By now, you've probably heard about the young PWD (person with diabetes) from Idaho who's competing to become the next Miss America.
Yep, the 20-year-old's name is Sierra Sandison, and she's been living with type 1 since she was 18. And yes, she wore her Tandem t:slim insulin pump during the competition and when she was being crowned Miss Idaho in mid-July.
Her story has been told in so many places already -- all over the media! -- but it's worth repeating because it goes to the heart of what we can all do to inspire others simply by sharing our own health challenges:
Sierra struggled when she was first diagnosed, and like many of us, she spent a time pretending she didn't have diabetes and hoping it would just go away. That led her to being discouraged, not knowing if she could accomplish her dreams. But then, she discovered the story of Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson, who was diagnosed with type 1 and did exactly what Sierra was afraid she couldn't -- go on to live a successful and fulfilling life, despite diabetes and the need to wear a medical device.
"The media often tells us this lie: if your appearance deviates in any way from cover girls, movie stars, super models, etc., it is a flaw and something is wrong with you," Sierra told People. "Well, guess what? Miss America 1999 has an insulin pump, and it doesn't make her any less beautiful ... So, a year after I was diagnosed, I got a pump. It helped me get even better control of my diabetes, and made my life SO much easier."
Sierra's story has recently appeared virtually everywhere -- from a host of mainstream media hubs including NPR, People, TechTimes, E-Online and Huffington Post; to some great DOC (Diabetes Online Community) posts and interviews at SixUntilMe, Arden's Day, and Princess and the Pump. Sierra will also be on a Sept. 11 episode of the Dr. Oz Show, after she heads into the studio for the taping this week!
Of course, it was her initial tweet using the hashtag #ShowMeYourPump that set off a surge of support from the D-Community, and kicked off a social media campaign that has hundreds (or thousands?) of people proudly showing off their diabetes devices on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and beyond.
It's been nothing short of awesome and inspirational.
Now, Sierra needs our help as a D-Community! As part of the Miss America competition, each young lady is tasked with creating a video about themselves to gain popular support; leading up to the Sept. 14 voting when Miss America 2015 is chosen, we get to vote on the video of the particular person we'd like to see crowned. We, the People, get to vote on contestants for America's Choice for the Top 15, and Sierra is hoping for the chance to show off her pump there on the national stage.
All the videos were posted late last week, and Sierra's (below) starts off with some diabetes lingo and sounds that we're all familiar with... and a bit about how she's taking diabetes advocacy to the Miss America stage. Be sure to click on over to her video, cast a vote and spread the word in support!
In creating this video, Sierra worked with 10 type 1 PWDs (not all of whom wear pumps) and one young woman with a hearing aid. Sierra says she's also met a handful of other talented pageant participants living with diabetes during her Miss America experience so far -- Miss Idaho's Outstanding Preteen, 12-year-old McCall Salinas, New Hampshire's Outstanding Teen Caroline Carter, Miss Ohio International Cambree Moser (who also has a beauty-pageant sis Arlaina and dad with T1), Miss Teen Illinois Galaxy Rachel Janovsky, and Miss Wheelersburg Karah Perkins in Ohio.
It's great how Sierra is weaving so much of our D-Community into her Miss America campaign!
Raising Awareness, via Social Media
The concept of building and embracing community that Sierra's accomplished with the #ShowMeYourPump campaign is of course a great example of the Power of Social Media to spread good.
Lately, it's been interesting to watch another make waves in the online universe: the Ice Bucket Challenge, aimed at "raising awareness" for ALS, aka Lou Gehrig's disease. Hundreds of people -- including high-profile celebs and media personalities such as Conan O'Brien and Bill Gates -- are participating in this "challenge" that involves the simple task of dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads, posting of this video online, and then challenging a few others to do the same -- all in the name of raising awareness and fundraising for ALS. Interestingly though, the ice-dumping stunt has zero connection to the disease, and many people participating don't even bother to mention ALS in their ice bucket videos.
No one can argue that it's effective! The national ALS Association reported last week that it's seen a 1,000% surge in donations as a result of this campaign, to the tune of upwards of $5.5 million in donations. Wow!
That means a lot to me, as my aunt was diagnosed with ALS two years ago. I'm happy that so much money is being raised and all this attention is being brought to the forefront on such a devastating disease -- no matter what it took to spark that awareness.
Still, some have criticized the notion of staging an "empty stunt" that encourages people to post videos with little to no information about the cause at hand -- a huge missed opportunity to truly "raise awareness" about ALS. Luckily, there are a few exceptions that might change critics' minds, but it begs the question: if a campaign is making a difference, whether through fundraising or awareness-building, does it really have to be specific to the cause at hand?
Apparently, in these days of social media-everything, just "going viral" is enough.
By comparison, the #ShowMeYourPump initiative may not be raising money, but it's inspiring our D-Community, and all the media coverage and chatter is certainly putting the spotlight on the realities of living with diabetes and the technology many of us wear.
We're excited to hear that fellow D-Advocate Kim Vlasnik plans to showcase the #ShowMeYourPump initiative during her presentation at this year's MedX conference at Stanford University in September, focusing on the emotional impact of living with a chronic illness. What Sierra's story has done is to shine a light on how important it is to connect with fellow patients and support each other, and when that message "goes viral" it can touch countless lives.
Thanks, Sierra, for your willingness to become the Face of Type 1 Du Jour. We wish you all the luck in the upcoming Miss America challenge!
To all who are reading: don't forget to go cast a vote Sierra's way in the Miss America Video Contest before the Sept. 12 deadline!