This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.
By Beyond Type 1
Imagine Spotlights is a weekly video series produced as part of ADA’s virtual Imagine Camps for kids and teens. Hosted by Rob Howe, this series features conversations with inspirational individuals affected by diabetes and offers a fun learning experience for campers and their families. Watch the first interview with Tiana Cooks below!
*Partial transcript of the conversation below, edited for content + clarity.
You were a senior in high school when you were diagnosed – did you have the typical symptoms?
That’s a great question, and I always think back to that time since I remember it so clearly, and I think it was at least a month before I started feeling a little sick. I don’t know if any of you have bathroom passes, but at my school, they gave us this sheet. And on this sheet, we had about 15 passes to use the entire school year. And if we didn’t use our passes, we received extra lunchtime. I had saved all of my bathroom passes. I had all 15 passes left. And then I remember in one week, I went through the entire sheet of bathroom passes and I was so mad at myself. I remember telling my teacher, “I have to go to the bathroom,” but I was all out of my bathroom passes. So my teacher said, “Tiana, are you okay?” And I said, “That’s a great question.”
I wasn’t feeling great. I was obviously using the restroom a lot. I was very thirsty. I was losing a lot of weight. And then I went to my track coach and said, “Coach, I’ve lost 10 pounds in the first two weeks of the season, what is going on?” And he said, “Well, you probably just lost it because you’ve been running so much.” And then I remember this is when it really hit me. I thought, why is my vision blurry? I remember waking up one morning and I couldn’t see. And so I pulled out my phone and I typed in my symptoms. The first thing that popped up was type 1 diabetes, and I thought, this is it.
Do you ever try to strike up conversations with others you see wearing a pump or continuous glucose monitor (CGM)?
If I see someone else with diabetes, we’re automatically friends. There was one time I was waiting in this line to order food for 15 minutes, and all of a sudden I saw someone with a Dexcom on and I thought, Am I going to stay in line? Am I going to go talk to them? And I chose to go talk to them. I went over and introduced myself to them because I just feel like it’s so rare. They call it seeing a diabetic in the wild. And it’s so rare to see someone that has their equipment on as well.
Can you speak to stigma and stereotypes in the pageant world? How do you battle people’s assumptions about living with diabetes?
People do often stigmatize people with diabetes. They think that just because we’ve got diabetes, we can’t eat certain things or we can’t participate in certain events and that is totally not true. It is present in pageantry as well, people don’t think that we can do pageants because we have diabetes. People don’t think that we can participate in different athletic events because of diabetes. And I think one thing that I’ve learned after participating in various events, whether that be track or softball or basketball or pageantry, there’s always going to be people that have their own opinions. And sometimes those opinions will not be positive, and that’s okay because we just have to educate others about diabetes.
Before I started competing in pageantry, I also had stigmas about people who competed in pageants. Before I had diabetes, I didn’t know what it was. And so until we continue to educate ourselves and others, it will be hard to be fully aware of what people go through. So the more we advocate and the more we continue to tell people and educate them about diabetes, I think the more that stigma is going to go away. I just want to say this, even if people at school say mean things about you because you have diabetes, you just have to know that you’re special and that you have to have that confidence. You have to be confident regardless of what people are saying about you because you know that you’re enough and regardless of what anybody says, you’re capable of doing anything in this life just as good or even better than anybody else.
What advice do you have for people who want to get involved and give back to others living with diabetes?
I would say, if you want to get involved, do what makes sense for you. Just because Tiana is very vocal about her diabetes and just because Tiana loves to talk to other people about it doesn’t mean that you have to. If getting involved for you just means telling people that you meet the warning signs of diabetes, then do that. It might look like being vocal in your community and not online. There’s this huge misconception that in order to be making an impact, you have to be posting or talking about it, and that’s totally false. You can make an impact in your own way. Maybe you write cards to people at your local hospital. That’s how I started, I volunteered at my local hospital.
There are also support groups going on in the community. And we have an online community, our Beyond Type 1 app, and that community is just a great way to meet other people with type 1. There are just so many ways to get involved and it doesn’t look like competing in a beauty pageant all the time. It doesn’t. Or it doesn’t look like having a platform online. I actually helped set up support groups in my community, and those were super fun. Sometimes there would be five people, and other times there would be 50 people at the support groups. It’s just cool to build that community and that support network.