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Living with diabetes and how!

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Madhur Tankha

"Make diabetes an inconvenience, not a tragedy"

NEW DELHI: She has worked tirelessly to create public awareness about diabetes. Few stories can be as dramatic as that of former Miss America Nicole Johnson who proved everyone wrong by winning the coveted title despite being diagnosed with type I diabetes.

An international spokesperson for diabetes for a number of years, Nicole came calling to Delhi on Monday as part of "Insulin Discovery Week" celebrations.

Nicole was only 19 when doctors informed her that she was suffering from diabetes. She took the shocking news in her stride and went on to win the Miss Virginia pageant, and then triumphed at the Miss America pageant in 1999. She has now become the most powerful spokeswoman in America for the cause of early detection and treatment of diabetes.

"I was told that I would not be able to compete for the Miss America pageant, will not be able to become a mother, and could not become a professional journalist as it was a stressful job. Last year, I proved most of these predictions wrong. I gave birth to a healthy girl. And I am anchoring a weekly programme on diabetes. I have also authored some cookery books for diabetic patients," says Nicole.

Speaking about her growing-up years, Nicole says she was a tomboy type of girl. "My parents encouraged me to take up modelling. Everything went along smoothly. I pursued this profession for just three years as I wanted to earn some pocket money for my studies at the University of South Florida. As I was more into academics, I discontinued modelling," adds Nicole, who did a double Masters in Public Health and Journalism, besides studying English literature.

Pointing out that Indians have a genetic disposition toward diabetes, Nicole says she will be travelling to other parts of the country in the coming days to educate more and more people about the disease. "In the United States, more than 20 million people are suffering from diabetes and over 40 million people are in the pre-diabetes category. Type I diabetes is through genetic disposition, while type II diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease."

Besides doing public speaking, Nicole has also penned down her autobiography, "Living with Diabetes", that details her journey from a normal girl to a person living with the disease.

It also chronicles her achievement to become Miss America.

To keep the dreaded disease under check, Nicole has to wear an insulin pump, take injections and monitor her blood sugar levels. "With proper diet, exercise, medicine and attitude, it is possible to make diabetes an inconvenience rather than a tragedy. People need to do some physical activity like weight training and walking to keep diabetes at a distance," says she.

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