We continue traveling the globe to bring you accounts of living with diabetes in various countries for our Global Diabetes series. This month, we're happy to introduce a young woman from Romania who's focusing on striking the best possible balance between diabetes management and her professional life.
Roxana Nasoi is a 24-year-old in Bucharest, Romania, who was diagnosed with type 1 as a young child. Like most 20-somethings (and many others) these days, Roxana is active on Twitter at @roxanasoi and also writes a personal blog (in Romanian).
She's also an aspiring entrepreneur, looking to create an online diabetes platform in Romania using a combo of her skills and passions -- a degree in occupational health psychology, her love for freelance writing and IT work, and of course her personal experience with type 1.
She's already done some writing about how social media can help with diabetes awareness, and Roxana says she plans to expand that work into a platform where more young PWDs can share their stories with the world.
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Diabetes is what I like to call my "hidden treasure."
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 4, it's been with me through my entire childhood, adolescence and into adulthood and will probably be with me for the rest of my future. I named it my hidden treasure because it gives me the power to overcome everything. It's like a self-motivating trigger. When I overdo it — working too much or stressing out -- my diabetes would point out that it's too much and I needed to get to rest. It's my best way to monitor how my health is affected by my daily chores and activities, it's also a way to manage just how much effort (mental and physical) I can put into what I do.
After 19 years this month, I see it as giving me more good than bad in my life.
Growing up with D in Romania
Born in May 1989, I am from a small town on the mountain side in Bukovina, Romania. Mom says I had a healthy life up until I was 4, which was the "start line" of my diabetes in 1994. Basically, for a year and a half I constantly had the flu or other not-so-lung-friendly problems that all led to long-term treatment with penicillin. If you ask me, I think penicillin ruined my pancreatic cells, and it wasn't just a "genetic legacy" from my grandpa (who had diabetes).
I'm really optimistic by nature, so at the time of my diagnosis at the municipal hospital my parents took me to, I didn't quite realize what I was getting into. It took me a while to realize that mom wouldn't be baking huge plates of cookies and cakes like she used to, or that I had to calculate my entire childhood in carbohydrates. Of course, dad couldn't take it that I was the center of attention and one year later, he also developed type 1 diabetes.
In my first year with the "new" me, I was depressed and decided to stay in the house. I didn't go to kindergarten anymore. I didn't want contact with people. I had one friend and she was very mature for her age (8 years old), so she stayed with me and didn't ask about details. I just told her "it's not contagious; you won't die if you play with me." What brought me back to an optimistic side was a combination of things: my family was always supportive and there for me, I had one best friend who didn't care about me having diabetes, and the fact that I fell in love with ballet and gymnastics.
But what helped me see life in the colors of joy was a trip to a family friend at a monastery. While there, a car drove by and a girl inside that car waved at me. I was expecting her to get out of the car and come running, as soon as her dad would park the car. But no, the girl didn't open the door and she didn't come running towards me. Her dad took her in his arms and placed her in a wheelchair. That's when my dad said to me: "See the difference now? Your diabetes lets you use your feet, hands, you can dance, you can think, you can run, you can do anything you want. Just make sure not to go beyond a certain limit."
That is how I started to see my diabetes in a positive manner.
By the time I started first grade (at the age of 7 or 8) my classmates would already accept me and make me feel like a normal kid. Which I was.
Healthcare Options in Romania
Now, I must say that in the early '90s, cases of children with type 1 diabetes were rare. And because we were barely fixing our wounds after the fall of Communism, we didn't have too many diabetic sweets, artificial sweeteners or light drinks. And at that time, all we had to monitor our diabetes was a blood glucose meter that was expensive and rare and took between 5 and 7 minutes to get a result. Plus, the test strips were pretty expensive and hard to find. You'd have to go all the way to Germany or Switzerland to get them at a reasonable price.
That takes me to how healthcare works here in Romania: we have a public healthcare system and a private one. The public healthcare system offers basic medical care, including check-ups (blood sugar, kidney & lungs checkups, other blood checkups). Unfortunately, in many cases, the medical equipment used in many public hospitals is outdated and you might end up with other complications. The best choice is to go for municipal hospitals which are more equipped with modern medical equipment. For now, insulin is still given for free to those who have medical insurance. You also get free pens, blood sugar test strips (around 50 strips per month) and needles. Of course, we don't know how much time will things be like this. We constantly hear about the"lack of funds" for diabetics and that the government would like to cut off the free supplies and induce paid treatments. It's really a sad situation, because the average monthly salary in Romania is around $300-$400 USD and elders get a mere $200-$300 USD retirement payment on a monthly basis. This, given that insulin, needles, pens and blood sugar tests cost around $1,000 for a 2-3 month treatment.
Our private healthcare system is better. Of course, you pay a lot but you get quality services. I usually prefer this option as I like to at least have the feeling that someone cares for my health in a clinic. Some private hospitals and facilities even offer private ambulance options, and for just $5/month they come and take you from home if you can't walk yourself or your health is really damaged. Each check-up costs, but you get instant results and the medical equipment is really advanced. I am a freelance writer and entrepreneur so I can cover the costs without worries, but most Romanians with diabetes don't have the money to afford such a medical "lifestyle." And the problem is that most of these private facilities are only available in big cities. But for small towns, it's disasterous.
As a PWD in Romania, you get a double allowance in high school, a diabetes scholarship in college (it's usually decided upon each university, but from what I've seen and heard, it's never more than $100 USD/month), a monthly health stippend less than $100 USD, and a couple of free or discounted train rides and public transportation yearly subscriptions. Overall, these sums hardly cover half the costs for one month of treatment. Not to mention the reaction of other people, because diabetes doesn't show on the surface, so they sometimes don't even believe you when you say, "Hey, I have type 1 diabetes."
Compared to 19 years ago, I can say that the public healthcare system has improved a bit, but change is incredibly slow. Luckily, we have these private facilities we can use, so whenever I want to see how my HbA1c stands, I can schedule a medical visit, pay for it and receive results in less than 24 hours. And if I want to talk more about my life with diabetes, I can schedule a meeting with a nutritionist.
Doing Diabetes "Like a Boss"
Combine the Romanian society and lack of resources and diabetes tools with the fact that I am... well, a stubborn girl. That got me into trouble many times. Like in the 6th grade, when I almost fell in a coma because I wanted to "experiment" and see if I could improve my diabetes naturally. Or in my senior high school year, a couple months after taking a Euro-trip, I was hospitalized because of my diabetes.
But each time my diabetes would try and take over, my positive mind just fought even more. I would always tell myself what my doctor told me back in high school: "Roxana, don't adapt your life to your diabetes, adapt your diabetes to your life." And so I did. You can't expect to live like a vegetable, thinking: don't be too happy because your blood sugar might rise; don't cry at a funeral because your blood sugar might rise; don't get too enthusiastic, your blood sugar might rise. No, you simply live your life to the fullest; you believe in yourself and you pay attention to details. When it comes to emotions, just let it all out. Maybe in the short run, your blood sugar might rise, but in the long run, you are you, you are human. And letting your emotions out can help you achieve a psychological and mental balance.
During my teen years, I feel like I managed my diabetes "like a boss." I loved staying informed, especially online. I have had a PC since the first grade and Internet since the fifth grade, and I remember joining an international forum called All Diabetes International (a Yahoo group). I'm not active anymore, and these days I prefer blogs and diabetes sites.
In college between 2008 and 2011, I studied psychology. Here in Romania, a bachelor's degree takes three years to complete. And in my case, going to a state University in Iasi county, 300 kilometers away from home and living there on my own for three years was a life-changing experience. Proudly, I learned statistics and data analysis and that's something I plan to use for the rest of my life (diabetes stats and data analysis aside!). My bachelor degree says "Psychologist," but I wish it would say "Statistician." I'm not good with counseling or therapy, although I am good with people more to the extent of training and mentoring. I best work with numbers, so statistics is my second love (coffee being my first).
Professional Freelancer, Diabetes Platform Plans
After college, I moved to the capital city of Bucharest in the summer of 2011. In June of this year, I finished my masters' degree in occupational health psychology and I'm now working my way to start my own little business.
Back when I took a European trip during my teen years, I realized that working as a full-time employee in Romania would be suicidal for my diabetes management. I mean, some companies simply exploit the young employees and nobody cares if you have a medical condition. I could say that if diabetes would slow you down in your work, then the employer wouldn't be happy or understanding at all, but I never wanted to try it for myself. So I decided to become a freelancer. That kind of work offered me the chance to be a college student while earning some pocket money, but mostly it allowed me to control my life and balance everything in between.
I started as an article writer five years ago, and also tried out logo design and website store maintenance (my brother works in the IT industry, so I've always been connected to tech and software). After getting my bachelor's degree, I worked with a couple of statistics companies as a project-based consultant, and then moved from search engine optimization (SEO) copywriting to SEO serious strategies and business consultancy.
In June 2012, I became a training consultant for Elance.com, a freelancing platform I'm a part of in Bucharest. I mentioned before that I'm good with people if it implies to train or mentor them. So this is what I do as an Elance consul: I teach people how to develop their entrepreneurial skills and how to become freelancers on the platform. I also organize social events and network meet-ups. I love it, because it's the next best thing to freelancing. There is a whole team of talented people who accept me as I am, who do not judge me and who are happy each time I'm happy with my results. And the inter-cultural exchange is simply awesome; you get to talk to different people from all over the world and create a professional cultural exchange.
Right now, I'm working with about three people and my plan is to start my own little business using this same kind of platform. While the platform isn't ready yet, I'm thinking of organizing a diabetes "life learning" school where people could learn from others' experiences how to deal with everyday diabetes issues. I'm trying to learn and write more about how diabetes and business work together, from freelancing flexibilities to other psychology-related stuff. It might take some time, but it's a dream of mine and I'm planning to launch it in on the web, so people all over the world can connect to it.
Sounds like you have a great plan for the future, Roxana. Thanks for sharing your story and your optimism!