When Jessica Chambers learned in January that she had juvenile diabetes, she was devastated. She soon realized that she needed to accept the diagnosis and help others learn more about the disease.
Since that time, Jessica has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness of juvenile diabetes and funds for research. She has dubbed her efforts "Jessi's Journey."
"I hope more people become aware and donate money so we can find a cure," said Jessica, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Riverside Middle School.
This weekend, Jessica will be joined by friends and family as she participates in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk at Riverwalk in Augusta. The 3-mile walk begins at 1 p.m. from the National Science Center's Fort Discovery.
Jessica's determination in her struggle against diabetes sets her apart from most girls her age. Those around her say they are impressed that she isn't letting the disease control her life.
"Thirteen-year-old girls are usually focused on grades, friends, parents and weekend activities, not whether or not they are getting enough insulin to make it through the next hour," said Debbie Linton, the chairwoman of the Twisters Booster Club, the parent organization of the Twisters Cheer Program at Haydens Gymnastics Academy, of which Jessica is a member.
"Jessi is very matter-of-fact about it; she seems to take it all in stride. She knows everything about her disease, including potential cures. She has no problem sharing this information with her teammates and adults."
The thing about Jessica that most impresses her cheerleading coach, Leslie Anderson, is her resilience to continue doing what she enjoys -- cheerleading.
"Jessica has been with us for at least five months and she cheers for two teams at Haydens," Anderson said. "She can be at the gym for six to eight hours a week.
"She is someone who does not let juvenile diabetes stop her from doing what she loves. Every practice she checks her monitor, and if it's high or low, she lets us know immediately and then does what she is supposed to do.
"Jessica deals with it every day, and I'm sure it gets her down sometimes, but she doesn't let it show."
Cindy Chambers said her daughter was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she took her to the pediatrician after noticing Jessica was losing an excessive amount of weight in a short period of time.
"In four to five days, she lost about 15 pounds," said her mother. Jessica was immediately put on insulin.
Jessica had to learn how to administer six to seven insulin shots a day.
In July, she began using an insulin pump that is attached to her body. The pump has a catheter at one end that is inserted through a needle into her abdomen and administers insulin based on Jessica's carbohydrate intake.
"The first three weeks, it was a shock," Chambers said of the diagnosis.
"You don't realize how big of an impact it has. It's a big change, and the entire household had to change. Jessica has really embraced it, and we're really proud of her."
As Jessica has worked to raise funds for her JDRF walk -- through bake sales and selling JDF "shoes" and rubber bracelets imprinted with "Jessi's Journey" -- she hopes she's also raised awareness of juvenile diabetes.
"Jessica knows if she doesn't monitor her blood sugar, she runs the risk of heart damage, liver and kidney damage or blindness. It's a big deal; it's life or death," said her mother.
"She wants others to know about this so a cure can be found."
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