I must admit, I love it when famous people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes waste zero time getting involved, and using their celebrity to raise awareness of the cause. You've surely heard about Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler's diagnosis with type 1 diabetes last spring. He's been very vocal about it. And he still managed to establish himself as one of the NFL's top young quarterbacks with a Pro Bowl season in 2008.
As of last month, Jay becomes the newest celebrity ambassador for Eli Lilly's Inspired by Diabetes campaign — that creativity contest I wrote about in connection with singer Elliot Yamin last year. Jay kicked off his involvement in the campaign with activities during Super Bowl week in Tampa, visiting with families of children with type 1 diabetes.
His message: "encouraging people affected by diabetes to enter the contest and help someone else in the process."
We at DiabetesMine were lucky enough to catch up with him last week for a brief chat about his new life with diabetes and what he's doing about it.
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Jay, why did you decide to participate as ambassador for the Inspired by Diabetes campaign?
I wanted to work with Lilly, and I really like the message — that you can tell your story and help kids with diabetes in the process through the donations that Lilly is making to the ADA for diabetes camps. We hope that by asking people to share their stories, it can help inspire people affected by diabetes, especially kids. A lot of people know my story, but I'm looking forward to seeing what people send in.
What is your actual role with the campaign? What will you be doing?
I'm hoping people will hear about my involvement with the campaign and enter the contest, so I'll be out talking about it in the media and visiting some children's hospitals and diabetes centers to get the word out. I had the chance to visit a children's hospital in Tampa during Super Bowl week and had a good time just talking with some of the kids and parents.
You were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just this past year as an adult. What was the transition like for you? Did you receive any support from other athletes with diabetes?
It was tough, but I was relieved in a way. I had been sick most of the 2007 season and lost about 35 pounds, so getting the diagnosis and knowing what was wrong was a relief. But it's tough getting used to taking insulin shots and pricking your finger so many times every day. It's a strange coincidence, but my quarterback coach in college had type 1, so when I was diagnosed I called him.
What advice can you give to other adults who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
I want people to really give back to kids with diabetes. It's tough enough to get this as an adult, but I just can't imagine what it's like to get diabetes at 4 or 5 years old and deal with it as a kid. That's why I think diabetes camps are so important. So I want people to know they can help kids by helping them get to camp — whether that's by entering the Inspired by Diabetes contest or giving a donation to a local ADA chapter for camp scholarships.
What is the mission of your newly established Jay Cutler Foundation, and what plans do you have for it in 2009?
The Jay Cutler Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for underprivileged children and people with diabetes. We support some local charities for kids in Denver. The Mount Saint Vincent Home provides services and programs for children with a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems that prevent them from functioning to their full potential. And the Reverend Leon Kelly's Open Door Program is a leader in our community who helps prevent gang violence. So we work with kids. And, of course, now we're working with Lilly on the Inspired by Diabetes campaign and helping send more kids to diabetes camps.
What's your message for children living with diabetes?
I want kids to be inspired and know they can achieve their goals and dreams. I heard a doctor say she has some patients who are in their teens who try to hide their diabetes. It's sad that they'd have to feel that way today. I hope most kids don't to hide it.
I think it's the same message we're trying to get across in general — that having diabetes doesn't have to keep you from doing what you want to do, and that others can be inspired by your story. Not everyone is an NFL quarterback, of course, but everyone has dreams. If you're diagnosed at 5 or 25 it shouldn't keep you from living the life you want. Yeah, it's tough, we all know that. But once I had it under control, I had a better season in 2008 than in 2007, and I made the Pro Bowl for the first time. So I think whatever you do in life, you just learn to make the day-to-day management part of the routine, and you make that normal and live your life.
Thanks, Jay, for embracing your diabetes and the patient community from Day One. Speaking of inspiration, see you in Super Bowl next year?