The Pen Pal that Changed My Daughter’s Life

WRITTEN BY: Dorothy Hinds

dorothy hinds 3I’m Dorothy, a homeschooling mom and wife who lives in Northern California. I live with my awesome husband, 3 daughters, 4 chickens, 1 dog and a goldfish. My husband and I try to teach our girls to balance hard work, fun and faith. Our daughters are strong, smart, funny and sassy.

We were happily going along with the ebb and flow of life when it all came to a halt on April 15, 2015.  That was the day our middle wild child, Lilah, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As we drove from the pediatrician to the endocrinologist my husband said, “We will not let this define her; we will not allow people to feel sorry for us. We will use this as a platform to show our strength and our faith in God.” I was too overwhelmed to process what he said, but as the weeks passed I let it sink in, and I truly felt a calm come over me knowing somehow, some way this would be the storm before the rainbow.

Like many parents I have spent countless hours reading books and pouring over the internet for ways to make our lives easier, more fun or both! Type 1 is no different. Unfortunately everything I found either was about Type 2 or stories filled with anger and frustration. I yearned to find something with hope, where you could vent on those bad days but also where triumphs could be shared.

Finding Beyond Type 1 was that! It has been amazing and empowering for Lilah and me. We don’t feel alone on this journey that at times can be very isolating and misunderstood. So when Snail Mail was introduced I could not have been more thrilled! This was everything I wanted for Lilah! I wouldn’t have to look up things on the internet about Type 1 so she wouldn’t feel alone. Support was going to come to her in handwritten notes shared between friends, and what better way to go through this journey?

I remember filling out the questionnaire with Lilah. Diagnosis date…favorite color…favorite food…all the usual answers I had come to expect from her. So I was quite taken aback when Lilah requested an older diabuddy. What could they possibly have in common? Wouldn’t she have more fun writing to someone her own age? Would these letters really have meaning and be helpful? Would someone older really want to start a friendship with an 8-year-old girl? I couldn’t have been more wrong!

We were blessed beyond measure to have Samantha as our Snail Mail diabuddy. We live in the mountains; she lives in New York City. Lilah is 8; Samantha is 26. And though they sound like the odd couple their connection is so honest and pure and beautiful.

dorothy hinds 4Lilah’s face lights up when a letter arrives. She reads it multiple times before pulling out her special pencil, paper, and stickers; she cannot wait to write back! Within 48 hours another letter is back in the mail! (Added bonus: as a homeschool mom her handwriting and spelling have improved too!) Many times Lilah sends hand drawn pictures with her letter, and on Samantha’s birthday we sent her a Pump Peelz for her omnipod.

Samantha, I don’t even know where to begin! She has become family. We share in each other’s triumphs and trials through various social media outlets. She inspires Lilah to achieve great things and overcome her fears. After writing to Samantha and talking about their fears, Lilah put in her own inset for the first time this week! My husband and I look forward to Samantha’s letters as well. They help us open doors to communicate with Lilah about Type 1.

When she is nervous to change her Dexcom we remind her Samantha does too! When she impatiently waits to eat after blousing, we remind her Samantha does too! When she is upset to have to sit out and check her blood glucose levels, we remind her about the funny story Samantha posted on social media about passing out at the gym…and tell her you don’t want that to be you. (Parents love a good cautionary tale!)

Samantha is the success story every T1D parent wants to see. On diagnosis day, as a parent, you cannot help but wonder what kind of life your child will have. Samantha is our living proof that Lilah will not only survive, but she can also conquer any obstacle. Samantha is truly a blessing from God. She has brought so much comfort to our hearts seeing her live life to the fullest. She was the rainbow after the storm! (Although now Lilah is saving her money to fly across the country to meet Samantha,  which makes me nervous because when Lilah wants something bad enough she makes it happen.)

But more than all of this, Lilah loves her.

Because of Snail Mail, Lilah knows she is not alone, and that makes her stronger and more confident. What parent could ask for more?

Read Samantha Willner’s story Dear Lilah. Sign up for Snail Mail!


Dorothy Hinds

Dorothy lives in Northern California with her 3 daughters and incredible husband. She is also a homeschooling mom with 4 chickens, 1 dog and a goldfish. Her husband and she aspire to teach their girls to balance hard work, fun and faith.