Donate $4 and I promise to ride 4,000 miles.
|Noelle can count on her brother Brent for help.|
He's an Iraq War veteran.
When you talk to her over the phone, you hear a happy note in almost every word she says and sense that this is a graceful young woman, with a secure sense of who she is. Noelle is a graduate of Vandalia Butler High School, near Dayton, and went on to Ohio University (2000-2004), where she majored in journalism. She ran cross-country and track in high school and was "completely healthy" most of her life. After graduating from college she moved to New York City and put her degree to work doing public relations for a variety of celebrities. "The hours were crazy," she says, but she was young and living in an exciting city and life was great. She worked with Mary Kate and Ashley Olson on their fashion line, and adds that they were "actually really smart." Another client was Chase Crawford, now known for his role in Gossip Girl, a young unknown, "almost like my younger brother," when she first met him. She also worked with the late Patrick Swayze. "He was very polite," she assured me, "and you could always tell he loved his wife."
So far, so good. Then it gets better.
Her roommate is dating a cute guy--and he has a cute guy for a roommate. So the roommates fix up their roommates. Noelle and Jay Gramas have been in a serious relationship ever since, and you can tell when you talk to her, that Jay takes care of her and again she sounds happy.
In the early months of 2009, however, something goes wrong. Noelle starts having trouble sleeping. She loses 13 pounds, which she doesn't need to lose. At first, she remembers thinking, "It must be this new Pilates thing I'm doing." But for weeks she doesn't feel right. One day she sits down at her computer, goes to a health website, and types in her symptoms.
"You have diabetes," it tells her.
Her first thought is, "This stupid computer," but she soon discovers the computer was right. Noelle heads for the hospital and doctors explain that she has probably been fighting the onset of diabetes for six months and only her youth and good health, partly related to all the running she still does, has allowed her to function at all.
At age 26, it comes as a shock. No one else in her family is diabetic. "You live your whole life healthy," she says when asked what that moment was like. "I never had to go to the doctor, and suddenly I'm dealing with a lifelong health issue." At one point the shock to her body caused her hair to start falling out. It's one of two times in an hour of conversation that Noelle's emotions get the better, as she explains how Jay comforted her when she got down. "It was very traumatic," she admits, and the memory forces her to pause. Jay, she continues, has been great since. "He gets on websites and reads up about type-1 diabetes" and "knows more about diabetes than I do."
She also admits that she was deathly afraid of the needles at first. Finally, her brother Brent, an Iraq War veteran, told her to "quit being a baby," stuck himself to show her how it was done, and helped her get over her fears. (Her tone is cheerful again and you can tell she and her brother have a close bond.)
Noelle's father, Dave, is an eighth grade American history teacher at Loveland Middle School and a friend, so I know he worries about his daughter the same way I worry about mine. That's the only other time Noelle sounds anything but cheerful, when she says she's sorry her diabetes worries her dad. I tell her how proud of her her father is and explain how proud I am of Emily, and we both get a little choked up before we can go on with the discussion
Otherwise, talking to Noelle Fletcher turns out to be an almost joyful experience. She's still a serious runner, and hopes someday to do a marathon, and all the exercise helps her manage her disease. (Dad got her started in running when they used to go out together, back when she was still in middle school.) She likes to travel and next week heads for Las Vegas. I asked Noelle what else she does for fun. "Well, there's always a new restaurant to go to" or something exciting happening in the city, so "being in New York is like a hobby."
Today, Noelle has a new job, working for a legal firm, helping recruit law students out of college and getting them settled into life in the city. She says working young men and women just coming out of school, it's "rewarding helping them find jobs." During the worst days of the crashing economy, Ms. Fletcher was laid off temporarily--and her first worry was how she'd pay her medical bills. She remembers sitting down with her father and totaling up how much all her medications and doctor's visits might cost. But Noelle is a talented young lady, and found a new job, and three months later her old boss called her back and offered her a raise and a promotion.
She's been doing fine ever since.
In fact, that's the message you get, when you listen to Noelle. You might be a type-1 diabetic, but you're going to be fine. That doesn't mean you can ignore the challenges and doesn't mean you don't need to take care of your health. It just means you can live a full, happy life. Noelle says she has reached the age where birthdays aren't all that exciting ("amen" to that), but she does look forward to that day now, because it's the one time she doesn't worry about sugar intake "and I eat regular cake." She laughs, too, when food comes up and says, "You know, I really like to go to breakfast, and I want pancakes in the worst way," but she knows she has to watch what she eats.
Noelle turned up diabetic at a relatively late age in life. So she's still adjusting, and doesn't haven't any other close friends who are diabetic. She laughs again, and explains, "It's kind of funny when I'm out at a bar and have to check my sugar. All my friends want to test theirs," and so there's a little bit of extra sticking, and for Noelle Fletcher life goes on.
Someday, shel may come back to Ohio, perhaps when it's time to start a family. She has an advanced pump now, which helps her maintain good blood sugar control. You talk to her for an hour and don't hear one complaint. Most of the time, she's laughing, and she's not mad, but this turning up with a disease is like some bad cosmic joke. How did I end up a diabetic? I'm a happy, well-adjusted young lady, in a relationship with a great guy! And now this!
So Noelle accepts fate, gives up the pancakes, and goes on with her life. It's no honor to be a diabetic, but if you have an upbeat outlook like she does, you know it's no tragedy, either. It's just part of who you are.
You deal with it, smile, and keep on running.