Actress Mary Tyler Moore uses humor and experience to detail her personal battle with diabetes in her new book "Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes."
Read an excerpt of the book below.
Chronic disease, like a troublesome relative, is something you can learn to manage but never quite escape. And while each and every person who has type 1 prays for a cure, and would give anything to stop thinking about it for just a year, a month, a week, a day even, the ironic truth is that only when you own it--accept it, embrace it, make it your own--do you start to be free of many of its emotional and physical burdens.
How do you accomplish this acceptance? How do you come to terms with this constant, nagging, never-ending disease? I can't tell you, not precisely. Each person who has diabetes struggles to come to terms with it and experiences the basic challenges of the disease in a uniquely personal way. For me, it has been a trip through rebellion and denial to finally arriving at acknowledgment and commitment to solutions. It took years. And the restrictions, the have-tos, the may-nots, and the never-endingness of it still rankle. But the illness is what it is, and I thank God for the genius of medical researchers, who have done so much to make diabetes a less cruel imposition while propelling us toward a cure.
I don't think the story of my life with diabetes is a model for anyone else. There's no template to follow that will determine the course of the disease and how it affects a person's life; no one right way to manage diabetes. What I have put on paper is simply the tale of how, in the course of everyday living--dealing with the losses, the dead ends, and the triumphs that come in often seemingly random order--I've dodged, faced, and sometimes conquered the challenges of diabetes. I'm sharing my story because it is what I have to give, shedding some light on the follies and achievements that I've racked up in my daily confrontation with the disease.
But my journey is just a part of the picture. So I've talked with other people who have diabetes to give voice to their experiences, to provide a varied view of how to live and thrive. And I've sought out some of the wisest and most capable doctors and scientists who are waging war in the laboratory and conducting bench-to-bedside experiments that are producing new and exciting treatments to help the millions of people with diabetes manage--and ultimately vanquish--the disease. A lot of this practical information appears in the appendixes at the back of the book.
It is my most heartfelt hope that the collective wisdom-- and occasional humor--of the stories contained herein will help others who have diabetes, and their loved ones, find new ways of managing its challenges.
For me, the process of writing the book, talking with people with diabetes and all the experts, certainly has provided new insights into how to manage the disease. I guess you could say it truly has been a matter of growing up again. So let me introduce myself one more time. . . .
I'm Mary Tyler Moore and I am . . . an actress, an animal lover, the chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the wife of Dr. Robert Levine, and . . . I don't want to give away the whole story from the very start. Suffice it to say there are a lot of ways to end that sentence, and I don't think I've come close to living through all the possibilities, thank heavens. But what I do know is that in every role I am a devotee of laughter and tears, committed to expressing the nuances of each.
For our purposes here, though, I am going to write about who I am in relation to diabetes. I'll start in 1969, the year I was diagnosed with type 1. It was a time of transition for me: It was three years after The Dick Van Dyke Show had ended. That show had catapulted me from a nervous chorus girl from Studio City, California, to a famous actress (quite a head-spinner and life-changer). And it was a year before The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted.
In that interim period, Dick was kind enough to ask me to join him in a television special called "Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman," warmly spoofing the couple we had played on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob and Laura Petrie, and their marriage, with which the public had become so very smitten. Little did I know at the time that the special was to be the launching pad for my future--my career, my loves, my disappointments, heartbreaks, challenges, and successes. Thanks to Dick's genius and his generosity in sharing the spotlight with me, the show was a great hit. And afterward CBS asked me to think about what I'd like to do in a series of my own! Wow, really? Oh, thank you, God, thank you! Thank you, Dick!
My second husband, Grant Tinker, a successful network vice president whom I'd married in 1963, left his post to become the King ofCamelot, MTM Enterprises, which produced some thirty pilots and series over a dozen years, many winning multiple Emmys and the praise of critics as well. Of theseshows, mine was the first. Thank you, Grant, thank you!
But despite, or maybe because of, the thrill of our accomplishments together, I realized later that I had not been captain of my own ship--not even co-captain. I see now that it was a pattern that had long manifested itself in my personal relationships, my working life, my early marriages.
I married for the first time right out of high school, leaving the complicated but protective, even totalitarian, environment of my parents' unstable home for the adventure of "wifedom" and motherhood. I was eighteen, my husband was the very kind twenty-eight-year-old boy next door, Richard Meeker. And since he had a job (cranberry sauce sales manager) and his own apartment (as I said, next door), I accepted the invitation to get married on the condition that we move at least four blocks away from my parents. Now that was an independent step, wasn't it?
I had just graduated from Immaculate Heart High School in Hollywood, California, and had no preparation for real life.
I didn't even type! That was because, as I entered high school, my mother said, "Be sure you take a typing course in case this show business thing doesn't work out." Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mother! Watch me never take your advice!
How sorry I am now that I let her understandable disbelief in my not-so-promising future influence me long past the "I'll show you!" stage. As I write this book in longhand on yellow lined paper that contains erasures, cross-outs, and indecipherable smudges, I look longingly at my assistant and dear friend, Terry Sims, typing away on his computer and I wish for a "doover" of that resentment.
Less than a year after I married Richard, I gave birth to a 9-pound, 31/2-ounce boy, whom we named Richard. We formed a family, and for the next five years I was working when I could land a role on a television show or a job as a chorus dancer. All the while, I put meals on the table, cooed and rocked, cleaned, and chatted with other moms in the park. I was cared for, and I was the best mom I knew how to be. When that marriage ended, I landed the role on The Dick Van Dyke Show; proudly I realized that I could take care of Richie and myself, at least economically. But emotionally I was not ready to take the helm and be the captain of the HMS Mary Tyler Moore. A few years later, in 1962, I married Grant.
Grant was unique in many ways, yet so recognizable to me as the protective alpha dog. Once again, a familiar and comforting mantle of safety draped itself around my shoulders, allowing me to express myself as an actress but making it necessary for me to take charge of little else.
It would be wrong for me to insinuate that I was forced into some kind of servitude. I did it to myself, inadvertently, as a diva in the making, perhaps? While I never felt the need to make anyone's life diva-difficult, I did feel it was appropriate for a man (father) to assume the role of decision maker, the one who took over when I was unable to, or disinterested in, taking the reins.
It felt right as an adult to have this captain's chair occupied by an intelligent, fiercely witty man, Grant, whose focus was to become the building of MTM Enterprises, Inc., including the care of its flagship, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And, come on, let's be fair to me: Wasn't my contribution that I was free to help create the earnest, lovable Mary Richards, who, after all, was a major asset in the business that was "show"?
I was a mother, too, requiring no small amount of self, which kept me very busy being loving, organized about time spent together, and just hanging out. While I had the best of intentions and high hopes, I did, I think, miss out on some of the perks of motherhood, such as spending time in the park on a random afternoon, or sitting on the living room floor together playing checkers. While Richie was young, I did two series, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And truth be told, work was my focus before, during, and after. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't have pursued a career while I had a little boy to care for. My heart breaks when I think of the times missed, times with him. How predictable that without awareness I emulated my mother's behavior toward me.
But before I figured all that out I sailed through the process of launching the show, astounded and delighted by the creativity that surrounded me.
As we were preparing to do the series, a surprise pregnancy gave the promise of a huge event. Since the show wasn't due to air for almost a year, it was accidentally, yet exquisitely, timed. So, Grant and I set about the fun of telling anyone who'd listen that we were embarking on a production of another sort. In about six weeks' time the promise was broken. This growing expression of us both ended in its beginning. And the loss took my heart with it as well. Later that day my physicians entered the hospital room with that look doctors get when there's bad news (as noted on television). It seems that during the necessary D&C procedure that followed the miscarriage, it was discovered that there might be a little problem with the amount of sugar present in my blood. The normal count is between 70 and 110. Mine was 750!
"Mrs. Tinker," my doctor intoned, "It looks like you may have"--cue the drumroll!--"juvenile diabetes." I thought, Juvenile? Diabetes?! What?!--I'm not that childish! And I am not that special!
I can't believe I thought the diagnosis made me special. But I did and I couldn't wait to share the exciting news with everyone. Ah, such thoughts revealed my stunning insecurity in slightly loopy ways. There I was, a multiple Emmy Award winner, dozens of times on the cover of TV Guide, a darling of the critics, and I needed a major disease to make me feel whole? Let's chalk it up to films that had a strong influence on me from way back when they were called movies: the wheelchairbound little girl who won Heidi's love and attention; Deborah Kerr, who waited to be reunited with Cary Grant after she lost the use of her legs in a terrible car crash; and, of course, Camille, whose imminent death ripped the hearts from so many. All of these, plus a few more, made me believe in the magical power of illness to elicit love. Seemed like a good thing to me!
"Did you have a lot of cake last night for dessert?" the doctor asked. (I thought this was a bit cheeky.)
No, I huffed.
"Do you know anything about diabetes?"
A little (the one question I lied about). I knew diabetes was one of the big ones on the major diseases chart. But my knowledge of it measured . . . zip! In fact, I vaguely thought it condemned one to a lifetime of eating chocolates while reclining on a chaise, resting, never to dance again. I have no idea why I thought this!
"Have you been feeling tired? What about urination--any more than usual? Are you always thirsty and dry in the mouth?" No, not really--and no.
I noticed that some of the medical professionals who had been called to my bedside seemed a bit confused; there was a lot of head-scratching going on. They were stunned that I had been walking around without feeling any symptoms of diabetes with such a high blood-glucose level. In retrospect, I had noticed a few oddities, but I had chalked them up to the pregnancy. I'd had a feeling of fatigue upon reaching the top of the stairs in our house. And instead of attempting an Astaire-like flourish at the summit, I'd been unable to do anything but grasp the top of the banister and breathe, simply breathe.
When engaging in conversations, my mouth would become dry sometimes, so much so that I wondered if the person I was talking to could hear the clicking sounds I made as my tongue (starved for moisture) would smack against my teeth. I began keeping a bottle of water handy, and berry teas became my only harmless addiction. Not knowing better at that time, I smoked and drank. Maybe those indulgences were a factor in the miscarriage? The planning of The Mary Tyler Moore show was happily stressful, and I'm sure that added to my distraction, as well.
But in thinking about this inability to notice the symptoms of diabetes, I've come up with a couple of insights. The first possible answer is a paradox. You might assume that a trained dancer--me--would be tuned in to her body during a performance and during everyday life. But a crucial requirement to be a dancer is an ability to ignore the never-far-away physical pain that accompanies both the long-term training and moments of performance. Ah, yes, the performance, during which the face, at all times, must reflect nothing but the expression of the character one is portraying. The toes may be bleeding, calf muscles screaming, but never, ever acknowledge it! We dancers, make no mistake, are like football players. We play with pain. So, I think admitting to fatigue or discomfort goes against what was, by that time, my nature.
The other truth? I drank consistently every evening at six o'clock for many years. Could that have dulled my senses? You bet! Grant and I were feeling carefree, high-spirited, and dulled at the same time.
So diabetes arrived as a surprise--denied before diagnosis and marginalized after.
Excerpted from "Growing Up Again: Life, Loves and Oh Yeah, Diabetes" by Mary Tyler Moore with Kalia Doner (St. Martin's Press). Copyright © 2009 by Mary Tyler Moore. Reprinted with permission.