My first published essay is in this month’s Diabetes Forecast, a magazine distributed by the American Diabetes Association for people living with diabetes. (I once saw it described online as a magazine for people “suffering from diabetes,” but that is thankfully not the official line.) I’ve been checking their website for the past week, waiting for the May issue to hit the virtual stands and it was finally updated today. So I felt pretty excited as I scrolled through the table of contents, looking for my name and there it was, “The Best Advocate” by Krissy Dietrich Gallagher.
So I clicked on it and I read it, my very first real published piece of writing, . . . and I was so disappointed!
I knew they would make changes, of course, and the editor and I had already gone back and forth, back and forth many times via email trying to nail down the right angle. It was a fascinating process because what I set out to write was a piece about how Austin’s cancer has helped me understand and appreciate what my diabetes meant (and means) to my own parents. That cancer-patient-on-the-elevator story was my jumping off point, the thing that so perfectly linked our two diseases.
So I crafted an essay around that story and was pretty pleased with it. Then when I was informed by the magazine that they wanted to publish it, the message made it sound like my original was too long (which, knowing me, it probably was). So I edited it down and weeded out some extraneous details and sent it back. Well, the next message I received was nothing but confusing; this woman was hemming and hawing and definitely trying to say something without coming right out and saying it. I began to wonder if maybe they didn’t like my writing at all, when it finally hit me: This is a magazine for people with diabetes . . . and my original essay had a very strong “You should be thankful you have diabetes when you could have cancer, lucky you” message to it. Obviously not the message they wanted to promote!
I felt much better when I realized that (and even a little embarassed that I hadn’t realized it sooner) and rewrote the essay yet again. This is the draft I thought would be printed in the magazine and which I was happy enough with:
Nobody cares as much about my diabetes as my parents do. Nobody worries more about complications, works harder to improve medical research, or pins more of their hope on a cure than they do. I am now a 35-year-old adult with a family and life of my own, and my mother still reads every diabetes magazine cover to cover, tearing out articles for me and leaving them in a stack on her kitchen counter. My parents still attend all the local conferences of doctors and researchers discussing their work, often in scientific terms they don’t understand. My parents still want nothing more than for my life to be happy, healthy and “normal.”
When I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at age 13, I thought it affected no one but me. I never stopped to consider what it meant to my parents. I never imagined what it might feel like to watch their vibrant and athletic daughter stick herself with needles or test her blood four times a day. Or what it might feel like to worry about things they had never before considered: kidney failure and blindness, amputation and severe low blood sugar. Their world changed too on that day.
After the birth of my first son, I slowly began to understand what my parents might have felt upon my diagnosis. I suddenly knew the overpowering urge to protect your children, keep them out of harm’s way, smooth their path in life. But it was only an abstract inkling; my child was healthy.
And then I had another child.
And then that child had cancer.
My second son Austin was diagnosed with cancer in both his kidneys at the age of ten months. The same children’s hospital that had treated me so many years before quickly became our second home, as we spent forty-nine nights there, filled with the worry and disbelief and fear that my own parents had felt, multiplied times one thousand. I was forced to look anew at what my diabetes meant and means to them. And I finally understood. I now know about poring over research. I know about pinning all one’s hopes on a different outcome, a good test result, a better life. I know that there is no advocate for eradicating disease as powerful as the parents of a patient. I know that little movement towards a cure or more effective treatment or possible prevention would happen without the constant push and plea from parents. I know that no one cares more about my son living a happy and healthy and normal life than my husband and I do.
And I now understand the pride and awe my parents must feel when I accomplish great things, whether running a marathon or birthing a child. I feel that same pride and awe when I watch my Austin run, climb, jump across the backyard. At age thirteen, I embodied an innocent and optimistic spirit, a belief that I could do anything, diabetes or not. And as a survivor at age two-and-a-half, my son embodies that same innocent and optimistic spirit, a belief that he can do anything, cancer or not.
And he’s right. He can.
Anyway, the “real” one can be found here. It’s not that it’s awful or anything, or even very different from this one, which was already very different from my first and favorite version. But it just doesn’t have my voice. Oh well, a lesson in the “industry,” I guess.