There must be something in the air when it comes to country singers and songwriters with diabetes…
That is, we seem to have a plethora of them in our pancreatically-challenged community, including young country star RaeLynn, who’s been living with T1D for 10 years now. The Texas native, whose real name is Racheal Lynn Woodward, made her debut on the TV competition show The Voice in 2012. She was actually cut in the quarter-finals, but she stayed in touch with her mentor, country music legend Blake Shelton, and is now a 22-year-old with a burgeoning musical career, signing on to a huge music label and refining her style.
She’s also stepping into a diabetes advocacy role by becoming a patient ambassador for Novo Nordisk and helping promote a new T1D book series co-created by Novo and JDRF. Those announcements came in conjunction with the recent Friends For Life conference in Orlando earlier this month, where RaeLynn performed — along with a number of other country music stars who are also living with type 1.
We saw RaeLynn at FFL but didn’t have a chance to chat there, so we appreciate her taking the time recently to talk by phone about her diabetes story and all she has in the works on the music front.
DM) Thanks for taking the time, RaeLynn! Can you start by telling us about how diabetes came into your life?
RL) I was diagnosed when I was 12 years old, and didn’t know much at the time what was going on. At first I was sick and thought I had the flu… but I came to find out I was in DKA and my mom ended up rushing me to the hospital, where I was diagnosed. When you tell any 12-year-old they have to take a shot everyday and poke their finger all the time… well, I thought my life was over. But luckily that wasn’t the case.
How was it like going through those crazy teen years with T1D on board?
When I was 15 and 16 especially I didn’t want to have it, and wasn’t doing that great taking care of myself. Then I decided I was going to take the bull by the horns and learn more, that I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle because I only have one body and need to take care of it – especially when I’m on the road and have early flights. If I’m not doing well with my diabetes then I’m not able to perform and achieve my dreams. So that’s when I decided not to let anything stop me, especially not diabetes.
How do you manage diabetes when you’re performing?
Like everyone, you have to figure out what works best for you and fits your life. My schedule when I’m on the road is very specific. First, I always check my sugar every morning, and I make sure to exercise because it makes me feel better. I always check before I go on stage. If my BG is 80 or lower, I usually eat something to make sure my sugar won’t go low while I’m out there. My tour manager always keeps orange juice on the stage for me, so in case anything happens I can take a sip of it.
Have you ever had a hypo event while performing?
Just one time I was on stage with four other artists, and when I got done singing, I was able to walk off stage and check. I wasn’t feel too great and grabbed something to eat, and just stood there for a minute. Thankfully it was in between rounds, so turns out it was the perfect time for me to go Low before having to head back out to sing again. It wasn’t a big hoopla, and that was the only time something happened. I am really adamant about checking my sugar before going out on stage so that doesn’t happen, and if I have a long set of an hour and more, I definitely make sure there’s orange juice on stage.
You recently announced becoming a patient ambassador for Novo – how did that come about?
It all started because I’m living with this everyday and take Novolog every day, and it just is one of those things that came together. I met with them and just fell in love with the company; everyone there is so sweet and believes in their products and helping people. I had an incredible time, and when they asked me to be a patient ambassador, I was over the moon excited.
I love being able to tell my story to any kid who’s feeling down or alone. It’s been so much fun, being able to tell kids that even if they get upset about diabetes, they can do it. Diabetes is one of those things that you can manage. It is a different lifestyle and way of living and you have to get used to it, but it’s not the end of the world. You can have a normal life, and it doesn’t limit you from anything.
Isn’t there a part of that initiative where people with diabetes can share their own stories?
Yes, there’s a website called Share My Diabetes Story. It’s important, because everyone’s story is different.
Can you tell us more about the new T1 book series with Novo and JDRF?
Yes, they came up with these books. I read through them, and they’re absolutely incredible.
My favorite thing about these books is that there’s one for every stage of life growing up. If you’re diagnosed at age 3, there’s a book that makes it easy to understand. I love that these books make it not so scary. The book for little kids has a blood drop as the main character that tells the story of what it’s like checking your blood sugar and taking a shot. The next one is for elementary school and how to handle things like if you get bullied. Or when you’re a little older in high school, and dating and all of that.
There’s even a book for when you’re my age in your 20s and on your own, going through life and don’t have a parent looking out for you. I also loved the book for loved ones and caregivers – I got one for my husband and mother-in-law, my mother and tour manager. It’s important not just for you to be educated about diabetes, but those around you.
Definitely, we can’t do this alone. btw, congrats on your recent marriage! How’s married life treating you?
We were married in February, and my husband Joshua Davis is incredible. He’s my best friend and he supports me in everything I do, diabetes included. I’ve known him since I was 18 years old and we’re pretty close. I’ve just heard the phrase ‘Type Awesome’ to describe people who love and support us, and I think that’s awesome.
We also have two dogs: Dolly is a Chihuahua, and Jazz is a German Shepard. I call them my hamster and my horse. Dogs are so great, and I can’t imagine my life without my little furry friends. Jazz is my service dog and normally goes everywhere, but he was sick the week before Friends For Life and didn’t get to go. I hope to bring him next year.
What did you think of FFL this year?
I’d never been there before, and it was just so incredible. I wish I had known about this when I was younger — I totally would have went. My manager was there and she doesn’t have diabetes, and I was joking with her that she’s the outcast! Everyone there having diabetes was just so impactful. The green bracelet is awesome.
And there were a good number of country singers and songwriters all at FFL, too!
Yes, there were quite a few of us – myself, Crystal Bowersox, George Canyon, Amanda Jo, and Eric Paslay. We had so much fun, and Novo had a fun display with sugar-free snow cones, an interactive display where you could jump out of an airplane – it was like a diabetes dream! I performed Thursday night at the banquet that had a Harry Potter Wizard’s theme, and got to wear a wizard hat and had so much fun. I didn’t get to meet George, but saw he was there. Eric is actually one of my dear friends and since we’re in the same industry I see him quite a bit. We always talk, and it was funny when we found out we both had diabetes. You always feel like instant friends, and that’s how it was. We were writing together and I freaked out about having a new diabetes friend!
More congrats, too, on signing recently with Warner Music Nashville… very exciting!
They’re one of the most amazing companies and believe in my project, and are letting me be me. I’m so happy with them. It’s so cool being on the same label as Blake (Shelton), who’s been such a big supporter of mine since I was 17 years old on The Voice. Now to be on the same label and in print together and have him recently at our wedding, it’s just amazing. We’re going on tour this Fall with me opening for him, and we’re going to have a blast.
You released a very personal song recently called Love Triangle about your parents’ divorce when you were young… Would you mind talking about how diabetes played into life with divorce?
So my parents got a divorce when I was 3, and I’ve said this in my interviews, but I was always that kid stuck in the middle of that. I didn’t really realize it at the time, not until I was older and now married, how it made me grow up pretty fast. I was talking to (my husband) Josh about his family and their relationship, and it made me see how this had impacted my life. I remember from the time I was 7 years old knowing not to talk about my mom in front of my dad, because it wouldn’t make him happy. I shouldn’t have been worrying about that, I shouldn’t have been worrying about Barbie and little girl things. But it makes you look at life through different lens.
When I was diagnosed and at the hospital, it was strange because they were both there and there was so much tension. I was able to care for myself right away and I liked to be independent, but sometimes I’d just have to give myself insulin at my mom’s or in front of my dad, which felt awkward. But overall, I know that they’re both going to be there for me. You just handle it.
Any thoughts on writing and singing specifically about diabetes?
Maybe one day. But it (already) plays a part in everything I do. I’ve actually started a non-profit, the RaeLynn Diabetes Foundation, and diabetes is something that I’ll talk about as much as possible. I think you should be proud of who you are and what God has given you. I have type 1 diabetes and I think it’s pretty awesome, and you have to go with it. I talk about it everyday in interviews, and people see me doing shots and checking my sugars. I’m very open about it, and not someone who’s shy about diabetes and closed off about it. This is just something we have to live with it.
Thanks for your openness and energy, RaeLynn! We can’t wait to see where you go, both musically and as a patient ambassador.