When 22-year-old Oria James was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in elementary school, she felt tremendous guilt and shame. Not understanding the reason for her new diagnosis, she lay in her hospital bed, “thinking of every bad thing I had ever done that [must have] made me deserve having diabetes,” she says. Oria felt incredibly isolated, with no one her own age with whom to share her fears and frustrations about living with a complex chronic health ccondition.
Fortunately, her life changed quickly. The summer after her diagnosis, Oria attended Camp Kakhamela in British Columbia, one of Diabetes Canada’s D-Camps for children with type 1 diabetes. For the first time since her diagnosis, she felt her confidence begin to grow. “Seeing the older campers doing physically demanding activities gave me confidence in my own diabetes management abilities,” says Oria, adding, “D-Camps flipped a switch for me.” The experience gave her the opportunity to become friends with other children who not only understood her, but also provided her with tips and tricks for living with type 1 diabetes.
Sharing her story
Back at school in Victoria, B.C., Oria’s confidence continued to grow. In middle school, she began giving presentations to her classmates about diabetes, and in high school, she was running school-wide assemblies for diabetes awareness. By Grade 11, she had given diabetes presentations to audiences of nearly 800 people, and in Grade 12, she was elected head girl of her high school.
About six years ago, Diabetes Canada invited her to speak about the impact of diabetes on her life at a conference during Diabetes Awareness Month. Since then, Oria has become passionate about chronic disease and mental health awareness, speaking at many conferences, schools, charity dinners, and on radio and television. She is particularly outspoken about the need for provincial governments to cover the costs of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitor for everyone with type 1 diabetes, regardless of their age. “Type 1 diabetes never goes away, so coverage for diabetes supplies should never go away either,” she says. Oria has used an insulin pump since she was 11, and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) since she was 18.
The power of technology
Oria says that using a CGM has been the most life-altering opportunity she has ever had. As a lover of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing, she explains that the CGM has reduced her blood sugar anxiety tremendously. “No longer do I stress about sudden onset hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia unawareness during physical activity.” With the ability of her CGM to track her blood sugars 24/7 and alert her before her blood sugar drops low or goes high, Oria says that the CGM makes her feel like she has gained back the freedom and spontaneity she lost after her diagnosis.
Making a difference
Speaking publicly about her diabetes and working with health organizations such as Diabetes Canada is rewarding because it gives her an incredible sense of connection.
I feel like I belong to a group of people. Working with Diabetes Canada, I know that I am accepted and celebrated in a community of people passionate and dedicated to improving the lives of people living with chronic diseases.
“Oria is a passionate advocate, storyteller, and communicator,” says Stephen Lollar, corporate partnerships executive director for Diabetes Canada. “Her rigorous commitment to public health and improving the quality of life for people living with diabetes and their caregivers is inspiring.”
Her contributions to helping others are just getting started. In September 2017, she began her post-secondary studies at the University of Toronto, with the goal of one day working abroad in health policy. During her first year, she co-founded the Canadian College Diabetes Network (CDN), a student-led organization aiming to connect young adults with diabetes through social and educational events. After her second year, Oria worked at the Diabetes Canada national office in Toronto, helping to obtain diabetes medical supplies for D-Camps, including her own treasured Camp Kakhamela.
In April 2021, Oria graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto with a double major in global health and health studies. Over the past year, she has worked as a consultant at the World Health Organization (WHO) in their Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (AHPSR), conducting research on the relationship between non-communicable diseases and health systems in low-and middle-income countries. In May, she started a research internship at the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH) to specialize in research related to the decolonization of global health. Oria will also be pursuing a Master of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) with plans to focus on health promotion.
“My personal and professional passion for health promotion was inspired by my experiences living and working in the type 1 diabetes community,” Oria says. Although she would never wish a diabetes diagnosis on anyone, she owes many of her most treasured friendships, experiences, and skills in her life to diabetes. "Without diabetes, I would not have been pushed to develop the confidence to advcoate for myself and others. I would not have become involved in health advocacy or grown to love public speaking and educating so early in my life."
Did you know?
Even after 100 years of insulin, 1 in 3 Canadians are living with or at risk of diabetes. We can all play a role in ending diabetes. Whether it’s raising awareness, having your A1C tested, knowing your risk, or supporting research towards a cure—every action, no matter how big or small, makes a difference.
This November during Diabetes Awareness Month, help us reach 100,000 actions to End Diabetes. Take action now and share it on diabetes.ca/takeaction #LetEndDiabetes
This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Winter 2018.
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