Meeting Marvelous Mary!
I have to admit, this wasn’t my first time meeting Mary Tyler Moore. In fact, the first time I met Mary Tyler Moore was before I really had any idea who she was. It was 2001. I was 15 years old and was in Washington D.C. with my mother for JDRF’s second ever Children’s Congress. My mother knew who Mary was, and thought it was so cool, and I kinda knew who she was and didn’t really care. But I did know she was famous and I did know that having my picture taken with her was really freaking cool.
Except the picture, having been taken during my awkward teenage years was atrocious. Which actually isn’t that big of a deal considering Jonathan Lipnicki is in it too (you know – that kids from Jerry McGuire? Yeah, don’t ask).
Anyway, Thursday night, after work, I took the train into Manhattan and then a subway up to the Upper East Side (we’re talking 92nd Street, so waaay upper east). While waiting in line, I asked one of the ushers if they were selling books. He said, “Yes, I believe so.” He said the Barnes and Nobles vendor should be there. “And they’re selling the new book?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.
An older woman in front of me, who was there with two girlfriends, turned around and said, “You’re a really big fan, huh?”
“Well, we both have type 1 diabetes,” I said. “And that’s what her new book is about.”
We were in a small auditorium, with about twenty or thirty rows of chairs. It was full, though not standing room only. It was mostly older folks, you could tell, who fans of the Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Dick Van Dyke show. I don’t know how many people there actually knew anything about diabetes.
Which is what made the whole thing pretty cool.
The set-up for the evening was like a talk show. There was an interviewer, Leonard Leoporte, who does talk radio in NYC, and Mary. I took copious notes that I bought from a CVS just before arriving, and the first thing I wrote about Mary is, “She looks fabulous!” The evening when back and forth between life with diabetes and life as an actress. I assume this is to make sure the audience doesn’t get bored.
Mary explained that the book was inspired by the daughter of a St. Martin’s Press editor, Phil Revson, when she was about to leave for college. She didn’t want to read another book about treatments and taking care of yourself, she wanted to read a book from someone who had really lived it.
Mary said, “I’ve been there. I know what you’re going through.” But she said firmly, “I am not a role model.” She said there were many things she would go back and re-do, but also many things that she’d keep the way they are. I thought it was interesting that she considers herself “not that unusual.”
Leonard asked about her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes at age 30, which they both said was unusual. In her response, Mary switched to the proper “Type 1” designation, which I give her props for. She explained briefly the differences, calling it the “hardcore” version (which I have mixed feelings about, but that’s her opinion). She stated that they don’t know what causes it, although there is a genetic component. Mary believes her diabetes was brought on by her miscarriage, though I don’t personally know what kind of scientific validation that has – although I’m sure a miscarriage can mess around with your immune system quite a bit. Her blood sugar, at diagnosis, was 780 mg/dl.
As a dancer, Mary says she was accustomed to ignoring any kind of pain. “I didn’t want to recognize anything going on in my body.” But rebellion was in the cards for Mary, as she shared a story where she ordered her housekeeper to get rid of all sugary and high-carb foods, then got into her car, drove the supermarket, bought a dozen donuts and ate the whole box on the way home. Mary, as some of you may know, also smoked and drank for a long time. She said, “Incredibly stupid I have been.”
Despite the diagnosis, Mary said she never hesitated about starting her own show. But she did have to deal with complications during her acting career, including some severe eye complications during a theater performance when her eye started to bleed (ew!). Look up “vitrectomy.”
Mary shared some anecdotes about her swinging blood sugars, explaining that it’s not just high blood sugar but low blood sugar that can happen. She shared a story that just the night before she had gone low after mixing up her insulins (Humalog and Lantus, I believe, she only described them as short-acting and fast-acting). This just goes to show you that even someone who’s had diabetes for 40 years can screw up! She then motioned to the table on stage saying there was orange juice inside the cup.
The only part where I felt Mary slipped up was when Leonard asked about the changes in technology. Mary simply stared at him and said, “No, not really… we still have to check ourselves several times.” To which I wanted to stand up and shout, “No! We have insulin pump and continuous glucose monitors and…. and…!!!” But I didn’t. She did, however, come through later on when she discussed the artificial pancreas, and it was great to know that so many people were getting exposed to this information. I spotted one guy in the row behind me with his mouth gapping open!
Mary also discussed her beliefs surrounding stem cell research, which offered Leonard the opportunity to poke at her political beliefs (apparently she’s conservative/Republican, as she seemed quite the fan of Bill O’Reilly while Leonard clearly did not!). The banter was tolerable and didn’t last too long. Mary and her husband, Dr. Robert Levine, also defended Mary’s choices of her heroes, Newt Gingrich, who supported diabetes research funding in the NIH funding – not because of their political beliefs, they said. Mary said, “Stem cell research offers a lot of hope.”
Mary and Leonard also spent quite a bit of time talking about her family (namely her emotionally distant father, two previous husbands, and her son who died of an accidental gunshot), her acting career (hello Robert Redford and Elvis Pressley!) and the horrible story about the hawks living her old apartment building which were tortured when their nest was removed (Mary was visibly upset, it was so sad).
After we were done, those that wanted their books signed lined up in another room to wait for her. It was so exciting to see so many people with her book, and I hope that they’ll learn something from it although since I haven’t read the book I can’t really say for sure what kind of job she did. Though I imagine there will be many more details than the hour long conversation could possibly have provided.
When I got up to her, I have to admit, I was very nervous. Trust me, so would you. I said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was a Children’s Congress delegate in 2001.” Her assistant, standing next to her, said, “Oh, she has an insulin pump!” Mary asked me how old I was when I was a delegate. “15,” I said, “I’m 23 now.” I told her that I was a blogger now and that “I wanted to pass along a message from the whole online diabetes community that we love and we’re so excited about the book!” She smiled and said thank you, handing me back my book. “Make sure to spread the word,” her assistant said.
Oh, I will!