Fan Mail: Leiren

As I’ve said in previous posts, I absolutely love it when my readers reach out to me. In this case it was via email, and I loved what Leiren said so much that I’ve decided to post it on my blog. Thanks Leiren!


Hi! My name is Leiren (pronounced “leer,” like a creeper, and “in,” like walking through a door). I’m 16 years old and I live in Kentucky. I’m obsessed with musical theater and perform in community theater shows nearly constantly. As a triple threat (an actor/singer/dancer), my dream is to study all three in college and then hopefully one day make it to the Broadway stage. I’m a straight A student at a little school, I have an oversized (and insane!) Yorkie named PJ, I wish J.K. Rowling wrote my life, I love Star Wars and LOTR, my brother is my best friend in the whole wide world… You get the picture. I lead the life of a completely normal theater kid (I know, the words “normal” and “theater kid” should never be used together, but that’s my life! :D).

That is, until three weeks ago.

I guess I should back up. In February, I had two really big auditions for projects that would happen over the summer. I kept my summer completely open, turning down camps, mission trips, vacation invitations from friends, and community theater auditions. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’d never auditioned for something I hadn’t gotten before, so I kind of assumed I had a good shot at getting at least one of them. I was wrong. For the first time in my life, I nailed both auditions and didn’t get so much as a callback. I was devastated. Now, not only did I not have a big professional summer project to work on, I had turned down so many other opportunities and those deadlines were over. And so all I had to look forward to was a bleak summer of sitting behind a desk entering data; the only deadline I hadn’t missed was my summer job application! :/ “Something huge is coming for you this summer,” my mom told me. “That’s why nothing’s working out for you. I can feel it.”

Then came May. It was the end of the school year. I had finals, end of the year parties, teachers piling on tons of last minute homework, and, on top of that, I was the lead role in an extremely physically challenging show involving lots of tap dancing, singing my butt off, and moving furniture. I was exhausted, falling asleep in class every day, coming home and sleeping for my measly hour between school and rehearsal, collapsing in the car on the way home from rehearsal (not while driving, thankfully!), and just generally feeling very lackluster. Then there was the eating. I’ve always had a healthy appetite, especially for a petite girl of 4’10”), but I was getting hungrier all the time, so much so that near the end of May, people began to comment on how I was so lucky to be able to eat so much and still stay so thin. “You know, hollow leg!” I’d say, or, “Dancers need their energy.” I was laughing it off, but I began to worry that I was going to get fat. I couldn’t seem to control myself, though. I wasn’t gaining any weight, if anything the opposite, so I figured my body just really needed the extra food.

Well, you see where all this is going. For the next seven weeks, I began to feel worse and worse. I was waking up, eating as much as I could, drinking 6 glasses of water, grabbing food for my desk, going to work, practically crawling up the steps with my heart racing like I’d run a marathon, eating and drinking all day at work, coming home, passing out, waking up for dinner, stuffing my face, going back to bed, and doing it all over again. Through all of this I was having severe abdominal pain, sweet tastes in my mouth with a white film, leg cramps, blurry vision, frequent peeing, nausea, classic symptoms. Plus, I lost 14 pounds, which on a 110 pound girl is extremely noticeable. I was a (barely) walking skeleton.

Looking back, my mom and I don’t see how we didn’t realize what was happening, but honestly, the word diabetes never crossed my mind. The stomach pain was the most predominant, and I’d had mild stomach issues in the past, so we were so focused on treating that that we ignored the other symptoms that might’ve led us to a quicker correct diagnosis. The first doctor I saw put me on Prilosec and some other stomach medication. After several weeks of everything only worsening, my mom took me to a different doctor. She thought it was my gallbladder or maybe my thyroid, and she took blood to send off for a lab test, not to test my sugar specifically, but just to see what she could find. She scheduled a thyroid scan for two days later. I went and did the scan, came back home, and went to sleep. My mom came and woke me up an hour later. There was a hint of panic in her eyes. “Leiren,” she said, “we have to go to the hospital. Dr. Telle called.”

“Now?” I said groggily.

“Now. Your gallbladder function is a little low, but your blood tests came back and we have to go test your sugar.”

We went. I sat in the chair, they took my blood. “What’s a normal blood sugar?” I asked the lady taking my blood.

“Well,” she replied, “If you’ve had a really sugary lunch, it can be up to 140 or 160, but normal is around 120.”

“What was mine, Mom?”

It barely came out in a whisper: “400.”

The hospital told us to wait there until the results came back. About 20 minutes later, mom got a call from Dr. Telle. My sugar was 520.

We were rushed to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. I was immediately admitted to the ER, placed on an insulin drip, and given one of those breathing tube looking things to monitor my CO2 levels, which were dangerously low. 12 hours and tons of needles later, my sugar was down to 128 and I was officially told that I was a Type 1 diabetic. I had been in Diabetic Ketoacidosis for about 6 weeks. Most people last two before they crash or go into a coma. The doctors kept saying it was a miracle I had stayed up for so long.

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of education, carb counting, doctor’s appointments, and some really, really bad blood sugar readings. I feel so grateful to know what’s wrong with me( an that it is manageable) and also to be a part of the awesome diabetic community, but at the same time I realize that life as it once was will never be again. I can’t just go to the fridge and eat anymore, I have to watch for lows at rehearsal and dance class (and everywhere else), and I’m about to have to do shots and test my blood at school for the first time. I’m not complaining, but I know things are going to be very different.

My family is on vacation in Florida right now, and on the way here, I was looking up diabetes blogs online. The first thing that popped up was your post about wearing your pump on your boot. I don’t have a pump yet, but I clicked on it because it seemed so like something this fashionista would do! I spent the next three hours reading your posts, some to myself, and some aloud to my whole family. We were dying laughing at your story about your girl scout camp experience (you poor thing!!) and when you told your Tae Kwan Do teacher about having diabetes. I was “amen, sister!!” all through your post about Type 2 and Randy Jackson. I can’t tell you how many people have said things like, “Well, when you learn how to take care of yourself” (excuse me, I’m 100% positive that I’m a healthier eater than you are), or “When you cut back on the sugar,” (I’ve NEVER had much of a sweet tooth, and mashed potatoes or a biscuit have way more carbs than one Hershey’s kiss, thank you!), or, worst of all, “If you don’t quit sweets now, the insulin will stop working in about 10 or 15 years.” (Huh?? That stupidity doesn’t even deserve a response.) Everyone assumes that I have Type 2, and that drives me crazy! I’m a thin, healthy, active girl, and there is no way to reverse the fact that my pancreas simply DOESN’T PRODUCE insulin. I’m glad there’s someone else out there who understands this.

Your tips about school have been extremely helpful as well! I’m about to go to school with diabetes for the first time, and your advice has definitely put me at ease. I definitely see some Smarties in a pencil bag in my near future. 🙂 I want to go to a diabetes camp this summer!! It sounds like a blast.

Well, I guess I’d better wrap things up or I’ll go on forever. Mom was right, something huge was coming for me this summer, and that’s why nothing was working out for me as far as plans went. Of course, I hoped it would be something fabulous like a record deal or a better audition opportunity, but this diagnosis could be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’ve already met some amazing people and gotten the chance to educate some others on what Type 1 really is. I’ve come across your blog, which has given me hope that normalcy and an active life are extremely possible. God has placed me in the diabetic community for a reason, and I think great things will come from it.

Thanks for all the help and encouragement, and best of luck in all you do! I’ll be reading your posts and you’ll be in my prayers.

Your friend,

Leiren Jackson

Thanks again Leiren for sharing your story!

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8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Wow. I’m impressed about how you diabetics really are in a closed, “Club,” which is totally cool. Diabetes is totally frightening and icky… And it’s very cool as a parent of a diabetic to see two young women handle it well.

    I sympathize with your reader’s parents; they must have been terrified when they were told to take her to the hospital.

    I’m also horrified the doctors failed to see the symptom earlier…when then two of you would have guessed it in two nano-seconds.

    Well done. Great post.


    Ps. Don’t you think that they should have named type 1 and type2 diabetes something totally different?

  2. Leiren,
    For such a small girl, you are so strong. You amaze me in life and onstage. I am glad to be your friend. I love your article. I honestly don’t know much about diabetes, but I know that it is hard.
    Well belting a high F is hard, but you handled that wonderfully. 🙂

  3. This is an amazing story. It is crazy how it just sneaks up on people. I am glad that Leiren had someone to write to and I am glad that you were able to post this for her. Keep up the good work.

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