by Cecilia Cantu, OPINION EDITOR
28 May 2019
An average Thursday afternoon I make my way up to the school library. I enter the large double doors and the hectic chaos and the sweat-scented high school hallways melt away into a calm peace. I am welcomed warmly with waves of sunlight from two-story long windows on opposing walls and the sweet scent of kettle popcorn and fresh fruit. Around a large table sit many smiling faces who laugh together comfortably. Among the crowd sits Gabby Bostwick, Vice President of the East’s Book Club and a common face to be found in the library.
The sponsor of the club, librarian Nicky Fairless, is fond of Gabby’s presence.
“She always brightens up our meetings and is a great leader to have around,” Fairless said.
This is a very accurate comment, as I would later find while accompanying Gabby to her classes. Even outside of the library Gabby is a positive and creative student who takes a leadership role in the classroom. In group discussions Gabby is often one to direct the conversation and push the limits of thinking and contribute many relevant and useful ideas.
We sit down together aside from the chaos in plush chairs surrounded by bookshelves and fake plants. It is a cozy setting, and Gabby is immediately accommodating; making sure to be close enough to my microphone and still face me. From the get go her infectious laugh is apparent and jumping right into a conversation is unusually easy. The conversation begins light and easy. We discuss interests and hobbies of hers and classes she has taken. She expresses interest in a range of things from childcare to nutrition to psychology. I ask if any of the activities she is in has anything to do with her plan for the future.
She tells me that she is a Type 1 diabetic, and how it has shaped her life thus far, and her plans for the future. She describes her diagnosis in the first grade, and more of a decade of living with the condition. She recalls these memories calmly and confidently.
“In those 11 years you learn a few things. You can’t eat what everyone else can because there are restrictions.”
Type one diabetics are people whose bodies are incapable of producing insulin, a hormone necessary for glucose transportation from the bloodstream to cells of the body. This can result in dangerous blood sugar levels resulting in extreme fatigue or thirst. This condition creates a requirement that those who have it carefully watch and understand the food they consume. For Gabby, this was the start of a new passion.
“It made me curious about food. I wondered why certain foods were good, why some were bad, and what defined the differences between them. I remember always bugging my mom, asking her endless questions about carbs and proteins and sugars.”
She laughed, fondly remembering those memories. However, the seriousness of the importance of the kind of food she eats is imperative to her health. She later emphasizes the consequence of not eating a proper diet.
“If I don’t eat well enough during the day, while I’m sleeping my blood sugar can drop. This brings me from sleeping to being passed out. Passing out like this means I won’t wake up and I risk falling into a coma.”
Gabby has carried this constant threat ever since she was a child, but she has carried it phenomenally. One long time witness to her growth is neighbor and best friend, Claire Schwarz. Claire recounted knowing several diabetics, but Gabby stood out.
“She is the most responsible diabetic I have ever met. She always takes care of herself as best as she can and handles herself well,” Schwarz said.
Claire has known Gabby for several years, and has supported Gabby through the tough times from childhood to now, the brink of adulthood. And Claire is quite correct in that statement. In the hours I spent with Gabby in her normal school day, I noticed how carefully and meticulously she handled herself. In the middle of class she would carefully an discreetly test her blood sugar, calculate measurements, and giver herself medications. It was not hard to believe that many did not notice her routines. When I told some of her classmates why I was there, some admitted they did not realize she was diabetic at all. Though, these habits were tough to learn from a young age. There have been many times in her youth that Gabby faced scary realities that most children never even consider, including the possibility of death.
“One of my first insulin injections I remember I was scared and refused to have the needle close to me. Then the doctor looked at me and told me I could die if I didn’t take the insulin. I took the insulin.”
I marvel at the way she talks about this. An experience that would leave most scarred she laughs about. She doesn’t hide her history at all, but her brightness would never suggest she carries this weight on her shoulders. Even when the weight carries very real and tangible consequences. Gabby describes how she is often late to school because her blood sugar drops overnight, or that she is a frequent visitor to the nurse especially in gym class.
There have been many times in her youth that Gabby faced scary realities that most children never even consider, including the possibility of death.
“It is frustrating because often times teachers just don’t understand why I’m always late, that I can’t control it.”
While I was in gym class with her, Gabby did mention she felt that she might go to the nurse, but ultimately kept to her persevering attitude, and slowed down instead. Her gym teacher, Tyson Leblanc, commented that he applauds her dedication.
“She does her best and that’s what we’re always looking for,” Leblanc said.
Even with these cumbersome burdens, she continues on to describe her journey of turning lemons into lemonade.
“Freshman year I began working at a garden in the park district where a friend and I grow fruits and vegetables for the homeless. It began as a way to earn volunteer hours, but has evolved into something I love doing. Not only do get to help people, but I get to help them eat healthy. I get my hands dirty and grow nutritious food for others from seed to harvest.”
Claire tells me how Gabby was only able to work in the garden because she takes care of herself so well. To many diabetics, the hours in the heat and sun could be dangerous, but Gabby overcame that obstacle with her determination to not let her condition prevent her from living a full life.
“She really truly enjoys volunteering there and always comes home covered in dirt,” Schwarz said.
Her love for nutrition does not end there, but it also extends into her long-term goals. Gabby plans to become a nutritionist in the future. She hopes that her experience with diabetes can be helpful in having a bond with patients.
“I want to be there for them, and just tell them I know where you’ve been and it’s gonna be okay.”
As our conversation comes to a close, I am left with so much more than what I expected. Nothing about the way Gabby presents herself would allude to the story of overcoming something like diabetes. Her charming smile and laughter-filled eyes do not hide this past, but have proudly triumphed it. Unlike many, she doesn’t seek pity. She knows what she is capable of, and works happily to achieve her goals. Her smile is not only kind, not just friendly, but it is a strong one that fits the girl who bears it.