Photography by Joy of Life Photography
Meet Brooke and Sophia. They are Beauty Revived.
Brooke was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease, when she was six and her sister Sophia was nine. Brooke had been drinking water and urinating excessively, which are common early symptoms of the disease. But with no family history her parents had little idea what was happening with their daughter. The unexpected diagnosis quickly changed the lives of the entire family. Suddenly life revolved around keeping Brooke alive. Sophia watched her little sister endure multiple daily insulin injections and finger pokes to track her blood sugar. She watched her parents count carbs, calculate insulin dosages, and administer juice in the middle of the night when her sister’s levels dropped dangerously low. She watched all these things and instead of becoming bitter about the time and energy being spent on her sister, she began to learn to help. She often slept with Brooke, held her hand, and protected her. As technology changed, Brooke was able to start wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). There were times when Brooke’s blood sugar would drop during the night, setting off the CGM’s alarm; Sophia would get up, give her sister juice, and then go to her parents’ room to tell them the alarm had sounded and assure them that she had taken care of it.
The family learned to depend on Sophia as another caregiver for her sister. It was easier tohave then 10 year old Sophia, who truly understood the situation, care for Brooke than to train ababysitter to do it. But sometimes Sophia worried that if her sister had diabetes
maybe she would get it too though she knew the chances were low.
As it turned out, three years after Brooke’s diagnosis, Sophia would also be diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. After Sophia’s diagnosis the sisters once again began to share a bed. Type I diabetesis scary, especially at night when dropping sugar levels can be life-threatening, and the sistersfound comfort in each other’s company.
Today, Sophia and Brooke are 13 and 10. They both dance competitively, go to school, and hang out with friends just like other girls their age . They like any other child – except they must be organized and patient – weighing carbs and reading nutrition labels so they know how much insulin to dose. They carry packages of candies, that the family buys by the thousands every year at Halloween, to quickly boost their blood sugar when they are low. They now wear insulin pumps on one arm and CGMs on the other. Their parents monitor their blood sugar at all times via smart watches that transmit the information. They frequently endure lows that stop them in the midst of their daily activities and force them to take measures to regulate their blood sugar. The girls also constantly field questions about the insulin pumps and monitors that they wear. They don’t try to hide them. In fact, for Sophia’s recent 8th grade graduation she intentionally chose a dress that would show her pump. The girls want people to understand, partially so that others will know how to help them in an emergency, but also to raise awareness about Type I Diabetes.
The girls have also participated in the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. As a family they decided to raise money for the walk by hosting a bake sale at the girls’ school. They chose a bake sale for the same reason we chose to use candy in this shoot, because many people assume Type 1 Diabetes is caused by excessive sugar consumption. They wanted to make the point that this is not true; nothing they or anyone else did made this happen. Their bodies simply don’t produce insulin; they need injected insulin or they will die – it is as simple and scary as that.
Sophia and Brooke demonstrate not only resilience, but also grace and humility. They have learned to accept their lives as they are and to take advantage of chances to raise awareness and fight for a cure. Not only that but they have learned to truly care for one another. Brooke was diagnosed first and with her positive attitude and complete openness about her disease she blazed the trail for her older sister, setting the tone for how Sophia too would deal with the diagnosis. Like any sisters the two have their disagreements, but their shared experience with diabetes gives them a deep understanding of each other’s struggles, and when push comes to shove, they simply take care of one another. This was clear when I asked Sophia, “What do you want to make sure people know?” Her response? “I want them to know that if I had the cure I would give it to Brooke.” If that is not true beauty then I don’t know what is.
About the Photographer
Joy Blackburn is the owner and operator of Joy of Life Photography in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada. She has been working part time as a photographer for 10 years, first while teaching high school in Wisconsin and now as the busy mom of two four year olds and one three year old. She specializes in newborn and child photography.