It’s late October, 2007, and Prof. Wendy Coleman has just learned about a competition called the Bayer Dream Fund. Coleman, a type 2 who was diagnosed in 2005, has been told that the fund grants a large cash award to the competition winner – money the winner can use to fund a personal project designed to spread the word about managing and living successfully with diabetes.
One day before the deadline, Coleman submits her quickly assembled entry, then returns to her hectic routine as the Director of Theater Ensemble and Speech at Albany State University in Georgia. Weeks pass and Coleman almost forgets about the competition.
In late March, during a regular day at work, “The phones were ringing off the hook, as usual,” she recalls, “and I was thinking, ‘Who wants what now?’” That’s when she found out that the only thing the person at the other end of the line wanted was to give her some good news: “I’d won $100,000 as the winner of the 2007 Bayer Dream Fund.”
Suddenly, her life became complicated, “but in a tremendously wonderful way,” she says. “This was a sweet, sweet, sweet addition to my life.”
Coleman, a PhD who was a dramaturgy major at Florida State, will use the money to help her produce and stage a two-act play, “This Is Our Story – Learning, Loving and Living Well With Diabetes.”
“The Dream Fund frees up your time and finances. It puts you in a position of not having to talk about something anymore – now you can go out and do it. The money will allow me to not have to teach next summer. Instead, I’ll be able to devote my full time and attention to getting the play ready for tour.”
Based on Her Own Denial
The play’s inspiration goes back three years ago to when Coleman underwent surgery and blood tests revealed her elevated glucose levels. “The play, whose main character is based on me, recounts how afraid I felt after the diagnosis. I went into denial and didn’t monitor myself or begin treatment. I had always heard that your life ends with diabetes, and that there was this endless testing and taking of insulin.”
But after three months of denial, Coleman says, “I began thinking of my family – past, present and future – and what I owed them, so I decided to monitor and take control.”
Her doctor first outfitted her with a Bayer blood glucose meter, telling her that formal treatment of her diabetes couldn’t begin until they knew what her daily levels were. “I could see what the device was doing for me – it gave me a sense of control, and it was the lack of a sense of control that was the source of my fear.”
With the meter to get her started, Coleman increased her exercise and began watching what she ate. “All of this before my doctor, Sterling Barrett, would put me on any medication. He also didn’t want to overwhelm me – he knew of my fear of having too many medications in my life. Nine months later, when my levels had come down considerably, thanks to diet and exercise, he put me on Januvia. Later, as my weight dropped more, I was weaned off Januvia. Now it’s diet and exercise alone.”
Coleman says that the other turning point for her, after controlling her fears, was how can she, as an individual and an artist, could help people get over the initial shock, fear and denial after a diagnosis of diabetes. “The best thing seemed to be to write a play that shows people all the great things they can do despite diabetes and that it doesn’t have to turn their lives upside down.”
Aunt Bessie to the Rescue
The two-hour play will present six or seven main characters and a similar number of subsidiary characters. “The main character, based on me, is a successful woman leading a great life when in the middle of everything comes this diagnosis of diabetes. Her response is to think that she really doesn’t have to change anything about her life, that she can just ignore the diagnosis and carry on as before. But then her dead Aunt Bessie comes to visit – ‘Wait a minute, you’re not with us anymore!’ Aunt Bessie takes her back in time, to the Roaring Twenties and the Sixties, to visit other family members who have lived with diabetes.”
The play will launch in Albany, Ga, in August; then tour Montgomery, Ala., in September; Jackson, Miss., in October; Daytona Beach and Orlando, Fla., in November: and Dallas in December. (Proceeds from the play’s ticket sales will be donated to local diabetes organizations dedicated to increasing awareness and education.)
Coleman says her drama students, sensing a rare chance to go on tour, are clamoring to be among the actors she picks for the play. “Suddenly I’m seeing them paying a lot more attention and being extra studious,” she chuckles.
She also notes that news of her Dream Fund grant and project has inspired several friends and colleagues to reveal that they, too, have diabetes.
Given that her last-minute submission was the ultimate winner among a field of 300 entrants, Coleman looks at her victory as a godsend. “I truly believe that this was divinely orchestrated.”
About the Dream Fund
The Bayer Dream Fund is a contest for people with diabetes who want to achieve a special dream that might not have been possible without control of their diabetes: “Supporting the achievements of exemplary individuals who optimally monitor and self-manage their diabetes.”
The inspiration for the fund came from John Dennis, who approached Bayer to fund his dream, which was to be the first and only person with diabetes to successfully compete in the historic “Around Alone” global yacht race.
Bayer believed that helping Dennis achieve his dream would help to inspire others with diabetes. The company, seeing an opportunity to recognize people with diabetes who have inspirational dreams, established the Dream Fund to recognize inspirational people and to help them accomplish their extraordinary goals.
Previous winners include:
- Peter Hoogenboom, who raised awareness of diabetes management by completing a 10,000-mile bicycle tour of the 48 contiguous United States
- Kassie Palmer, who authored a book titled, “When You’re a Parent With Diabetes: A Real Life Guide to Staying Healthy While Raising a Family
- Colleen McCarthy LaPierre, who created a challenge-based adventure camp for teens with diabetes called “Dream Big
- Jennifer Scarsi, who toured the country with a grassroots program she created called “Lights, Camera, Cure” to increase diabetes awareness and education and to empower young people with diabetes.
(Editor’s Note: Diabetes Health Editor-in-Chief Scott King was one of three panelists who judged the Bayer Dream Fund competition entries.)