Returning To The Stage With T1D
As a professional ballet dancer, I was used to pushing through aches, pains and bloodied pointe shoes. Stress fracture? No big deal. Sprained ankle? Pass the tape. Nothing ever held me back from eight-hour rehearsal days and evening performances — not even a mysterious, though alarming, red line running up my foot from an infected corn during a run of Swan Lake.
But a few years ago my mind and body began to deteriorate. Over a two-year span, I was reduced to a fraction of the person I once was (and had been) for the last 28 years: I’m talking a 20-pound-plus weight loss, endless hunger, infection, increased urination, confusion, and mind-numbing exhaustion. Despite every warning sign imaginable, I remained in complete denial. My then-boyfriend, and now-husband, Max, encouraged me to visit various doctors. I needed answers. People were telling how lucky I was that I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight. Meanwhile, I fell asleep each nigh terrified I might not wake up the next morning. Though deep down, though, I sensed something was wrong, even though the doctors were all telling me I was fine.
But I wasn’t fine. Dancing became increasingly painful and difficult. It had become impossible to execute steps properly, and I continually felt as though I was close to death. My body was breaking down. I didn’t have the energy required to perform. My infected corn wouldn’t heal. And I had a labral tear in my hip that was causing me trouble and concern. I even remember lying on the floor of a bathroom stall during one performance, not knowing how I could possibly get through the next ballet, wondering if anyone would find me if I just stayed there curled up on the dirty tiles. My love of dance was gone. Stolen from me. I was forced to prematurely retire and move to the next phase of my life. So, in October 2011, after my “retirement,” I decided to focus on getting my college degree. Max was on a national tour performing with Billy Elliot, and I figured I could travel with him, while working toward my new goal.
Then, in January of 2012, the Billy Elliot tour came through my hometown of Washington D.C. Since Max and I no longer had a home base, I reasoned this was the best place to make one last doctor visit before we headed back out on the road. Thankfully, at the urging of my best friend, I asked the doctor—forced him actually—to check my a1c (whatever that meant!) and give me a full blood panel. A few days later, a nurse called with the results: I had a slow thyroid. Bingo! Finally, I had a diagnosis and hoped a little Synthroid prescription would be the end of my worries and the key to finally getting my life back!
However, when I walked back into the endocrinologist’s office, they asked if I was there for my diabetes. Suffice it to say, I was terribly confused. The nurse calmly sat me down and asked to test my blood sugar. It was 600. She then asked if I was going to pass out. I said, “No!” She asked if I was going to throw up. I replied, “Definitely not!” She asked if I felt okay? I said, “Yes! My car is in the garage. I’m leaving town on Monday, so I really must be going.”
Instead, I was escorted to the ER.
At this point, I was still in utter disbelief. It was Friday the 13th. This had to be a bad joke! I spent the next eight hours in the ER, waiting for my blood sugar to come down. Once it did, I was released. But somewhere along the way, something must have gotten lost in translation because they were under the impression I knew I had diabetes. Truth was I didn’t even know what diabetes was, much less that I had it. Later that night, a doctor from the endocrinology office I visited earlier that afternoon called. He asked me to pick up a glucose monitor and start testing myself, and told me if I had two consecutive readings over 250, I was to call the emergency line, because I would need to get started on insulin injections. This ended up happening the very next morning. So I now had a choice: I could either go back to the ER to learn how to inject myself, or I could have my uncle (who is a radiologist) teach me.
Long story short, I chose my uncle. And thanks to him and his diabetic dog, I learned everything I needed to know about insulin and injections, right there in the privacy of his kitchen. I spent three weeks in DC learning what a carb was and how to count them. I was also rapidly gaining weight, which was a little scary because I had lost so much prior to my diagnosis and didn’t realize I would gain it all back practically overnight
I rejoined Max on tour and tried to get my life back on track. It took about five months for everything to regulate. Once I started feeling like myself again, I realized I wasn’t finished performing. Instead of returning to traditional ballet, I decided to switch gears. With my health and passion renewed, I moved to NYC, started vocal lessons, and was determined to make my comeback in a musical.
Looking back, I can’t believe how long I spent feeling sick, not listening to my intuition, and ignoring the warning signs. I can even recall the exact moment my symptoms began to appear while visiting Max’s father in the French Alps. All of these clues went unnoticed, and I am confident it was my love of dance and strong work ethic that kept me out of a coma (I now know I drop at least 100 points after a show). Prior to my diagnosis, my life was completely out of control. But in discovering I had diabetes, and learning more about it, I was able to regain control. I chose to own my disease and not let it own me. And thanks to insulin, I was able to return to the stage and to the world I loved and had missed out on for two-and-a-half years.