Photo credit: Carly Glass Photography
For Crystal Bowersox, becoming a successful musician wasn’t something she did despite type 1 diabetes, but because of it. When she was diagnosed with type 1 at age 6, she began to sing and make music as a way to cope emotionally. Little did she know that the unique country/folk/rock style she created would someday land her a spot on the national stage, performing in front of millions on American Idol ®.
On the show, Crystal wowed the judges with her raw talent and, ultimately, with the perseverance she showed to take care of her diabetes. Since her Season 9 second-place finish, Crystal’s music career has taken off. And now, in addition to touring the country performing for her fans, Crystal has teamed up with Lilly Diabetes and the Lilly Camp Care Package program to visit diabetes summer camps and meet with hundreds of children to show them that diabetes is not a barrier to their dreams. Here, she shares some of the high notes from her experience as a performer, parent, and advocate with type 1.
Q: You were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6. What do you remember about this experience and adjusting to life with T1D?
A: At the time of my T1D diagnosis, I was very young, and I don’t recall feeling the same sense of worry that I now know that my parents felt. A weeklong stay at the hospital felt more like an adventure than an emergency. Of course, once the shots and blood glucose checks began, I do remember hiding under the bed and the hospital needing a few nurses to drag me out…. I was a very strong-willed child! Once I was sent home from the hospital and returned to school, the “new norm” was difficult for me to understand, and it was also difficult for my teachers and classmates to grasp. I was the only kid with T1D in our rural community at the time. It did feel lonely occasionally, but my diabetes and all of the medical supplies that came with it were also great show-and-tell items.
Q: You began performing professionally at the age of 10. How did you take care of your diabetes early on in your career?
A: I attended T1D camp several years in a row, so by the time I started playing shows, I was self-managing my diabetes. My parents did the best they could with their strong-willed, stubborn daughter, and I thank and owe them eternally for that. I can’t imagine it was easy raising me.
Q: You brought your talents to American Idol and impressed the judges and voters right through to the very end. What role did diabetes play in the experience?
A: The rigorous schedule of American Idol behind the scenes presented many challenges to my diabetes management. I chose not to disclose the fact that I had type 1 diabetes or explain the severity of complications that could arise from poor management, because I didn’t want to be treated any differently than the other contestants. Looking back, it was the wrong choice. The stress of the entire experience caught up to me, and I was hospitalized for DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis, from high blood sugar over an extended period of time). It almost cost me everything. I am eternally grateful to [American Idol producer] Ken Warwick for making last-minute changes to allow me to stay in the game that changed my life forever.
Q: How do you keep your family’s lifestyle healthy now?
A: My son, who is 7 [and does not have T1D], is a great veggie eater. Kids consume what they are exposed to, so I try to set good examples by incorporating plenty of whole foods. I rarely go down the inner aisles of the grocery store and try to stick to the produce section, the deli, and dairy products like yogurt and cheese. When I am home from touring, we get out and about. Hiking, camping, riding our bicycles, etc. Exercise is easier when it’s fun and the occasional cupcake is well-earned!
Q: On top of musician and mom, you’re now a type 1 diabetes ambassador as well. What’s your favorite part of that role?
A: I am honored to be an ambassador for Lilly Diabetes. Hanging out with the kids at camp and sharing my own story with them is amazing, and it helps me stay focused in my T1D management, too! I want them to know that it’s okay to be human, and that no one is perfect. Always do your best, and you’ve got this.
Q: Finally, when can fans expect to hear new music from you?
A: I am always writing. I can’t help it. I hope to record a new album soon. No date set at the moment, however; I am constantly touring! I try to balance my time at home with my time on the road as gracefully as I can. Fans can check my website (Crystalbowersox.com) and tour schedule to find a show near them. I’ve been playing new material at live shows to gauge each song’s popularity. Fans can help determine the upcoming album’s track list by the amount of applause each song receives. And hugs are always free after the show!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.
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