Today we are thrilled to showcase the incredible efforts of a Red Strider from the Chicago area: Alexys Fleming. If you don’t know Alexys by name, you may know her work as a makeup artist and social media sensation! (More on that below.)
Among 21-year-old Alexys’ many talents is raising awareness of diabetes and fundraising for our cause. As a participant in her local Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes®, she has raised thousands of dollars to help Stop Diabetes®. This year, her MadeULook for a Cure team has already raised more than $20,000 for the Sept. 21 walk in Chicago—making her the No. 1 online Step Out fundraiser in the country! She is certainly a Champion!
Alexys’ journey started with her own diagnosis. Here is her story. And you can read more about Alexys in the August 2014 issue of Diabetes Forecast magazine!
My Diabetes Story
When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Well, first I went to the doctor after complaining of a stomachache for weeks. She decided to order blood work. A week later, I was called into the office for a follow-up visit. Upon our arrival, the doctor informed me and my family that my blood glucose had come back high, and I needed to have further testing.
At the time, I had no idea what any of this meant. I watched tears stream down my grandma and mother’s face. My grandma also lives with diabetes. I just knew the news wasn’t good, and I started to cry as well.
I went for the glucose tolerance test (SO GROSS!), and my blood glucose came back in the 300s (under 140 mg/dl is considered normal). I had no symptoms; it was pure luck that we stumbled across this the way that we did. I say “luck” because many people with diabetes are diagnosed when they are experiencing severe symptoms, such as DKA, and are already being rushed to the hospital, or worse.
I was originally diagnosed with type 2 diabetes because my body was still producing insulin. For a year I tried to manage my blood glucose with diet and exercise. It worked for some time, but eventually the results trailed off. As doctor after doctor gave opinions, I was diagnosed with type 1, type 2 and also type 1.5 diabetes.
I will never forget the day that I started taking insulin. I was seeing a new doctor for the first time. He looked at me and said: “You need to start insulin. Today.” Terrified, I hugged my mom and bawled. The doctor left the room, came back with an insulin pen and injected it in my arm. I started that day, right then and there.
It took me a very long time to get used to taking insulin on my own. As a teenager, I was terrified of needles. On top of getting used to the medication, my blood glucose levels started to shift as I came out of my “honeymoon phase.” I didn’t understand why this was happening to me, or what I did to deserve it. For a while, I even refused to take my insulin. I just felt like I would be fine if I ignored it.
A Time of Struggle—and My Creative Outlet
School made my diagnosis worse. My friends and the other students did not understand that it wasn’t that I WANTED to have a snack in class, I NEEDED to. I did not WANT to leave class (to test my blood glucose or take insulin in the nurse’s office), I NEEDED to. I did not WANT so many sick days, but they happened.
I lost all of my friends. I was alone at school, and the bullying continued into my high school years. It was a struggle to deal with life as a teenager, plus diabetes, plus bullying, plus trying to figure out my life goals.
I had always drawn growing up, and I started to get into body painting and larger human art projects to ease my stress. Determined to get out of high school, I attended a half-day of cosmetology while also doing a half-day of school. I completed my senior year online and graduated high school as a junior. I was licensed in both esthetics and cosmetology by the time I turned 19. Now I have my own business, Made U Look by Lex, sharing my makeup and body paint tutorials and creating high-quality related products.
Today, I understand that diabetes will not hold me back from my dreams. Diabetes is with you, it is part of who you are. Having diabetes helped form me into the strong person that I am today. Person with diabetes, artist, dork, nerd, smarty-pants, weirdo—it’s who YOU are that matters.
By the time 2014 is over, I will have:
- Spent seven years on insulin
- Gotten 15,330 shots
- Given myself 36,400 finger pokes
- Endured countless blood draws
I want to help others who have gone through, or are GOING through, this struggle. I am determined to help find a cure, and to support others with illnesses. That is why I volunteer for the American Diabetes Association and why I joined my local Step Out in 2012. There is this incredible wave of emotion that comes to you when you arrive at this event, and you see so many other Red Striders—walkers who live with diabetes—around you. It reminds you that you’re never alone in this fight to Stop Diabetes!
Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. alone have this disease. I would LOVE to be able to say I USED to have diabetes. Will you walk with me? Then sign up for your nearest Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes today.
I deal with diabetes through art and humor. Here are some of my favorite video tutorials!
A recap of the 2013 Step Out walk:
Here’s what I think a “high blood sugar goblin” looks and sounds like!
Meet The Injector, a Diabetes Superhero: