You might remember when Sanofi US announced last November it was teaming up with actress Elizabeth Perkins, a type 1 herself since 2005, on a new diabetes documentary aimed at the importance of having a support network when living with the Big D.
Of course, we know Elizabeth best for her movie and TV star roles going back to the 1980s — particularly in the movie Big where she played the love interest of Tom Hanks. More recently she’s been in some TV hits like Weeds on Showtime and the new ABC sitcom, How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life.
Well, her newest role is all about the diabetes. She stars as herself telling her diabetes story, and how she found the courage after her diagnosis in 2005 not to hide her diabetes but make it a “natural” part of her life. She was diagnosed with LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) at age 44, after what she describes as a slow onset, and Elizabeth says it took more than a year for her stop hiding her illness. This kind of “diabetes coming out” is the theme of the new Diabetes Co-Stars documentary, Strength In Numbers, which emphasizes the message that “you can do this, but you can’t do it alone.”
The 15-minute film debuted on May 4 at the American Diabetes Association Expo in Los Angeles, CA, and it features Elizabeth and her “co-star” husband, cinematographer Julio Macat. In the film she talks about how her initial feelings made her keep it a secret and not share with anyone outside close friends and family. It was great seeing and hearing her “Type Awesome” husband share his own thoughts on how he helps her, particularly with the emotional and psychosocial aspects of life with D.
We were fortunate to have a chance to interview Elizabeth about this film. Read on…
Aside from Elizabeth and Julio’s story, though, two other PWD pairs are also featured. They were chosen after a nationwide casting call late last year. They are: best friends Amanda Bauer and Anne Casey from New York, and father-daughter duo Eugenio and Naiomi Rivera from Texas.
The documentary has a great fundraising goal. Sanofi has already recently donated $10,000 to the Diabetes Hands Foundation — but when “Strength in Numbers” reaches 10,000 online views, Sanofi will double that initial donation for a total of $20,000! So make sure you go online to view the video (if you haven’t already), and spread the word! (Note: there’s no public tracker, so we can’t keep tabs on where we are on view counts… so we basically have to just stack up the views until Sanofi tells us we’ve hit the 10,000-view mark. They tell us that by Wednesday evening, after three full days of online views, about 500 hits had been recorded.)
We had a chance to chat with Elizabeth by phone this Monday, the day the documentary was published online and the viewing-tracking began. Her acting and advocacy keeps her quite busy, so we only had about 15 minutes to talk. Of, course, there was a little “scripted, Sanofi promotional” talk we had to get past, but it was great to get to some real-life stuff beyond the campaign. Obviously, being partnered with Sanofi, she is using their products (the Lantus SoloStar insulin pen) and she tells us she’s using a fast-acting insulin pen, too. We shared some laughs about a mutual love for dog-walking as our preferred diabetes exercise (me with my Riley Dog, and Elizabeth with her two dogs Buster and LuLu), and it was also great to hear her thoughts about the Diabetes Online Community… plus what Elizabeth could do with her celebrity status to bring more accurate diabetes awareness to a bigger audience!
DM) You were diagnosed back in 2005… tell us a little about your personal diabetes story?
EP) Yes, it was 2005 when I was diagnosed, but it came on very slowly over about three years. I just didn’t feel well. In that last year, I had all the classic symptoms like blurry vision and weight loss, before a routine blood glucose test at the doctor’s showed I was in the 600s. It was such a shock when I was diagnosed, because I was fit and in the prime of my life. And in that first year, I felt very isolated and scared, and I was filming Weeds so I kept it a secret and would only test and inject my insulin when I was alone in my trailer.
Why do you think you hid your diabetes?
There tends to be a stigma about being diagnosed with diabetes, especially when you’re an adult — like I did this to myself, maybe I ate too many burgers… I thought maybe my producers and people I worked worked with would think that I couldn’t keep up and do my job, and so I was scared to say anything. But now I don’t hide it, I just inject in front of people on stage and don’t go to my trailer. I’m not embarrassed about my diabetes, and I just do what I have to do.
So, you reached out and created a bigger support system — that’s at the heart of Strength In Numbers. Why did you want to go public like that?
Sanofi approached me about doing this awareness and outreach campaign, and I was absolutely thrilled to do it. The message of this campaign hits so close to home, and it’s about my journey in finally being able to not feel so alone and isolated, but to reach out and ask for help. For me, it’s about having a co-star in my life. My husband, Julio, is my diabetes co-star and I couldn’t do it without him. This became a whole family affair. I hope that can help others find those co-stars in their own life.
Had you ever heard of the Diabetes Hands Foundation or read any diabetes blogs before?
There are so many people out there to connect with. I found myself going online and learning about these programs, like what Manny Hernandez is doing with the Diabetes Hands Foundation. I saw that I wasn’t in this by myself, but was part of a community. That’s why I am doing this, because I wanted to get that message out that there is help out there. We have a very broad community now and we’re all connected online.
Have you ever met and “talked shop” with any other diabetes celebrities or actors?
No, it’s funny, but I haven’t. I find myself talking with “real people” outside my industry, and it just doesn’t come up. And there are not a lot of celebrities who seem like they do want to talk about it. That’s something I wanted to jump on, to tell my story and maybe connect more of us.
Would you ever use your role on screen to help reach a bigger audience, maybe working your own diabetes into a show?
I haven’t yet weaved in that part of my life. But that would be great, and that’s something I will have to look at talking to my producers about. Right now, we’re just trying to get a second season (for How To Live With Your Parents)!
Any advice for people who might have just been diagnosed, or even longtime PWDs who feel they have to hide their diabetes from the rest of the world?
My big message to encourage everyone with diabetes is that we have a whole community and you have to reach out and knock on that door. There are people waiting on the other side to support you!
Sounds like Elizabeth’s taken a page right out of the DOC playbook, where so many got into this online world because they felt alone and isolated. We talk a lot about best practices for celebrity spokes-folks, and we appreciate Elizabeth’s approach to advocacy.
Don’t forget to view the Strength In Numbers video online to help out DHF, and you can also find Elizabeth online at her website and on Twitter at @Elzbethperkins. One other video participant, Amanda Bauer, is also online at @ajohannabauer.