunity and provides a platform for educating and inspiring other type 1s! And so that 13-year-olds don’t ever have to wonder if they will be able to chase their dreams with type 1!
Elizabeth Firestone is raising money for Beyond Type 1 through Beyond Type Run—her fundraising will make a real difference in the lives of those living with T1D.