Our families often inspire us to live life to its fullest. When I need to be reminded of what it means to be courageous, I turn to my younger sister Jenny, a true homegrown hero. My sister and I grew up on a flower and vegetable farm in rural Ohio: we sat bundled up on the farm wagons as our parents worked in the fields, ran barefoot through muddy puddles together as rainbows rose above us after rainstorms, and shared in the joys of sisterhood---even when we were pulling at each other’s hair over silly stuff. To this day, we are bonded together through our unique experiences growing up together. Many sisters understand how comforting it is to have someone to share your secrets with and to help you decipher life’s mysteries. Sisters inspire each other, just as the sun nurtures a tiny seed to grow into a tall and beautiful flower.
My sister calls me her hero, and I call her mine. Although many of us see the beauty in our siblings, my sister is becoming more heroic to me every day, as she begins to remove the blinders that she covered her eyes with just over ten years ago when she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. If you understand how frustrating and scary it is to go to bed one night a normal, healthy person and wake up the next with a chronic disease that cannot go away, you can understand how paralyzing it was for my sister to be diagnosed with diabetes on an emergency room visit shortly after her 13th Birthday. As a teen you’re supposed to remember the first time you drove a car alone, days spent skating at the roller rink with friends, or maybe a first kiss, but too many of my sister’s teenage memories were those of finger pricks and insulin injections she just didn’t want to take, long road trips to endocrinologists, specialists and hospitals to figure out why she wasn’t feeling well, and waiting rooms visits for procedures that only “old folks” seemed to need. Sure, Jenny’s situation could have been much worse----cancer or a car accident, but the way that she internalized her situation, made her disease seem like it was just as bad.
When thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills came to our house, Jenny blamed it on herself. When relatives told her she couldn’t have a holiday cookie, she wanted to run away and curl up in the corner. She wanted to be normal….to pretend that nothing was wrong, to be blissfully ignorant of the pink elephant in the closet. For a long time, no one could help her tame the anger inside---no doctors, no medications, and not even her closest of family and friends. The stress of coping with her disease made her even more ill, and took away a normal college experience, when she got sick and had to return home after just one semester away. To helplessly watch someone you love suffer so much, was painful to my entire family and everyone that loved my sister. There were days when she hated life, and wondered if it was worth living. Her only lifeline was self-resuscitation.
To find a four-leaf clover in a field of alfalfa takes a lot of time, and sometimes it’s not easy to find one the first time you try. But, once you do discover that lucky charm, you carefully press it in a book and keep it with you forever. Healing my sister’s body, mind and sense of value in life---even when she felt like a raggedy old doll, took time, but with time she has discovered her charm. Jenny has finally realized that she is a beautiful person, inside and out, and that her diabetes cannot control her life unless she lets it take over. With the miracles of technology (an insulin pump and continuous glucose sensor---devices allow her to monitor her blood sugar and administer her insulin without poking her fingers or sticking a syringe in her body every time she eats), she has made strides in the right direction. Her attitude has become “can do” in recent months as she has discovered her ambitions to get her life back on track and perhaps start her own business. Observing her transformation has been like watching a sunflower unfurl open in front of my eyes; it is one of the most miraculous things you will ever see.
My definition of a hero, is someone like Jenny. A hero is a person that makes a 360˚ transformation in their life. Regardless of how big or small it may seem, it is a transformation that forever changes themselves and the people around them.