Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Valued Voices Series #2 - Kerri Sparling

This past week I had the privilege of interviewing one of my idols. Kerri Sparling is a well-known and impactful blogger in the diabetes community, and I was lucky enough to get to see her speak on multiple panels at the Friends for Life conference this past summer. I knew right then and there that I pretty much wanted to be her when I grow up.

Michelle: Hi Kerri! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! So first I’ll let you introduce yourself.
Kerri: So my name is Kerri Sparling and I’m talking from my home office with my 7-week old son on a little bouncy chair on the floor and my 6-year-old off at school, so my life is very centered around my children, but I think you and I have connected more because you know me through the Diabetes stuff. So I’ve had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 7. I have marked 30 years with Type 1 this past September, which feels like a huge fat milestone.
Michelle: That’s a huge milestone.
Her son coos in the background.
Kerri: I know, my son was like, “wow!” I’ve been writing a diabetes blog,, since 2005, so I got in on the whole blogging thing before people even knew what a blog was. I didn’t even know what a blog was, it sounded like a weird word.

Michelle: What made you start blogging about Type 1 in the first place?
Kerri: I had no friends who didn’t make insulin! I thought that was so sad! It was the saddest thing ever!
Michelle: That is pretty sad.
Kerri: It bummed me out because I live in Rhode Island and it’s a real state, but it’s not the biggest state, and we don’t have a huge network of advocacy organizations, so I wanted to find people who were living with diabetes, and not just having it like everyone’s old aunt or their dead grandmother. I wanted to find people who were, you know, in my age range and doing the stuff that I was doing, and living with it, not dying from it. And so that’s what spurred me to start the website, I wanted to find my kindred spirits.

Michelle: Did you ever imagine that your blog would become so successful?
Kerri: No! I think it’s weird!
Laughter ensues.
Kerri: Cause I’m not saying anything that other people aren’t already thinking or experiencing. I think it’s that storytelling sort of thing, I know I was one of the first bloggers but it’s been really cool to see other people go, “Yeah I want to share my story.”, and then when they share theirs and I get to connect with them with mine, the network of people that I now know that don’t make insulin grows and grows and it feels, I don’t know, like there’s a community that I can base my hopes on instead of all these Google search returns where I feel like I’m basing a bunch of fears on.

Michelle: Okay, I have a good one for you. If you could only have one thing to treat low blood sugars for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
Kerri: Oh my god, candy corn. People think they’re disgusting but I would live and die by those things. They’re so nasty and so little and you eat about 600 of them in about a 5 second span. So as far as structured glucose tabs, a friend of mine makes the GlucoLift glucose tabs and I
think they’re the best structured treatment on the market. They taste good enough that you eat them but not so awesome that you eat 10,000 of them.

Michelle: If you had to have a day with multiple high blood sugars, or multiple low blood sugars, which would you pick?
Kerri: It kind of depends. Right now after discussing candy corn, the idea of a day of a bunch of lows kind of sounds appealing, because I have a whole unopened bag of candy corn in my kitchen, so that sounds kind of awesome. But I guess because I’m the parent of two small children and I work from my house and I have lot going on during the course of the day, I feel like highs are easier for me to fake it through, versus lows, they really pull me out of the game and can set me back for several hours. So, for productivity, I would probably pick highs.

Michelle: What’s your go-to motto or quote when things get hard?
Kerri: I kind of stick by the whole “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me.”, not because it’s the trademark tagline on my blog, but because it applies. Like when things get crappy whether it’s diabetes related or not, it’s nice to think that this thing that weighs on me so heavily disease-wise, and I mean you do it too, all the stuff that we do day in and day out, it’s not the core of who I am. And reminding myself of that makes the daily tasks a little less arduous and irritating and more “I'm A-okay, this is just what I have to do.”

Michelle: What is the most exciting thing for Type 1 advocacy that you’ve gotten the chance to do?
Kerri: Well there’s two things. The first is for the short game and the second is for the long game. So for the short game I’ve been really excited to be on the front lines of hearing about Ed Damiano’s bionic pancreas, the iLet mechanism, where he’s working towards the dual hormone system and I’ve met his team and I’ve seen his prototypes, and he and I have talked quite a bit, and it’s really exciting to see someone actually putting their money where their mouth is. They say that they want to get good blood sugars all the time and he’s actually creating something that produces that for his kid, and for us. And I just think that’s incredible that that could actually happen before I’m too old to enjoy it. So that’s the short game. And I think the long game thing that I’m the most interested in, and the most proud of, is being part of the community. So years ago, when you put ‘diabetes’ online, you got all those bad search returns, all those nasty things, and I feel like through the stuff that I’ve done and the stuff that a lot of my peers have done, that we’ve helped move forward the conversation. No, it’s not just blood sugars, it’s not just A1Cs... It’s about a mental health component, it’s about co-morbidities, it’s about other chronic illnesses that you may be living with, it’s not just existing in a vacuum, it exists in the context of someone’s real life. And I feel like all of us who are sharing our stories help kind of flush that out for people for ourselves and for people who don’t really have a strong understanding of diabetes. We’re helping paint a better picture of what our disease is like for these people who assume it’s because we eat too many cupcakes, and that’s kind of badass.

Michelle: If you could tell the world one thing about Type 1, or about life with Type 1, what would it be?
Kerri: We make it look so easy! And it’s not easy! People have a perception that we just take a shot or take a pill or avoid sugar or whatever it is that they think is the one thing that we do, and they don’t see all the minutiae of management. So we make this look way too good. 

Michelle: Do you ever get tired of talking about diabetes?
Kerri: Yeah! Of course! It’s boring sometimes. And then sometimes when it’s the least boring you don’t really want to talk about that either. I don’t like that it’s such a pervasive thing, but there is a lot of therapy to talking about it. So not keeping all my thoughts about it or my anxieties, or my successes with it bottled up, just to help me manage the mental health aspect of things. 

Michelle: What would your advice be to someone who was recently diagnosed?
Kerri: There is life after diagnosis. Cause I feel like when you get diagnosed you get that whole list of crap you can’t do anymore, and they never hand out a list of all the things you still can do. So I would want people to understand, whether it’s their kid or themselves, that there’s a whole lot more to life than just the diabetes and you will still be alright. Because it never seems like it in those first few months or years I’m sure.

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