Sierra Sandison Brings Diabetes into the Limelight
Advocacy Miss Idaho 2014 discusses coming to grips with her type 1 diabetes, and how it’s shaped her personal and professional journey.
Mediaplanet: After being diagnosed how did you determine the best way to manage diabetes?
Sierra Sandison: I definitely experienced extreme burnout and bitterness the first few months. It was just such an overwhelming concept to know that it was something I had to deal with all day, everyday for the rest of my life! Even worse, on the days that I did try my very best, and did everything perfectly, my blood sugars were still on an insane roller coaster.
I have now adopted the mindset that many other diabetics have: blood sugar readings are just information. All information is good information, and there is no such thing as a bad blood sugar. Even today, it’s the most annoying part of diabetes care. My Dexcom has been a lifesaver in that aspect: I get more information, even though I am allowed to check less!
MP: How did you manage your diabetes through all the chaos of the pageant?
SS: I usually have very tight control over my diabetes, but during pageants, I really don’t want to risk having a low. I try to keep my blood sugar around 150-180 during competition weeks and while traveling, because stopping a rehearsal of 50 other women or, worse, a live television broadcast, and trying to flag down a flight attendant for apple juice are situations I want to avoid.
MP: What inspired you to wear your pump while competing?
SS: During my initial bitter stage, I refused to wear any kind of medical device. Growing up, I always struggled to fit in, and I didn’t want a machine on my body making me more different than I already was. I thought that being beautiful and wearing a medical device were mutually exclusive.
About four months into my diagnosis, I heard about Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999, who also had type 1. Soon after, I discovered that she wore an insulin pump. My mind was completely changed. I decided that day that I would someday get an insulin pump and wear it on the Miss America stage, to do for others what Nicole had done for me: teach them to not only tolerate the things that make you different, but learn to love them because they make you unique.
MP: What was the conception behind #showmeyourpump?
SS: I have been inspired multiple times over the past couple years of people who don’t fall into society’s beauty ideals proudly showing off their bodies on social media—from stretch marks, to colostomy bags, the body positivity movement has helped me develop a powerful confidence. I wanted to do the same, but add something else: ask everyone to participate and post their own brave and confident pictures. Being able to feel ”normal” with this disease is a rare, but priceless, feeling, and I hope the #showmeyourpump campaign was able to provide that!
MP: What advice would you give to those managing their diabetes each day?
SS: For me, the most difficult part of facing this disease is not the physical burdens, but the emotional ones. Diabetes sucks. It’s exhausting and frustrating, it makes us different from our peers, and it can constantly make us feel like failures.
I recently finished writing my first book, Sugar Linings: Finding the Bright Side of Type 1 Diabetes, which will be published on June 21st—the day after I hand down my crown to the new Miss Idaho! I talk about my own journey, as well as sugar linings that we can all find if we look for them. Diabetes is not something I would ever wish upon anyone, but if we have to experience it, we might as well look for anything positive that can possibly come out of it. I hope that sharing the bright side of my own experience can bring hope to those facing a new diagnosis, as well as a little bit a joy into an otherwise dismal situation.