Reminders to Keep Going: Diabetes + Marathon Training + a PhD
Editor’s Note: Emily is a member of the Beyond Type Run 2022 team—a team of nearly 50 people living with type 1 diabetes who ran the 2022 NYC Marathon on November 6. They’re on a mission to raise awareness and funds for type 1 diabetes, with fundraising open through the end of 2022. Congratulate Emily by making a gift on her fundraising page!
Over 20 years ago, during the hospital stay where I learned how to live with my new type 1 diabetes diagnosis, a picture was taken of me in the hospital garden. I still have those flowers pressed in a memory book.
I was only 4 years old at the time, too young to fully understand the life-changing consequences of that moment. But I think this simple memory captures the challenge and beauty of living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in the hospital, but in a flower garden.
Diabetes has shaped my life in more ways than I can count, but thankfully there are some bright spots in the midst of it all.
My support and formative years
I was blessed to have parents who were diligent and supportive, not only in the medical management of my diagnosis, but particularly in the pursuit of my goals—and sometimes against others who believed my diabetes would be too much for me to handle.
Others doubted I could pursue academic achievements on top of daily blood sugar management, but my parents encouraged me. They wanted to make sure I knew being insulin-dependent would not hold me back.
While they taught me that living with a daily-managed disease did not define—nor excuse—me, I am who I am because of type 1 diabetes in many ways.
Years ago, I was enrolled in a clinical trial at the University of Iowa for early-generation continuous glucose monitors. At that time, I couldn’t even see the blood sugars in real-time, but rather the researchers collected all of the information and assessed how well the equipment worked at the end of the study.
Finding purpose in medical research
Facing these medical challenges and benefiting from research sparked my passion for biostatistics. After learning about how the field could combine my interests in math, medicine and helping others, I imagined myself helping conduct impactful research in a clinical setting.
After six years of PhD training and research, I’m ecstatic that I recently graduated with my PhD and started a job in biostatistics as a tenure-track faculty member.
Now, I will have the opportunity to work on other ongoing clinical trials as part of my job. I couldn’t be more grateful for how the stars aligned.
Admittedly, as a first-generation college student, I never imagined that I would become a professor. I know that the challenges I’ve overcome and continue to face have made me more resilient and passionate about making a difference.
Today, I consistently wear my Dexcom continuous glucose monitor proudly, usually on the back of my arm, where it connects to my Tandem insulin pump on my hip. Together, these are tools I use to monitor my blood sugar and insulin levels every minute of every day.
Despite these amazing advances in research and technology to date, type 1 diabetes doesn’t take a single break.
Measuring the journey in miles
Never really considering myself a true athlete, I distinctly remember running my first timed mile in middle school and worrying that I might not be able to complete the laps around the track. Before the run, I sat in the nurse’s office drinking juice and eating snacks to get my blood sugars high enough to even try.
During graduate school, I ran my first 10k alongside my classmates, mainly looking for a sense of community and an opportunity to pursue a physical, rather than academic, goal during the stressful years of PhD training.
I next completed a half marathon—a much bigger accomplishment than I ever could have possibly imagined, both mentally and physically (pink insulin pump and all).
During difficult runs, I would remind myself how much I had already overcome (including taking the GRE and a month straight of studying for my PhD qualifying exams) and that I could indeed continue.
Even now after writing the acknowledgments of my dissertation and starting this new stage in my career, I reflect on my experiences and training for this marathon to ground me.
On good days it reminds me that anything is possible, even in the face of great uncertainty.
Now I have the opportunity to push myself even further and raise awareness for this cause near and dear to my heart.