19-year-old Welsh beauty Ruby Parfitt is not only a finalist in the Miss Wales 2016 competition, she is also a type 1 diabetic. She has big dreams of winning the pageant, giving back to children in need and becoming a successful actress and musician. She also hopes to be a role model to other girls diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
In an email interview with Health24, Ruby tells us about being diagnosed with diabetes, the challenges she's faced and her plans for the future.
When were you diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? What symptoms did you experience and how did you know something was wrong?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes nearly five years ago, just weeks before my 14th birthday (which ironically is November 14 - World Diabetes Day). I had a constant thirst, I needed to use the bathroom a lot, I had cramping pains in my legs, I hardly any energy and I lost a lot of weight. I was also getting teased in school and was accused of having an eating disorder.
Adjusting to life as a type 1 diabetic can be challenging both mentally and physically. How did you cope?
To begin with I thought that my normal life was over. There was so much information thrown at me that I had to learn in order to stay alive and healthy. Having to test my blood sugar levels (pricking my finger for a drop of blood to test on a monitor) before meals and every physical activity was very scary and at times I really didn't time I could do it. But slowly and surely I got used to everything and now I think of it as just another routine like brushing my teeth or styling my hair!
As a teenager, how did your life as a type 1 diabetic differ to your friends? How was your experience managing your diabetes with the pressure of school, exams and other stresses teenage girls experience?
All my friends could get up early and go off and do things without thinking about having breakfast to sustain BSL's (blood sugar levels) or carry a diabetes kit around with them. They could eat anything they liked without having to add up carbohydrates to know how much insulin they needed to inject like I did. Sports and games are something that they could join in with whilst I had to check my levels before I could participate.
Sometimes my friends used to run off together in school whilst I had to hang back if I was having a hypo (low blood sugar) or going hyper (high blood sugar), occasionally I'd get comments such as, "Err... that's gross!" When I injected myself after eating!
By the time my exams came around, everything to do with diabetes had become second nature to me. I had the occasional high due to the stress but I knew how to adjust my medication. Plus, I was allowed to have sweets or a sugary drink which the others couldn't - it has its plus side!
Exercise can be tricky for type 1’s especially when first diagnosed. Was physical activity a challenge for you?
Yes it can be. To begin with it was tricky getting used to all the rules (if you're on the low side have a snack, if you're too high get your levels down) but once I mastered that, everything was going to stay the same. I enjoyed cross country running and always did well at it.
I also loved netball and even took up fencing for a while. I know how important exercise is for your health and wellbeing.
Did you initially feel that your diabetes may limit you in terms of your aspirations for the future? Looking back, has that view changed?
Yes I did. Whilst I was in hospital (when I was first diagnosed) I got really upset and told my mother that I thought I could never become a successful actress or singer which have been my passions since I was small. We knew nothing about diabetes or anyone that had the condition.
Many diabetic girls struggle to maintain a healthy balance between diet and exercise. What kind of diet and exercise regime do you follow?
I try to stick to a low-carb diet. I mostly like salads, lean meat, fish or cheese. I eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and drink lots of water. I do have the occasional blow out but I always feel better when I eat healthily, I seem to have much more energy too.
I usually go for a run every day but I also dance, do gym exercises and can spend ages with a hula hoop which I'm getting quite good at.
Are there any people you look up to and see as role models?
When I was in hospital, I told my mother that I thought that I'd never become successful. She Googled famous diabetics and right away Steve Redgrave, Halle Berry and Nick Jonas (from the Jonas Brothers) came up. All of a sudden, I knew I was going to be OK.
More recently, I’ve heard about America’s beautiful Miss Idaho, Sierra Sandison, who wears her pump in full view with pride. She has recently wished me good luck for my journey in Miss Wales and she's is such an inspiration to not just me and the diabetic community, but to all who are dealing with a health condition.
Below: Sierra Sandison, Miss Idaho 2014 and fellow type 1 diabetic proudly wears her insulin pump for the world to see!
Watch: Singer Nick Jonas opens up about being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age thirteen.
What made you decide to enter Miss Wales?
One of my friends forwarded me the application saying that I should apply, so I did. Never in my wildest dreams did I actually think that I'd be lucky enough to move forward and become a finalist for Miss Wales.
Do you see yourself as a role model for other type 1 diabetic girls? What message would you like to send to younger type 1 girls that look up to you?
I would love to think that I could be. Taking part in Miss Wales is a wonderful opportunity to be an inspiration for young people with diabetes, to make them believe in themselves and to never let it hold you back.
What would you like to accomplish if you win Miss Wales?
I've met a lot of girls who are entering the Miss Wales competition competition and they are all beautiful inside and out, intelligent, supportive of each other with great careers and goals.
If I were ever lucky enough to win Miss Wales I would do my utmost to fulfil my role as a representative for not only my country but to also do my best for the charity "Beauty With a Purpose which is a wonderful children's charity supported by the Miss Wales organisation.
I'd also like to generate kindness and compassion. I see this as not just an opportunity for myself but to also inspire Young people with diabetes to believe in yourselves and to never let it hold you back.
Where do you see yourself in the future and what would be your dream career?
I'm currently attending a Performing Arts course in the hope of attending one of the top drama schools in the country. I attended The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Young Actor's Studio for five years previously and my dream is to continue my studies there or somewhere that is equally high end so that I could forge a career in the acting world.
I also sing, play guitar, write my own music and have my own YouTube channel. Singing is something that I'll never stop doing.
Watch: Ruby sings a cover of Adele's "Make you feel my love".
To follow Ruby's journey as a Miss Wales 2016 finalist, be sure to like her Facebook page for all the latest news!