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'Many hands help' in the fight to find a cure for diabetes

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Jessica Williams (centre) and parents Tammy and Mike Williams in the 2013 Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes.

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Jessica Williams (centre) and parents Tammy and Mike Williams in the 2013 Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes.

It's hard to miss the rainbow of threaded bracelets that decorates Jessica Williams' wrists. But tucked underneath her hoodie is a silver diabetes necklace.

"People always ask 'Are you allergic to something?" she said laughing. "It (diabetes) doesn't define me. It isn't my whole life."

When she was nine, Williams was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a disease that prohibits the pancreas from producing insulin and affects mostly children.

"I found out 19 days before Halloween, so it was like, 'No trick-or-treating for Jessica this year,' " she said, pricking her finger with a lancet. "I essentially have a dead organ inside of me."

Williams' parents noticed a change in their daughter's health when she started losing a significant amount of weight within a short period of time.

"At school I would always ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink and it got to the point where my teachers wouldn't let me go because I kept asking," said the 19-year-old. "They were like, 'This kid obviously just wants to spend time in the hallway.' "

But after she was diagnosed, Williams went from the hallway straight to the stage.

Williams' parents encouraged her to volunteer as a youth ambassador with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a national organization that helps people living with Type 1 diabetes. The organization also aims to find a cure for the disease.

Throughout the year, Williams speaks at events across the city and teaches Winnipeggers about Type 1 diabetes. She also talks about her struggles living with the disease.

"Trying to keep track is the hardest part. When it's lunch at work, I don't want to go to my locker and bring this thing out, test on my machine and explain it to everyone," she said. "I don't want to deal with it, but if I don't deal with it I get sick."

One of Williams' favourite places to share her story is at a Starry Starry Night, a gala put on by the foundation. The event is held at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg each spring and raises money for diabetes research. This year, Williams already has her dress picked out, where she'll be setting up and organizing the event.

But Williams' main goal is to raise awareness about the disease.

Similar to diabetes, sharing her story has its trials.

Williams remembers presenting about diabetes in front of her elementary classroom.

"I remember a student said to me 'I don't want to sit beside Jessica because she's contagious,' " she said. "I was bullied a lot in school and didn't have very many friends."

Williams has also spoken to university classes and MP James Bezan.

"It's a sickness that people don't want to talk about, but I talk about it whenever someone asks," she said. "We're given opportunities and we can take that opportunity and do something positive with it."

But when Williams isn't doing public speaking, she is working behind the scenes with her mom.

The two help with the events put on by the JDRF and make sure everything runs smoothly.

This weekend, they counted laps and took in donations at the Great Grain Relay at the Max Bell Centre, a relay-team event that supports JDRF.

Throughout the year, Williams and her family also volunteer at the Ride for Diabetes Research and the Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes to help raise money.

"It's lot of fun when we get people to join in with us. They usually keep coming afterwards. It's very rewarding," said Jessica's mom, Tammy Williams. "It's the people that make it all worthwhile. Many hands help."

In the fall, Williams hopes to put on a social to raise money for research. But the teen admits she wouldn't be the first to sign up for a cure.

"People are getting heart attacks and dying from these complications. You see parents giving needles to their babies every day," she said. "There's so many people that go through things 10 times worse than me."

 

If you know a special volunteer please contact Elizabeth Fraser at fraser.a.liz@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2014 0

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