Just Too Sweet – Awareness, Advocacy, and Action to Cure Type 1 Diabetes
November 8, 2017
By Annabelle Bunch
Imagine what it is like to have to prick your finger ten to twenty times a day or to give yourself four to five shots of insulin daily. Over the last 11 years, I have had approximately 23,000 finger pricks and 29,000 shots of insulin, I am a teenager living with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and these are my daily realities. My platform, Just Too Sweet, is designed to promote awareness, advocacy, and action to find a cure for T1D. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas loses the ability to produce insulin – a hormone essential to turning food into energy. It strikes both children and adults suddenly and is unrelated to diet or lifestyle. Management requires constant carbohydrate counting, blood-glucose testing, and a lifelong dependence on injected insulin. I am committed to helping others through Just Too Sweet by educating, raising funds, and empowering those who live with T1D to embrace life and create their own definition of normal.
On February 23, 2006, I was diagnosed with T1D at the age of 4. My life changed forever that day. According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), 1.25 million Americans are living with T1D, and new cases of diabetes are diagnosed every 30 seconds. Diabetes is a serious disease and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Being insulin dependent is a daily challenge. For those of us dealing with this disease, it is important to eat healthy, exercise, and check our blood sugar levels multiple times each day. Some days it is very hard to be an active 16-year-old while juggling T1D because keeping my blood sugar in the target range takes constant management.
Since 2008, I have worked to make a difference in the fight against T1D. At the age of 6, I started participating in JDRF walks and raising money to help fund research. The Belle’s Bunch team has raised more than $11,000 to help find a cure for T1D. I was the inspiration for a children’s book, Sweet AB, that I self-published to help children better understand diabetes. I have had the opportunity to read Sweet AB and share my story with more than 500 people in four states. In June 2016, my platform, Just Too Sweet, was selected as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) Southern Region President’s Philanthropy Project during their national convention in Baltimore, Maryland. I served as the featured speaker at the GFWC Southern Region Convention in Jacksonville, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia, where I discussed my own struggle with diabetes, promoted my book, and raised money for JDRF. I have created the Just Too Sweet Wristband Campaign and partnered with LPGA member, Ally McDonald, to bring awareness to T1D and Just Too Sweet. I am a certified JDRF Youth Advocacy Leader. I organized the JDRF Sneaker Campaign at my high school where the students helped bring awareness to The Walk to Cure Diabetes by purchasing and displaying paper sneakers. I have participated in the #T1DLooksLikeMe social media campaign. Through two different resolutions, the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives have recognized my platform work as an outstanding example of service and commitment to the State of Mississippi. I have served as a Teen Advocate for the Promise to Remember Me Campaign by working with Mississippi’s Congressmen to lobby for federal assistance in funding Type 1 Diabetes research. I participated in the 2017 JDRF Hope Gala which helped raise $347,000 for research to cure T1D. My story and platform work inspired a representative from Kendra Scott to contact me and design the Annabelle Collection which is a jewelry collection that will be sold in the Mississippi store and online with 20% of all sales being donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. I was selected as 1 of 150 children and teens across the country to serve as a delegate to the JDRF Children’s Congress in Washington, D.C., where I spent two days educating our country’s leaders on what it is like to live with T1D and advocating research funding to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.
As Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen 2018, I will expand my work with JDRF and continue to raise money and help find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. I have a unique perspective to shed light on this disease and to serve as a role model and mentor for young children who are diagnosed with T1D and other illnesses. Helping others understand the importance of being brave and how to live without letting a disease define who they are is my ultimate goal. I will continue to partner with organizations and individuals who can bring awareness to T1D and the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen brand. Just Too Sweet is an excellent tool to promote the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization because of its expansive reach that focuses on appreciating your health, understanding your limitations, adapting your attitude to make the best of a situation, and most importantly, defining normal on your own terms. My platform is a natural fit with the MAOTeen national platform because Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals treat 935 children with Type 1 Diabetes every day. With T1D there are no days off, and there is no cure. Learning you have diabetes is scary and confusing, but with a little help it is easy to see that life can be just as sweet living with T1D.
Justine, whose husband Paul is a Vietnam Army veteran, has been an active clubwoman for 17 years. If there’s a club office, she’s held it.
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