Balancing Diabetes: A Conversation with Kerri Sparling

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Kerri Sparling - Balancing DiabetesWhen Kerri Sparling first started her blog Six Until Me in 2005, she was sharing her struggles about living with diabetes. She wanted to have conversations with people who could offer advice and perspective into living a full life with diabetes. Nearly a decade later, she has risen to be one of the most well-read and respected writer advocates in diabetes, beloved in the patient community for her candor and warmth.
In her much-anticipated first book “Balancing Diabetes: Conversations about Finding Happiness and Living Well,” Kerri shares her experiences as a daughter, a sibling, a romantic partner, a student, a mother, and a person with diabetes. And along the way, she opens the conversation to a host of community members who share their stories, too.
The book truly feels like a conversation. I read it in one sitting in digital form and read it again as soon as it came out in paperback. It’s so refreshing to hear people who “get it” describe how they navigate the tricky waters of diabetes.
One of my favorite chapters in the book describes how diabetes affected her siblings throughout her life – about how the presence of diabetes in their lives was something that she, at the time, had taken for granted, but that it necessarily affected the people around her who cared most about her. “Diabetes isn’t just a balancing act for the people living with it,” she explains, “but the people living near it and caring for people with it.” In that chapter, her brother and sister, as well as other grown siblings of people with diabetes, share their thoughts about their siblings’ struggles in an eye-opening way.
Kerri’s anecdotes are full of humor and humility. The story of her first summer job and how she met her best friend will leave you laughing. Her trepidation about her first insulin pump and why she chose to begin pump therapy highlight some of the “psychosocial change” that makes our life with diabetes so emotionally charged. You will feel like you’re sitting there with her during her first pump insertion.
I personally contributed to the conversations in Balancing Diabetes in the chapters on preparing for pregnancy and parenting with type 1 diabetes. As Kerri explains, after touching on the shocking media representation of pregnancy and diabetes in films like Steel Magnolias, “our stories of real-life diabetic pregnancies are what movies should be based on. Nice, mundane, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary-happens sort of movies.”
From going off to college to weaving diabetes into her romantic relationships, Kerri addresses so many of our truths about living with diabetes that they don’t tell us in the endocrinologist’s office. Just as we need inspirational stories of athletes and heroes doing incredible feats with type 1 diabetes, we could use more people we can relate to, as well: nice, every day stories of every day people with diabetes finding happiness and living well.
I had the chance to catch up with Kerri and ask her a few questions about her book.

Was it a conscious decision not to feature a chapter on your cats?

When I told my daughter I was writing a book, she was convinced it was going to be about our cats. I told her that was not the case, but when she saw the cover art, she said, “Oh, so it’s not about the cats but it’s about birds, instead!”

How did writing a book differ from writing your regular blog posts? Was it liberating to be given that much room to stretch?

Writing Six Until Me has been an almost-ten-year-long exercise in sharing my diabetes experiences real-time, and with the hopes of feedback from the community. The book was different because I wanted to be sure to incorporate other perspectives, to give a balanced view of what life with diabetes is like not just for me, but for many of my peers. I’m not the Lorax and I don’t “speak for people with diabetes,” so making sure the book included many voices was important to me.

You’ve been a professional writer for some time. Was a book always in your future plans? Was the process something you’re looking forward to exploring again?

I always wanted to write a book. It was a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl. But I never anticipated that diabetes would be the focus of my first book. I definitely have the urge to write another diabetes-related book, but I also plan to explore life as a writer, outside of the confines of my busted pancreas. I’ve been working on a series of children’s books for some time, and I hope they see the light of day before my own daughter is grown. (Yes, one includes a cat.)

Several people who have read and reviewed the book have mentioned the powerful impact of your final chapter of the book, wherein you discuss fear tactics as being de-motivators, the threat of complications, and moving forward into the unknown. Was that the most difficult chapter to write… or the easiest?

I think the most difficult part of that chapter was realizing it was true. I wish I was the kind of person who could give a very rose-colored-glasses version of life with diabetes, but I don’t view my disease through that lens at all. I don’t like diabetes, and I refuse to give it credit for any of the successes I have in my life. I am motivated not by the fear of complications or a potentially difficult life, but through the hope that hard work, good genes, and a healthy dose of forgiveness for shortcomings both emotional and physical will help me live a life worth living.

Kerri Sparling - Paris

Do you hope to reach a new audience with print material? Do you think that will ultimately bring them to the diabetes online community?

I hope people who read my online writing will take the paperback plunge, and I also hope that people who are a little intimidated or turned off by the Internet will maybe seek out the diabetes online community as a result of reading Balancing Diabetes. For so many years, I felt alone with diabetes and finding others who understood what life with diabetes is like has added an essential element of support and community to my own life. My health – all aspects of it – is better as a result of the diabetes community and I’m forever grateful.

And, of course, who are you wearing?

Well, right now I’m wearing Dexcom G4, Animas Ping, sneakers that have clocked way too many miles and need to be replaced, and the ever-present but sometimes invisible cloak of badassery that’s issued to people with diabetes and caregivers alike with every diabetes diagnosis. Boom.

Balancing Diabetes is available on Amazon.

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