Many may know Actress Elizabeth Perkins best for her movie and TV star roles going back to the 1980s — particularly in the movie Big where she played the love interest of Tom Hanks. More recently she’s been in some TV hits like Weeds on Showtime and the ABC sitcom, How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life.
But not all may realize she’s a type 1 herself since 2005, diagnosed as an adult and once she had already made a name for herself worldwide. And in November 2012, she teamed up with Sanofi to create a new diabetes documentary aimed at the importance of having a support network when living with the Big D. She stars as herself telling her diabetes story, and how she found the courage after her diagnosis not to hide her diabetes but make it a “natural” part of her life. She was diagnosed with LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) at age 44, after what she describes as a slow onset, and Elizabeth says it took more than a year for her stop hiding her illness. This kind of “diabetes coming out” is the theme of that Diabetes Co-Stars documentary, Strength In Numbers, which emphasizes the message that “you can do this, but you can’t do it alone.”
The 15-minute film debuted on May 4, 2013 at the American Diabetes Association Expo in Los Angeles, CA, and it features Elizabeth and her “co-star” husband, cinematographer Julio Macat. In the film she talks about how her initial feelings made her keep it a secret and not share with anyone outside close friends and family. It was great seeing and hearing her “Type Awesome” husband share his own thoughts on how he helps her, particularly with the emotional and psychosocial aspects of life with D.
We were fortunate to have a chance to interview Elizabeth about her D-story and more. Read on…
We had a chance to chat with Elizabeth by phone recently, the day the documentary was published online and the viewing-tracking began. Her acting and advocacy keeps her quite busy, so we only had about 15 minutes to talk. Of, course, there was a little “scripted, Sanofi promotional” talk we had to get past, but it was great to get to some real-life stuff beyond the campaign.
Obviously, being partnered with Sanofi, she is using their products (the Lantus SoloStar insulin pen) and she tells us she’s using a fast-acting insulin pen, too. We shared some laughs about a mutual love for dog-walking as our preferred diabetes exercise (me with my Riley Dog, and Elizabeth with her two dogs Buster and LuLu), and it was also great to hear her thoughts about the Diabetes Online Community… plus what Elizabeth could do with her celebrity status to bring more accurate diabetes awareness to a bigger audience!
DM) Can you share your personal story of being diagnosed in 2005?
EP) Yes, it was 2005 when I was diagnosed, but it came on very slowly over about three years. I just didn’t feel well. In that last year, I had all the classic symptoms like blurry vision and weight loss, before a routine blood glucose test at the doctor’s showed I was in the 600s. It was such a shock when I was diagnosed, because I was fit and in the prime of my life. And in that first year, I felt very isolated and scared, and I was filming Weeds so I kept it a secret and would only test and inject my insulin when I was alone in my trailer.
Why do you think you hid your diabetes?
There tends to be a stigma about being diagnosed with diabetes, especially when you’re an adult — like I did this to myself, maybe I ate too many burgers… I thought maybe my producers and people I worked worked with would think that I couldn’t keep up and do my job, and so I was scared to say anything. But now I don’t hide it, I just inject in front of people on stage and don’t go to my trailer. I’m not embarrassed about my diabetes, and I just do what I have to do.
So, you reached out and created a bigger support system… Why did you want to go public like that?
Sanofi approached me about doing this awareness and outreach campaign, and I was absolutely thrilled to do it. The message of this campaign hits so close to home, and it’s about my journey in finally being able to not feel so alone and isolated, but to reach out and ask for help. For me, it’s about having a co-star in my life. My husband, Julio, is my diabetes co-star and I couldn’t do it without him. This became a whole family affair. I hope that can help others find those co-stars in their own life.
In giving back to the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), can you share if you’ve ever read any diabetes blogs before?
There are so many people out there to connect with. I found myself going online and learning about these programs, like what Manny Hernandez is doing with the Diabetes Hands Foundation. I saw that I wasn’t in this by myself, but was part of a community. That’s why I am doing this, because I wanted to get that message out that there is help out there. We have a very broad community now and we’re all connected online.
Have you ever met and “talked shop” with any other diabetes celebrities or actors?
No, it’s funny, but I haven’t. I find myself talking with “real people” outside my industry, and it just doesn’t come up. And there are not a lot of celebrities who seem like they do want to talk about it. That’s something I wanted to jump on, to tell my story and maybe connect more of us.
Would you ever use your role on screen to help reach a bigger audience, maybe working your own diabetes into a show?
I haven’t yet weaved in that part of my life. But that would be great, and that’s something I will have to look at talking to my producers about. Right now, we’re just trying to get a second season (for How To Live With Your Parents)!
Any advice for newly-diagnosed or longtime PWDs who feel they have to hide their diabetes from the rest of the world?
My big message to encourage everyone with diabetes is that we have a whole community and you have to reach out and knock on that door. There are people waiting on the other side to support you!
Sounds like Elizabeth’s taken a page right out of the DOC playbook, where so many got into this online world because they felt alone and isolated. We talk a lot about best practices for celebrity spokes-folks, and we appreciate Elizabeth’s approach to advocacy. You can find Elizabeth online at her website and on Twitter at @Elzbethperkins.