My friend Mary, a two-time kidney transplant recipient, writes about knowing the “non-diabetes” side of me. I hope you enjoy reading her piece as much as I did. Here is the full piece in case the link from the previous post didn’t work.
The (Un)Definition of the Diabetes Diagnosis
By: Mary H.Wu
This is to Julie Ann Wilson.
Julie and I met and hit it off right from the start of our freshmen year at Manhattanville College. We were bright-eyed, terrified, excited, and hungry for the brand new start of college and the college years to come.
The very first thing that struck me about Julie was her blonde hair. Beautiful and thick blonde hair that I had always craved. To me, Julie looked like the all-American girl with her winsome smile and infectious laughter. Beneath the surface, she appeared even more American to me than ever with her vibrant attitude.
I am ABC (American-Born Chinese) with dark hair and dark eyes. In addition to my darker features that were clearly different, I was on the rounder side due to the lifetime immunosuppressant medications I had to take for my history of two kidney transplants. The first kidney transplant was when I was 5-years-old after my kidneys shut down on me by the time I was 3-years-old and the second one when I was 12-years-old. My arthritis that I had suffered from since I was 10-years-old was also starting to creep back in the worst of ways in my life by the time I was in college. Yet, I was fortunate that the greatest health challenges revolved around my chronic kidney failure were relatively behind me when I started college. College was a fresh start for me to be who I really was, rather than what my diagnoses had made me out to be.
I never knew Julie had diabetes. She never knew that I had two kidney transplants and about my arthritis. We never knew that we were more alike and similar than we could have even imagined.
It was years later and into my mid to late 20’s when I was suddenly identified as an “advocate” due to my heavy involvement in the arthritis and organ donation/transplant communities that I finally learned Julie’s story and life experiences. In the process of me revealing my arranged marriage with my health experiences, I learned that we all had a story to tell, but were often too scared to share due to symbiotic relationship of self-conscientiousness and loneliness. Most importantly, I learned that a diagnosis did not define a person—unless we let it. It is such an easy trap to get wrapped up by our diagnosis and forget what we like and do in our spare time and who we really are when one health experience beckons our attention over and over again. One of the greatest obstacles presented to those who have a lifetime illness is getting past the diagnosis, and finding and gaining a full life of interests and passions separate from a diagnosis.
I question to all of you: What interests do you have that are completely unrelated to your diabetes and/or diagnosis? More than that, do you fulfill these interests?
Now, I post the challenge: Pursue those passions and interests, whether it is as simple as cooking a meal to as athletic as hiking. Simply said, go for them!
I do not have diabetes. I only know the words of “insulin” and “blood sugar” and that “Diabetes is the leading cause of Chronic Kidney Failure,” but I do not know of the experiences that a diabetic has to endure. In the organ donation and transplant community, the moral majority of my transplant recipient friends have diabetes. I know that I am the lucky one to NOT have diabetes. I also know that Julie and I share the common and unbreakable bond that we have NOT let our diagnoses define us. Rather, it is a mere part of us that has shaped us and allowed us to make our lives, our world, and try to make a difference to help others.
This is to all of you reading this post and for continuing to read Julie’s life-giving and affirming posts of living with diabetes, but not being diabetes. This is to Julie for teaching me about diabetes, but especially about the (un)definition of the diabetes diagnosis.
Cheers to you, Julie, and to our friendship!