If you're not a big TMZ follower or celeb gossip fan, or someone who's tuned into MTV reality shows, the name Mackenzie Douthit McKee may not be one you immediately recognize.
Mackenzie is the 20-year-old former cheerleader from rural Oklahoma who hit reality TV back in 2012 with an appearance on the fourth season of 16 and Pregnant, and then starred the following year on Teen Mom 3. Yep, just Google her name and you'll see... well, a whole bunch of tabloid and celeb gossip stories that don't always paint the best picture.
As it happens Mackenzie is one of our own, diagnosed with type 1 about nine years ago at age 11. Now that she's in the public eye and become something of a paparazzi-style media sensation, her whole D-world is put under the microscope in ways that would probably make many of us buckle. She's had her share of media attention to her 'diabetes mistakes', but the mom of two tells us that her two children Gannon, 3, and Jaxie, 1, serve as her inspiration to do better. And now, she's setting her sights on healthy living and diabetes advocacy!
Last week, Mackenzie released her first-ever music single, all about diabetes awareness, called The Sweetest Treat. Now, keep in mind... it's not the greatest. Even she admits that her singing talent is next to none. But that's not the point, as Mackenzie sees it, since it's focused on raising awareness and teaching kiddos how to make healthy living choices -- in a way that captures their attention.
If you're so inclined, you can watch the video rap here (Hint: As the main chorus tells us, The Sweetest Treat = Being Healthy)
Naturally, this effort has its critics and the reviews are mixed. Honestly, my mouth was a little agape and I had to cringe when listening to this recording at first. But then, the more I listened to the rhyming lyrics, it kind of grew on me. Perusing social media, you can certainly find young fans who seem to totally back what Mackenzie's doing, even calling her a role model. And half of all the proceeds from this iTunes single are going toward T1D research. For that, you have to send props to the 20-something for stepping up and using her platform in this way, just like we do with others like Nick Jonas and Valerie June who are raising their voices.
We reached out to Mackenzie recently to learn more about her post-reality show life, her diabetes story and this latest musical foray into advocacy:
DM) Mackenzie, can you start by telling us about your beginnings with diabetes?
MM) I was 11 years old. Looking back, I think I was diagnosed earlier in grade school because I was sick and so, so skinny. I couldn't pay attention in class, was always getting shaky, and just don't remember my childhood... it was kind of a blur.
I flunked through grade school, which is crazy! How do you flunk the 2nd grade?! When my hormones really started kicking in, which happens to girls about age 11, that's when it really hit me. I was really thirsty all the time, was weak and about 75 pounds at that time in middle school. When they checked my blood sugar, the monitors just read High so it was over 600 at least. It went from there.
I've struggled since then, and everyday I wake up trying to figure out a way to make it perfect. I think I find a solution, and think I'm doing OK, and then there's a day like today where I'm just in the 300s. It's so frustrating, and it's an everyday struggle that I would love to find a cure for, and am doing everything I can.
It's never-ending, right?! What's your routine as far as tools for insulin dosing and glucose monitoring?
I check my blood sugar 8 to 10 times a day, and keep a journal to write down every carb and calorie I eat. I take five shots a day of insulin, and am not on a pump or anything, but am on Novolog and Humalog and Levemir for my nights and mornings.
Do you have any other diabetes in your family?
My dad is a type 1, too. He was diagnosed when all of us were babies (there are four of us kids), when he was in his 20s. I can watch him eat a Snickers bar or maybe drink a regular pop, and he's fine doing that and being on three shots a day. I just can't do that. But you know, everyone's different -- and living with my dad really shows me that every diabetic's body is different.
Do you feel any extra pressure to try to keep diabetes in control since you're in the public eye?
Yes, I think there is a lot more pressure. Sometimes, it's on TV where they want to get cute scenes of me and my friends eating s'mores... and I'm like, "OK." Then I eat the s'more and I'm sick. And when you're at 400, you don't want cameras in your face. Then I'd start acting out, and I'd look like a little brat on TV. So yes, some things were just hard for me 'growing up' in the spotlight for that short time. And I tried to stay off social media and not read what people were saying about me, but that was tough. And then I would, and I would just get so upset that I would cry to the point where I was shaking and screwing up my blood sugars. It was not a healthy way to live.
The recording schedule must have made things hard, too...
Yes. I'm really precise with my food schedule and how much I eat, and it's kind of hard trying to keep that up when you're on TV and on that kind of schedule. After the show aired, I saw a lot of highs and lows. I think that stress brings on uncontrolled blood sugars. I don't know what it is about stress, but when the show aired, all eyes seemed like they were on me and the other three girls (on the show), and it was a lot of pressure. So that made it difficult to manage for me. And then I'd start hearing from people about how their 2-year old just got diabetes, or from others asking questions because they have diabetes. That made me realize, "Wow, I really need to get it together because people look up to me. I need to do better because I want to help others."
Do you sometimes feel that you are being judged?
I'm still in the spotlight pretty often, so that can be kind of stressful. But now I do what I can to ignore what people are saying about me, and I think diabetes has a lot to do with that. I just can't stress out and have roller-coaster blood sugars over everything people are thinking or saying. That's just not worth it, to let them have control over my health.
Did you change up anything about your life and diabetes management during your pregnancies?
Absolutely. Before I even got pregnant with my son, I did not take care of myself at all until I realized that I was not only killing myself, but my child as well. That's when my whole life changed. By the end of the pregnancy, I was taking four times as much insulin as I'm taking now. As my weight went up, so did my insulin dose, and as my insulin dose went up, so did my weight. It was very hard to manage that. But I had a beautiful huge baby, and after that I knew I had something to live for.
Where did you turn for support, being a teenager with type 1 who was pregnant?
My mom was definitely my best friend and number one supporter through it all. I also turned to God tremendously through those years. (The baby's father) Josh and I were so young, and lived in different towns, and it made it hard to see one another. At the time I was still in high school and surprisingly all my friends stuck around. That helped me out a lot. It's just hard for others to understand the disease I had.
It's good to find others who have been through something that you've been through, and you can talk to about these things. I want to share my story and what I've been through, and reach out to others.
We understand you had a doctor who wasn't very supportive and advised against your second pregnancy. What would you say to other type 1 women who might be in similar situations?
Yes, it was very hard. I actually went to a doctor who wanted me to abort my son, because he said 'there's no way' since my blood sugars were so high. So I left that doctor, and now have two beautiful kids. But we've also lost two babies due to high, out-of-control blood sugars. Everybody is different and it's very much a challenge. It was very hard for me and also on my body. But if you're up for the challenge, it IS possible to have a healthy baby. The baby may be large, and may be early, but that's just something you will have to except. It will not be like any other person having a baby. But in my opinion, all the stress and insulin was well worth it.
Being a mom with type 1, what fears do you have in terms of highs and lows, especially with your little ones around?
There are some days where my hormones will be a little out of whack and that makes my blood sugars even more out of whack. It makes me a very impatient and angry person at the time and sometimes I show that anger towards my husband and children. It's been something hard for Josh to understand, and I feel like one day it will be hard for my kids to understand. I grew up with my dad being a type 1 and some days were hard. We always hated seeing daddy sick. But after being diagnosed myself, I understand why he was the way he was. I hope my kids can understand my disease one day. And that they can understand some days will be different than others.
OK, let's talk about your new rap song -- why did you want to make that?
I want to speak out at schools, to little kids with diabetes. Sometimes, you can lose track of those kids as you're talking because no little kid wants to sit and listen to someone talk and talk and talk. So, I thought would speak out in a more fun way. I knew I couldn't sing. Everyone who knows me, knows that I can't sing. But I thought that would be a way to reach kids and educate them.
At first, I was all about type 1 and people who are actually suffering from diabetes. Then, other people who just wanted to live healthy started messaging and contacting me. And I thought, "Wow, I'm actually speaking to everyone, really." Living with diabetes you have to be healthy, and so we can show people in general how to be healthy, diabetic or non-diabetic.
Many are criticizing it... do you think that matters, when it comes to raising awareness?
No, I don't. There's always that one person, or those people... I've gotten very good at blocking that out. I'm happy with my life, and I think that's why it doesn't bother me. I'm not doing this to get a record label or to hope someone hears me and says, "Ooh, there's the next Ms. Monage." No, I know that I can't rap or sing. Kids don't care, and will listen to anything that catches their attention. So I thought it would be fun and cute and a good way to raise money for diabetes. I decided to make it available on iTunes and give the money that comes in to diabetes awareness and research. I'm just excited to share my voice in the name of diabetes awareness, and I don't really care what people say about it.
Nowadays there are many celebs out there raising awareness -- like Nick Jonas, who we talked to yesterday about his advocacy efforts. Does that inspire or motivate you to do more?
I actually did not know about Nick Jonas, and I think that's awesome what he's doing! But yes, I love to see that people who have a lot of followers are out there using their voices and money for something meaningful. Because it's helping make a difference for others, not just themselves.
Are you doing anything else on the diabetes awareness front?
I haven't begun doing anything in local schools yet, but that's something I am working towards. And I have a blog, Mackenzie McKee's Health and Fitness, where I write about diabetes and healthy lifestyles. Really, America has so much junk food and we're so unhealthy and lazy here. I hate that, and we're one of the countries with the most obesity. So, I just want to speak about that and be able to reach some of the kids in schools about just being healthy. It's what my heart loves.
We see from your blog that you're pretty into low-carb eating...
When I first became diabetic they told me, "You can eat anything you want, just cover it with insulin." That might work for some people, but it doesn't for me. That was completely inaccurate information and I wish the doctors never would have told me that. No matter how much insulin I take, some foods just aren't good for me. Like apple pie. It's going to make me sick and I don't need it. Or, I can eat half a granola bar and my sugars will be 400.
Now I just don't eat any sugars or higher-carb foods. I eat a lot of protein and limit my carbs to 30 to 60 a day, and if I'm eating a lot that day it's because I've done three hours of cardio. My diet has been crazy in the past, but now I'm very into clean eating, and since I started this kind of eating I've felt incredible. I wish everyone with diabetes would try it, because it can make you feel so much better.
What are your plans for the future?
I do so much reading, I might as well go to school to be a diabetic doctor. But no, I am working on being a fitness model. I am training right now and have my first fitness competition in August, so I have less than eight weeks to prepare. I'm so excited to walk across stage! I've trained so hard already, and I might get last place, but it's all about getting better. If I get last place, I'm still going to keep doing it and working to get better for next time because it's what I love. This effort has definitely changed who I am -- just training for a fitness competition is absolutely insane.
That's a good adage about diabetes, about not trying to be perfect but just do better, right?
Yes, I've noticed that the more muscle-building I do and work out, the more leveled out I am on blood sugars and just feeling healthier. Not only I am going to look better in the end, but my blood sugars are doing better.
That's great. And with your new family, sounds like you have a lot to look forward to...
True. I didn't even know how to take care of myself until my kids were born. I really buckled down, and now I have something to live for. They keep me going so much, because I do not want to die early or lose limbs or go blind. Everyone with diabetes can live like a normal person, we just don't have the same kind of normal life. You just have to realize that. If you do take care of yourself, you can live a normal life and reach your dreams.
Thanks for taking the time to talk, Mackenzie. We're happy to have you as part of this Diabetes Community and doing what you are to help raise awareness and just promote healthier living.