You could say that Tess and I were almost born best friends. We grew up on the same street. Our moms bonded early on and had us playing together from the start. We enrolled in the same dance school where from the start, it was clear Tess was graceful and I was… enrolled in the same dance school.
I was the loud, wild, outgoing one, and she was the quiet, mellow, sweet one. We were a perfect mesh of personalities and we ran Mrs. Zaniboni’s kindergarten class (literally). When I was diagnosed with diabetes two months into kindergarten, it was a scary time not just for me, but for my parents. Tess and her parents took the time to learn all about diabetes so that no part of our friendship had to change.
I can remember even at that age knowing that Tess and her family were stepping up. I remember Tess’ mom could take me places any time because she’d taken the time to learn. (That was the NPH and R era. Not an easy learn!) I remember thinking “This is what good friends do. They have my back.” Tess and her family gave me the faith that I was going to be okay with diabetes on board, even without my mom around. After all, even as a little kid, I could tell a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis scares some people. Not Tess, not her mom, and not their family.
At the end of kindergarten, our teacher recommended that Tess and I were not put in the same class again. The teacher feared that Tess and I were too close and that we would shy away from making any other friends. Tess and I never had another class together, but we remained friends. As we grew older, we made new friends and grew apart. We were always friendly to each other, but we weren’t nearly as close as we’d been in our younger years. We kept in touch, but we no longer were joined at the hip. But I never forgot how Tess and her mom had stepped up for me.
Then, during my junior year of high school, I learned that Tess’ little brother Jeff had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. My heart broke for their family. How could the people who were so understanding and caring when I was diagnosed be dealing with the same disease in their own family? Still neighbors, my family offered their family as much support as they could during that hard time. The tables had turned.
Flash forward to the summer before my senior year of college. I had just gone through a dreadful, drawn out, heart wrenching breakup with my boyfriend of two years. I refused to leave my room or stop crying for anything except work. After about two weeks of constant sobbing, my mom came into my room and sat on my bed.
“Lauren, you need to get out of the house. Anne told me Tess just broke up with her boyfriend and is sad and bored, too. Why don’t you ask her to get a drink or something?”
So – a bit awkwardly since we’d not really hung out in years– I texted Tess and we went out for drinks the next day. I swear it felt like nothing had changed. There I sat with not just a best friend – but also a best friend who’d always gotten it. And now, with her brother’s diagnosis, she got it on an even higher level. We were inseparable that entire summer (and now every time I visit home), we talk frequently, and she visits me in DC any chance she gets.
I think about how lucky I am to have someone in my life who truly understands diabetes. Tess keeps a watchful eye over me while we’re out at the bars, she reminds me how to bolus when I’m drinking, and discusses diabetes related medical topics with me. It is amazing to have a friend who completely understands what I’m talking about when I bring up diabetes issues and questions.
Am I selfish for being thankful for something that has only come about because Tess’ brother was diagnosed with this awful disease?
My mom and I often discuss this topic, since she’s even more thankful now that she has Tess’ mom to discuss the troubles, frustrations, and victories of diabetes. Like me, she often feels selfish that she is thankful to have a close friend that truly gets it in real time. However, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and if Jeff had to be diagnosed with diabetes, I’m glad that it blessed me with someone who I can lean on for support when I need her. This is not a one way street; both of our families have provided each other with tremendous amounts of support.
While writing this, it has come to my mind that even if Jeff didn’t have diabetes, Tess is the type of friend who would still learn everything that she could about diabetes while being my friend. She and her family proved that a long time ago. Every person with diabetes deserves to have a friend who really knows it all and understands what you go through. Everyone deserves a Tess. I am lucky to have such a great best friend, and I know that down the road, on my wedding day, she’ll be there not only to straighten my gown train, but also to remind me to check my continuous glucose monitor.
That’s what true friends do. From day one of my diabetes life, Tess has been there. Her brother’s diagnosis rocked her, but made her step up even more, not just for him, but for me.