Naomi Kingery Ruperto grew up in Bangalore, India, the child of missionaries who work with people with disabilities. When she was 12 years old, she joined her brother and sister at a boarding school 6 hours away from their parents. She spent her first two weeks of school sick, thirsty, and throwing up as many as 8 times in a night. The school nurse thought it was flu. A schoolmate with diabetes recognized Naomi’s symptoms and told them to check her blood sugar. Naomi went into a coma one night; the next day, she woke up with type 1 diabetes.
Instead of letting diabetes get her down, Naomi decided to embrace diabetes, make it a part of her life, and inspire others to do the same. She gave herself the nickname The Diabetic Diva, and has lived life to the fullest ever since. Naomi is the author of the Sugar Free book series and the blogger behind the d-blog Live to Love Diabetes. Carb DM was honored to welcome Naomi to the Bay Area as a keynote speaker for the 2017 Mother Daughter Weekend. Naomi is a born motivational speaker and she instantly connected with the audience as she shared her personal journey with diabetes and the lessons she has learned along the way. Here are ten of The Diabetic Diva’s life lessons for people living with diabetes:
(note: parts of Naomi’s speech have been edited for clarity)
1. Focus on today
I live outside of LA in Simi Valley. I work at Medtronic Diabetes, been there about 8 years doing their social media. What opened the door to working at Medtronic is that I’m an author about living with diabetes. I’ve written 4 books called the Sugar Free series, which talk a lot about the emotions that we go through. I love the color pink, I love shopping, shoes, and am a girly girl who likes spa days and pedicures and spending time with family and friends. I’m telling you this because I think it’s important that you understand that I’m focused on the present day. I’m focused on the life I’m leading today because that’s the life that I’ve been given.
2. You are more than diabetes
I’m more than diabetes. I have a husband of 2 years. I have a bulldog named Rudy. He’s like our baby and he might get a brother this summer (another bulldog). We are on this journey together and we are looking forward to the future. But it is my past that has shaped me into who I am today. I’m a type a personality, very organized, I think a lot of that comes from the diabetes. It has really shaped the way that I am wired.
3. We’re all in this together
The best part of this community is that we are in this together. We all have our own journeys, but we can all support each other.
4. Embrace diabetes
It’s difficult to talk about embracing diabetes. We all kind of hate the disease. We hate it, but we can find ways to love our lives with it. You have to find that glass half full mentality to turn it into a positive. I will never say that diabetes is wonderful, but the things that have come out of my life because of it can be wonderful. It’s a subtle mindset change.
When I was first diagnosed, my family gathered together and talked about how we can support each other. We were all going through a grieving process. My family had to watch their 12 year old go through a life threatening experience. We decided to come up with a nickname: The Diabetic Diva. It became so important because there will be times when you feel like diabetes is your label. Sometimes you may feel like that can be all that you are. That is not true. I told myself that I was going to choose this label for myself and apply it to my life moving forward. This is a part of me, it’s not all of who I am, but it’s going to enable me to live the life that I’ve always wanted to.
5. Personalize your diabetes
My pump skin always matches my top. I probably have 2 dozen pump accessories in my closet, because every single day my pump has to match my outfit. When I was 13, doctors said I would have to wear glasses and a pump on my hip. So I decided to make them part of my own personal style. I became known as the girl with the pump on her hip that always matched her outfits. It made me proud to show it off. I made it part of my style, of who I am. It’s a small thing but it made a huge difference to me. Medtronic has a pink infusion set. I used to be embarrassed about going on the beach and showing off my infusion set. Then I found out about a pink one. Now I don’t care if I’m in a bikini and people see my infusion site, because I love the color and it makes me happy.
When you get this life altering illness placed in your path, it will change your future. You’re going to have to find your internal confidence. It’s going to make you stand up tall and say, This is who I am. Moms, if you can find a way to instill that confidence in your girls, do it. Help them know that it makes them more beautiful, powerful, more capable of living out their dreams. That can be one of the best things you can do to set them up for success.
6. Find a support system
My family is a big part of my story. We were missionary kids growing up overseas, so we felt like all we had was each other. They have been a big part of my support system for my entire life now. My mom is my number one supporter. She was the first to learn terms like bolus, and she was still the only one who can look at a plate and tell me how many carbs are in it. My mom’s effort to get educated and involved, so I learned quickly. I was able to not only live with diabetes, but I was able to find ways to accept and embrace it.
Today I’m 27 years old and I’m living a successful life because of my parents. They helped turn diabetes around for me very early on. The inner workings in my mind and in my heart they taught me will continue to carry me through.
I now have a husband by my side. The first time he saw my pump, he called it beautiful. Now he deals with my pump beeping in the middle of the night. He has become a much bigger part of my care team.
7. Your support team also needs support
Your support team will never know exactly what you are going through. But girls, you will never know what your mom is going through. It’s so important that you find a way to be sensitive to their needs. Just as you grieve through your diabetes journey, they are going through the same thing in their own way. It might look, feel, and sound different, but they have their own sugar free shoes that they are walking in. They might not be putting the needle in their thigh, but they’re watching their baby put the needle in their thigh. It’s so important, especially when you are growing up, to think about your mom’s experience. or your dad’s or sibling’s experience. Because it’s not all about you. Look up and look at the people around you and the journeys that they are on because of your diabetes, or because of hardships in their own life. You’ve got to support them back.
8. Let people know what you need
Through your experience, you have to communicate. In my family, we made a rule that we would never communicate when I was high or low. When you’re high or low, you’re not the most pleasant person to be around! And you’re not thinking clearly. You might be a little more aggressive or groggy. Early on, I taught my family how I might feel when I’m high or low. I tried to explain and describe it, then I taught them the kind of support that I need.
You can’t just assume that your friends and your family know exactly how to handle this disease. You have to give them the tips and the techniques that will help you. My husband knows that if I go really low in the middle of the night (which for me is around 55), I not only need some jelly beans, but could you please wake up and get me a peanut butter sandwich for me. That used to be my mom when I was 13, 14, 15. Even though their roles have changed, I still need that support.
My cheeks get red when I’m high. I taught my husband that when we were dating. Now he can walk into a room and tell when I’m high. And when I check, I am. You need that in your life. You need those people to call you out and remind you. It’s not nagging because it’s for your future health. If you work on your communication now, you will be best friends for the rest of your life. My mom is one of my best friends, and I can still text her and ask for encouragement. Be grateful that you have that kind of relationship. It’s something you cannot take for granted.
I celebrate my dia-birthday every year, on September 2nd. I take time to celebrate. It’s important. I’m not celebrating diabetes, I’m celebrating life, and all the things that have happened in the last year. I’m going to look back at all the needles and all the symptoms and all the highs and the lows. Then I’m going to pat myself on the back because I know I’m going to need it to get through the next year and because I deserve it.
10. Life is short, but you can make it sweet
I’ve made a list of things I want to do before I die. I have about 134 things on my list like Go bungee jumping (awful, but I did it), or I want a closet where my hangers match the clothes (not yet). It helped me stay in the perspective that life is short.
Life is short, but you can make it sweet. Sometimes you have to be very intentional about it. It can make you stronger, it can make your life more memorable. Think of ways that you can be intentional, to not only accept your life with diabetes but to embrace it. Is it making a bucket list? Or making a list of things that make you happy? Fifteen years later, I’m not an expert in diabetes. There are still days when I feel like I just got diabetes yesterday, but there are times when I say, I got this. I can do this and I’m going to do this. I’m going to find ways to continue this race. Diabetes isn’t just a sprint, it’s a marathon. Figure out how can you buckle in and find ways to do this for the rest of your life, or until a cure is found.