November is Diabetes Awareness Month but this year, it’s important to recognize that individuals who are diabetic can suffer more severe complications from COVID-19, like Jenna Warren, a Canadian actor who can be seen on Netflix’s Grand Army, who is navigating her career with Type 1 diabetes during a pandemic.
“I've definitely been more careful,” Warren, 20, told Yahoo Canada. “I was just filming in Hamilton last month, so everyone on set did know that I have diabetes and that it's an autoimmune condition, and that I am higher-risk.”
Warren was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was in Grade 11, shortly after filming a movie in Ottawa. Before being diagnosed, she told her dad she felt like there was “poison in her stomach” that felt really acidic, after she had significant weight loss. Once it was confirmed that Warren was diabetic, she saw it as a “challenge” for her to tackle.
“I looked at it as a challenge from day one, not really as a setback or anything like that,” Warren said.
A day in the life of an actor with diabetes
The first thing Warren does when she wakes up in the morning is check her glucose levels.
The actor uses a glucose monitoring system (in her case, the Abbott FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system) in tandem with an insulin pump to manage her diabetes. Warren wears a sensor, about the size of a toonie, on her upper arm and she can check her levels through an app on her phone. The sensor also works through her clothing.
Earlier this year, this glucose monitor was approved by Health Canada, under an interim order, for use on hospitalized patients to help reduce potential COVID-19 exposures. There are about three million people who are living with diabetes in Canada.
Warren used to use the more typical method of pricking her finger to get a drop of blood, which is transferred to a test strip and read through a meter. This far more intrusive system drew more attention to the actor when she had to check her glucose levels on set.
“I was nervous that everyone was gonna look at me and sort of know, and I didn't want to be seen as different,” she said. “Everyone's like, ‘Oh what’s that? What's going on? Are you good?’ [When] I was just trying to take care of myself, while doing my job.”
Every single time the actor eats anything, she checks the app to make sure her levels are in an acceptable range. Her parents are also able to see her results through a partner app for parents.
“I always get a text from my parents if they see that something's going on with my levels,” Warren said. “It's nice to know that even though I'm alone on set, [there are] other people watching out for me.”
Warren said that on top of keeping an eye on her glucose levels, her parents wanted to make sure that health precautions were in place before she began filming her latest project in Hamilton.
“I had to get tested and so did everyone before they got onto the set, and everyone was quarantining,” she explained. “We all had to get our temperature checked and we went through all of our symptoms, and if anyone was feeling slightly off, then they couldn't be there that day.”
“We always had to have our masks on, and the crew always had to have their masks and shields on when they were working with us. As soon as they called action we had to take it off, and we had to adjust some of the scenes to make sure we were further apart.”
Warren encourages any diabetics to be “cautious” during this time, “maybe take a few more readings and just keep surrounding yourself with the same people you have been.”
‘Sugar is not evil’
The actor believes there are a lot of misconceptions about people with Type 1 diabetes, including what is safe for diabetics to eat.
“I can eat anything that I want to eat, I just have to make sure that I give myself insulin accordingly and adjust as I go,” she explained. “Sugar is not evil, we just have to make sure that we're giving ourselves correct dosages for what we need and that's individual to everyone's case.”
Warren’s main message is that a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, particular for kids and teens, doesn’t limit them, even if it may be “scary” at first.
“I have diabetes, it's just my thing,...everyone has their thing,” she said. “They're still going to be able to play soccer, they're still going to be able to play their video games, they're still going to be able to go out with friends, they can play in the NHL, all those dreams that they have…[don’t] go away just because they got diagnosed.”