Enrolling in a higher education program involves enough work to be its own full-time job, but when you must manage a chronic condition on top of that, it becomes a major life challenge. Recognizing the uphill battle many individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes must face, Elizabeth Auger, DPM, has developed an annual scholarship program to provide financial assistance to those in need.
Our program aims to reward those whose passion, motivation, and heartfelt sincerity comes through in their feelings towards higher education. We have absolutely found such a candidate in this year’s scholarship winner, Ilana Lewis.
Lewis has enrolled in the Tuoro College of Nursing with the intent to become a nurse in the field of endocrinology. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a young teenager, and the night she learned of her chronic condition threatened to be a traumatic experience. But, instead, Lewis was encouraged and supported by her empathetic nursing team, and their encouragement and compassion inspired her to seek a career in nursing of her own.
We are honored to be able to help Ms. Lewis on her career path, and we hope she is able to support and inspire others with a chronic diagnosis to, “have a GREAT life,” as she once was during a fateful trip to the emergency room.
Discovering a Chronic Condition — And a Passion for Nursing — In the Same Night
Ms. Lewis discovered that she had Type 1 diabetes like many people do: after struggling with symptoms, she was admitted to the emergency room for treatment and diagnosis. Like any of us would be, especially at a young age, she was terrified.
Evidently, the nurses caring for her could read the fear on her face. Their kind words and support and encouragement allowed Ms. Lewis to overcome her fear of what the diagnosis might mean.
“That night in the hospital changed everything for me,” Lewis wrote in her application essay. “In between administering my medications and checking my blood glucose levels, my nurses would frequently ask how I was feeling. They took the time to answer my questions and empower me with the tools I needed to manage my diabetes on my own.”
The attention and compassion for her nursing team have had a profound effect on Ilana’s outlook.
“Not only were they there to guide my medical improvement, but they supported me psychologically and empathetically as well,” she wrote.
“I vividly remember one of my nurses coming over to me, obviously aware of how apprehensive I was. She gently approached me, looked me straight in the eye, and told me, ‘Honey, you’re going to have a GREAT life!'”.
That moment was a turning point for her, and since then she has had a deep passion for finding a way to make an impact on others as that nurse had for her.
Reaching for the Stars to Become a Guiding Light for Others
When she completes her program, Ms. Lewis will have a unique perspective on the ideal way to provide care. This perspective comes not just from her diagnosis but also from her experience with nurses throughout many aspects of patient care.
“Nurses are active in all aspects of healthcare,” she observes, “where they make a tremendous impact helping patients not only survive but thrive.”
When asked about her experience with Type 1 diabetes and a passion for nursing, Ms. Lewis told us that both have left an indelible mark on how she intends to fulfill her career goals.
“I have always wanted to work in an area that directly helps others. I am very outgoing and friendly, so I feel lucky that I can combine my passion for healthcare and personal health journey into a fantastic career!”
As for how her personal perspective might impact her work, Ms. Lewis told us, “I definitely feel that my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis will help me provide better care to patients with chronic illnesses. Dealing with a diabetes diagnosis and a chronic illness has given me a very different perspective than most.”
She hopes that the shining example left on her from that initial experience — and all her follow-up experience — can allow her to help guide her care decisions, especially when it comes to patient interactions.
“I can very much empathize with patients in general and can offer solidarity and experience. I hope I can also be a role model for young patients by letting them see that an illness does not define you and shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams.”
When asked what suggestions she would give to a young person in a similar position, she advised, “reach for the stars. You can do anything you set your mind to!
“Having a diabetes diagnosis does not define you or limit you in any way. In fact, it makes you a more resilient, strong, responsible, and mature person. Use these qualities to go after your dreams!”
Providing Support for Others in the Diabetes Community
Ms. Lewis has realized that she does not have to wait until she has obtained a nursing certification to begin having a positive impact on the lives of others with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. For the past four years, she has served as a diabetes mentor. She has also coordinated the assembly and distribution of diabetes “swag bags” that were given to hospital inpatients newly diagnosed with diabetes.
Of course, if you cannot manage your own well-being then it can be difficult to care for others. Because of this, self-care is an important part of Lewis’s routine.
“I like to spice things up and keep my life exciting by treating myself to cute diabetes bags every once in a while,” she told us. “I also make sure to schedule ‘me time’ to relax and recharge during busy weeks.”
And, when life gets her down, she says, “I try my best to exercise (run) and eat healthy foods when I am stressed out. This benefits my physical and emotional health.”
By helping support herself as she supports others, Ms. Lewis has set a firm foundation for not just being an excellent nurse but having an outsized positive impact on her community.
“By maximizing health, function, and recovery, I hope to empower my future patients by telling them that that they too will have a ‘GREAT life!'”
Making Sure Others Can Have a Great Life After a Diabetes Diagnosis
We are inspired by Ilana Lewis, not just because of her perseverance but her motivation to show others the same kindness she was once shown. We will remember your story and will use it to think about moments of kindness others have shown us and let that encourage us to have the same positive impact on someone else.
Thank you for submitting to the scholarship, and we hope our gift is able to have a positive effect that helps propel your academic — and future career — success.