Courtney Colwell is open about her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. While participating in the 2019 Red Wing Royal Ambassadors program, she wrote about the condition and wore her glucose monitor during the evening gown portion of the event.
“I really wanted to get my story out there for people to understand how tough it can be,” the 17-year-old high school senior said.
Colwell was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 12. The year before her diagnosis, Colwell was continuously sick.
During a physical required to join the swim team, doctors were worried that Colwell had an eating disorder because she was 5-feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 98 pounds. Blood work revealed the underlying condition.
“After my diagnosis, it was chaos,” Colwell recollected.
Colwell was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and placed in inpatient care for four days. Shortly after returning home, she was diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression, both of which are common in individuals with Type 1 diabetes.
Anxiety did not help Colwell as she worked to learn how to live with her diagnosis. She had anxiety about her blood sugar dropping too low. Within a two-month period she was admitted to the Mayo Clinic Health System emergency room in Red Wing enough times that the ER doctors knew her name.
“I grew an anxiety, a fear, of dying. And I felt like my fear of dying was taking over my way of living,” Colwell said.
Finding the right medication for anxiety and depression as well as attending an anxiety clinic helped her begin to feel better.
Now, Colwell works as an advocate and educator for people with Type 1 diabetes and mental health.
Today, about five years after her diagnosis, Colwell is doing well.
“In the past two years especially,” Colwell said, “I really grew a lot of strength from my experience. I was finding the right medications to be on for my anxiety and depression, I was cutting out those toxic relationships of my life, I was learning my body and how it works, how I feel when certain things are happening to it, there were setbacks at times … but I grew a lot stronger over the years and it took a lot of time, which, can be hard. But I grew stronger from it. I thoroughly believe that if I didn’t have Type 1 diabetes I would not be as strong as I am today.”
Colwell said she is also feeling better because of her connection with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
When she was diagnosed, Colwell didn't know anyone else with the disease. At a JDRF One Walk, a 1-mile walk to raise money for the nonprofit, Colwell was able to meet other students and people with diabetes.
Through JDRF, Colwell met a family with four children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Due to a change in their health insurance, the family paid about $1,700 each month per child. In order to obtain the needed medication, the family drove to Canada where they were able to buy a month’s supply of insulin for $70.
Colwell was shocked when she first realized how much insulin costs.
“I remember the first time, actually, I went to the pharmacy to pick-up my prescription of insulin and I look at the package and it says like $1,800 for a month’s supply.”
Along with many individuals with diabetes, Colwell believes the medication is too expensive.
“It saddens me how much we are charged for stuff we need to live. And that’s something I hope will change within the next few years because, you know, there are people who eventually, they can’t afford that and it could cost lives.”
Colwell is excited for her last year of high school and for college. Her plan is to attend the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to study business and marketing. According to Colwell, along with having an excellent business school, marketing students at Green Bay are able to intern with the Green Bay Packers, which, as a Packers fan, is a huge draw for her.
The last few years for Colwell have not always been easy, but she said even if she could, she wouldn’t change her diagnosis.
“You can’t really change what happens to you in life but you can change how you react to it. And I think everything happens for a reason," she said. "You can grow a lot from those really difficult times in your life.”