When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 19 years ago, the very first person I met was Stacey McGill of Stoneybrook, CT. If you are a woman diagnosed with diabetes between the late-80s and mid-90s, she was probably one of the first diabetics you met, too.
The thing is, she's not a real person. Despite her being the first person "like me" who made me feel less alone with my diabetes, Stacey is actually a fictional character in the beloved book series, The Baby-Sitters Club. You know, the series about four friends who form a babysitter's club for their small, fictional town in Connecticut. The girls have many adventures, learning about life, love and friendship.
The series by Ann M. Martin spanned 217 novels between 1986 and 2000, and there was also a 1995 movie and a short-lived Disney series. Even though the series is now a quarter-century old and much of the diabetes tools and technology have changed, I still find the themes of the books incredibly pertinent to today's teenagers, and even adults!
We have so few diabetic characters in popular media, but now it's even easier for today's kids and teens to get to know Stacey and her babysitting club; book publisher Scholastic recently announced that it's re-released the first 20 books in the series on e-reader! Each book also includes a letter from the author about the inspiration behind the story. The books are completely untouched, so while some of today's kids might wonder why Stacey doesn't use an insulin pump, they'll relate to the emotional ups and downs of living with a chronic illness. Some things are just timeless.
For those who haven't met Stacey, she's your typical 13-year-old girl. She loves boys, clothes and hanging out with her friends. She also loves math, and serves as the Club's Treasurer. And like your typical teen, she also doesn't want her friends to know about her diabetes. But when they do find out, they are wonderful and supportive, and Stacey and her friends become amazing role models for taking care of your health and accepting one another for our differences. Not that Stacey's diabetes is always easy to control... In book #43, Stacey becomes depressed after her parent's divorce, and starts indulging in chocolate, stops managing her diabetes, and she lands in the hospital. I think this is a great example of how life can make diabetes so difficult to deal with, but that we have to keep pressing on.
When I was diagnosed at 8 years old, I'll admit that I was a little judgmental of Stacey! I was still under the watchful eye of my parents, and didn't understand why Stacey wouldn't take care of herself or why she would want to hide her diabetes from her friends. Of course, once I reached the same age Stacey is in the books, I realized how annoying it is to have everyone know there is something wrong with you, and to have to "be different."
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Ann Martin about her experiences writing the character of Stacey. Here's what she had to say:
DM) What inspired you to use diabetes in The Baby-Sitter's Club? Did you know someone with diabetes?
AM) Yes, when I began working on the series, I had two friends with diabetes, one who was not insulin-dependent and whose diabetes was well under control, and the other who, like Stacey, was insulin-dependent and had some difficulty controlling her condition. Both were inspirations for the creation of Stacey's character.
What was the process of learning about diabetes? What did you find most surprising or interesting?
I learned from my friends, of course. Also, my college buddy Claudia who's a physician (and for whom Claudia Kishi is named), vetted the manuscripts that dealt heavily with Stacey's diabetes. It was when I was researching diabetes for the series that I learned the term "brittle diabetes." I hadn't heard it before, and it influenced the way in which I wrote about Stacey.
That Stacey would be challenged by diabetes was a part of her character from the beginning. Before I wrote the first book in the series, when I was defining the main characters -- their personalities, their families, the challenges they face -- and outlining the first four books, I decided that one of the characters would face a physical challenge. Because of my friends, I was interested in diabetes and wanted to write about it.
Stacey has become a role model for teens and young adults with diabetes. Any memorable encounters with readers?
I've heard from quite a few readers, young and old, with diabetes who have been inspired by Stacey, and who have said they felt less alone when they read about a character who faced the same difficulties they did. I've also heard from several young women who said that after reading about Stacey, they realized they probably had diabetes themselves, told their parents, and were able to get to the doctor for proper help.
Isn't it incredible that Stacey was able to help real-life girls get themselves properly diagnosed? I thought that was amazing!
With the recent re-issuing of these books, hopefully even more kids and teens can be inspired by Stacey's D-story. There's also a Facebook app for The Babysitter's Club, where you can learn more about the books and also take a quiz to find out which babysitter character you are.
I, of course, am Stacey! (And I swear I didn't even rig the results!)