Miss Idaho and Pump Life Pride

Sierra Sandison has created an insulin pump social media movement. Will it last or will pumps go back into hiding?



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© Susan Hessing

The insulin pump got a glam shot mid-June when Sierra Sandison posted a photo of herself wearing an insulin pump during the bikini competition for the Miss Idaho pageant. The photo went viral through social media and she helped spark a #showmeyourpump Twitter campaign.

Suddenly, the insulin pump that so many people with Type 1 diabetes try to conceal became front-page news in a glitzy way. According to NPR, parents wrote in to Sandison saying how their children with Type 1 diabetes no longer felt embarrassed of their pumps thanks to her. It felt like a groundbreaking moment.

It might very well be, but it’s happened before. In 1999, Nicole Johnson wore an insulin pump as she competed in the Miss America competition for her homestate of Virginia, just two years after she started insulin pump therapy. She won the title that year and has gone on to be a tireless advocate for the diabetes community in print and media. Despite the spotlight Johnson shined on the insulin pump, the pump remained hidden away in the waistbands and dresses of many people with Type 1 diabetes. Of course, Johnson spoke out at a time when Twitter and Facebook weren’t even dreamed up, so the impact of her outspokenness on Type 1 diabetes may have been muted when compared to the reach of Sandison’s glamourous pump photos.

This doesn’t take away the impact of Sandison’s openness about her pump therapy. News of Miss Idaho wearing a pump will generate intelligent discourse on the “forgotten” diabetes, including the symptoms of its onset. Sandison has described her 2012 diagnosis in detail, and how she was in complete denial for some time before taking charge of her condition. That might provide tangible encouragement for others with Type 1 who aren’t on top of their diabetes self-care. And as Type 1 diabetes blogger Leighann Calentine said in a recent post on D-Mom Blog, the sight of a pageant-winner with a pump might help countless young pump-wearers have a better self-image about the Type 1 accessories.

This isn’t 1999. We live in a time when ideas travel around the world at the speed of keystrokes. Sandison’s pump moment offers an opportunity for the Type 1 community to fully bring the pump out of the waistband for good. It now will be up to the online diabetes community to keep the conversation going and make insulin pumps as ordinary an accessory as earrings or necklaces.

If you want to help Insulin Nation spread pump awareness, email us your photos of wearing a pump with pride. You can send them to cidlebrook@epscomm.com. How else can we spread the word on insulin pumps? Send us your suggestions.

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Craig Idlebrook is chief editor for Insulin Nation and Información Sobre Diabetes, and was founding editor for Type 2 Nation. You can reach him at cidlebrook@selfrx.com.