Making the Worst Your Best

Looking at diabetes, and advocacy, through a different lens.

Michelle Alswager BioBy Michelle Alswager

June 2011 — Last week I received a call from an old friend who was coming to Madison, Wisconsin to speak at a conference geared towards diabetes educators. My old friend isn't just anybody. He is Jay Hewitt, a professional speaker and an amazing triathlete who has taken his diabetes as nothing more than a challenge during his Ironman races for the last 20 years.

Jay invited me to be his guest during his speaking engagement, and I was excited to hear him after all these years. I won't lie; the fact that I have done Ironman myself made it all the more exciting. For those of you unfamiliar with Ironman, it involves racing a total of 140.6 miles — a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike, finished up with a full 26.2 mile marathon. You are given 17 hours to complete the task and for some of us, we use up all but 13 minutes of that time allotted.

There was a lot I took away from his speech about living a good life, making a difference, etc. And I have no doubt that a room full of diabetes educators got, well, educated. But then came the moment that really affected me and everyone else in the room. You see, Jay's polished speech included a simple motivation. As I sat there and listened, he said, "You have to take the worst thing in your life — your worst experience — and make it your best."

I wondered at that moment what was going through all of their heads. Were they thinking of bad marriages, a job loss, an estranged relationship with their relatives? And in the same moment, emotion flooded over me because I knew more than anything that the worst thing that happened in my life, the loss of my 13 year old son, Jesse, to type 1 diabetes, could never become my best thing.

But Jay had already thought of that. He talked to this crowd of important people about my loss. And he said, "How can I possibly ask Michelle to make her worst thing her best thing?"

I cried as I heard him list the things I have done since Jesse was diagnosed 11 years ago, and even more so felt the tears stream down my face as he accounted for the things I've accomplished since his death 13 months ago. It was that very moment I realized that while I can never turn this around and feel good about it, I can be proud that I've done my very best to do what I can to make a difference, to make the best of it.

So now, dear reader, you are probably thinking, "What's your point, woman?" Well, my point is this: When you, or your child, were diagnosed with diabetes, it may very well have been the worst thing that has ever happened to you. But take a moment or two and count up all you have done to cure the disease or to educate others. Say to yourself, "I have taken the worst thing in my life and made it my best." Remind yourself of the wonderful people you have met because of diabetes and not despite it.

That's my point.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 06, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.
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