Welcome to JDRF NorCal’s blog, One on 1, a series of interviews with people who live with type 1 diabetes (T1D). Members of our community talk about how T1D affects them, how they manage it, and what they have accomplished despite it. Today we talk with Emma Towslee, a third-year medical student at St. George’s University. Emma is working towards becoming a pediatric endocrinologist. She is currently in rotations at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose.
JDRF NorCal: When were you diagnosed with T1D and what was it like for you at the time?
Emma: I was diagnosed about 7 years ago at age 17. It was a very scary experience as I was on my own entering my first year of college at Sonoma State University. I didn’t know very many people in the area, so I felt very alone. Friends I was starting to make wanted to party like most new college students, but I couldn’t. I felt very isolated. At the time, I was in full blown DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). My A1C was off the charts. But I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and sent home with the wrong medication. But I finally met with Dr. Gaudiani at Braden Diabetes Center and was properly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was sent directly to the hospital where I spent two nights. I kept pushing medical staff to let me go home early. I was missing my very first college midterms and was nervous this would cause me to fail the courses. This was silly because of course they let me make up the exams.
JDRF NorCal: How did you find the T1D community and JDRF?
Emma: Dr. Guadiani introduced me to Marcena Peterson, the founder of T1D Marin. Marcena became almost like a second mother to me and she introduced me to JDRF. I then became an intern at Braden and found my community.
JDRF NorCal: What does the T1D community mean to you?
Emma: It’s a huge part of my life. I’ve met so many kids in the community, and I’ve had the opportunity to babysit them and get to know them. It’s great because I get to hear from their perspective as a kid and I really get to know what they are going through. Since I was 17 when diagnosed, I like to get a better understanding of how kids are able to conquer through their diagnosis.
JDRF NorCal: When did you decide to become a pediatric endocrinologist?
Emma: I always knew I wanted to be a physician so that I could provide some good and help people. I want to specialize in pediatric endocrinology because when I was diagnosed with T1D I would have appreciated it if my doctor also had T1D. It would have been nice to have had someone to look up to, to be a role model and who would truly understand what it’s like to live with the disease. I want to be a positive role model for kids with T1D and to say, “I have it too, I get it. I understand the day by day. You can do it.” I also love helping kids.
JDRF NorCal: What is your message for newly diagnosed kids or adults?
“I always knew I wanted to be a physician so that I could provide some good and help people. I want to specialize in pediatric endocrinology because when I was diagnosed with T1D I would have appreciated it if my doctor also had T1D.” – Emma Towslee
Emma: You are not alone. It will take some grieving but, eventually you can rock the disease and make it your own. You can turn it into a positive by helping and connecting with people who have the same disease. It also helps you to focus on being better for yourself now. You just have to have find the good in the cards you were dealt.
JDRF NorCal: What are your plans for the future?
Emma: No idea! But I would love to attend UC Davis for my residency. I’ve shadowed physicians there and I love the environment.
JDRF NorCal: What would a cure mean to you?
Emma: I would feel done with worrying and done having it as a second job. You’ve all had those scary middle of the night lows so a cure would mean piece of mind.