Ben Rue is a country singer/songwriter who grew up in a rural town outside of Portland. His life took a dramatic turn when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 14. He admits that he struggled to feel normal and fit in. It wasn’t until he went to a diabetes camp and met other young people like himself, that he realized he was not alone with this.
Read my exclusive interview with this down-to-earth, funny and passionate diabetes advocate about what he’s doing to raise awareness about life with type 1 diabetes, and if there’s a possible future pop-rock-country collaboration with him, Nick Jonas, Bret Michaels and Eric Paslay (all T1D).
OnTrack Diabetes (OTD): Can you share your diagnosis story?
Ben Rue (BR): I was diagnosed at 14 years old. My mom was a nurse…she’s retired now. She used to bring home gadgets from work for us to play around with. And after work one day she brought home a glucose monitor. I have two older brothers and they were the normal 80 to 120. And mine was like a 550. At the time I had no idea what that meant—I thought I had won something since I had the highest score. But pretty soon I realized I hadn’t won a prize. There were tears in her eyes so I knew it wasn’t a good thing.
OTD: Do you remember being sad or scared or taking the diagnosis in stride? I have a younger brother who also has type 1 and we accepted the diagnosis’ very differently.
BR: Yeah, I was 14 and going into high school. That’s a tough age even without diabetes. There are so many transitions going on. I was trying to make friends and play sports and make new friends. All you want at that age is be normal and to fit in. I remember vividly trying to sneak into the bathroom to test my blood sugar or give myself a shot in a stall. I didn’t want people to see me as an outcast. It affected my attitude toward sports. I didn’t know if I could compete at the same level or play at all. I had to figure it out pretty quickly because as you know there are no days off when you have diabetes.
OTD: Was there something that helped stop your struggle and accept the terms of having diabetes? Did something eventually click that allowed you to come out of the diabetes closet?
BR: I attended a diabetes basketball camp the summer after I was diagnosed—the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp for kids with diabetes was a life-changing experience. It brings in people from all over the world. There are typically kids there from 20 or 30 states. For me that moment was pivotal. No one at my high school had diabetes but you go to the camp and every single person I met had diabetes. It really opened up my eyes in a way that helped me understand that I’m not in this alone. I suddenly had this network of friends that I could talk to and that made a huge difference. I was a camper for three years and a counselor for 10, and I’m still in regular contact with many of the people I met at camp. I strongly believe that it’s all about finding a foundation of friends. You need people you can rely on and ask questions to when you’re living with diabetes.
OTD: How has your diabetes management changed since you were first diagnosed? The technology has really changed since I was diagnosed in 1999.
BR: It can still be frustrating every day. You try to find a routine and something goes wrong and you wake up with a blood sugar of 300. As a musician, I don’t have a regular routine. I can be playing music at 10 in the morning or performing late and getting home at 3 a.m. But it’s all about finding a balance. Eating the right kinds of foods, testing your blood sugar regularly. I use the Accu-Chek Guide—I have for several years now. My mom used to always say this to me when I was a kid, “Pay for it now or pay for it later.”
OTD: I watched your music videos and didn’t see any evidence of a pump or CGM. I mean I know they can be pretty discrete these days but I didn’t even see a trace of anything. Do you use a pump or a CGM? Can you tell me about what you use to manage your diabetes?
BR: I’m still old school. I give myself shots of insulin. It works for me…sometimes I take syringes even. I use the Accu-Chek Guide and it works for me. I’m not opposed to technology—I just haven’t jumped on that train yet. Technology is changing and getting smarter so ask me again in a few years and I may have a different answer for you. I have decent management so I’m comfortable with my method for now.
OTD: What drew you to get involved with the Roche Diabetes Care Buck Off Diabetes campaign?
OTD: Who are the diabetes groups that are going to benefit from the campaign and how can our audience get in on the fun?
BR: Accu-Chek has a simple pay card and this allows you to pay the same low price every time you buy test strips. It’s a cost-saving method. I remember when I was in college and I had trouble buying test strips. My girlfriend bought me test strips for Christmas because I was skimping on my testing. She was worried about that and knew I wasn’t testing myself enough.
You can donate a buck by making a bullhorn with your two hands and uploading a photo to your social media platform with the hashtag #BuckOffDiabetes. Every post that goes up Roche will donate a buck to diabetes education and awareness. We’re partnering with Beyond Type One, The College Diabetes Network and Taking Control of Your Diabetes.
OTD: I’m a Minnesotan so I’m not all that familiar with long horns but I’ll do it of course in the name of raising awareness about type 1 diabetes! Seems like an easy thing to do.
BR: It’s such a digital world right now…everyone has a phone and is always on their phones. And this is a simple way to donate to a great cause—it only takes a minute and helps raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes.
OTD: Why do you think it’s important to use your platform as a country music star to raise awareness about diabetes?
BR: Unfortunately type 1 isn’t going anywhere. One in 10 people have diabetes…so raising awareness and educating people—until there is a cure, we have to fight it somehow.
OTD: Do you ever get annoyed at people when they show ignorance about the difference between type 1 and type 2? How do you respond to an insensitive or ignorant comment?
BR: Again, it’s all about education. Social media makes it so easy today to respond out of lack of knowledge and without thinking. I don’t know all the answers about diabetes but I can certainly point you to places to go for accurate information.
OTD: How has diabetes impacted your relationships with family, friends, your wife, etc.?
BR: I guess that why’s I married a nurse and my mom is a nurse, too, like I said. It really has helped to bring me closer to people. I’ve learned I can’t hold back my worries and be discouraged about things. With my wife, she’s always been there for me. She’s always held me accountable for what I eat and being on top of my blood sugars. I used to love Mountain Dew and now I don’t drink it as much. I’ve pretty much given up Sour Patch Kids—that used to be my favorite go-to, too. Surrounding yourself with people who love you for you helps make sure you stay healthy.
Worst thing about having an incurable disease when you’re young is I felt angry at first. Asked the question, Why me? A lot. I didn’t get the answer, but as soon as I stopped asking the question and settled in, doors started to open up. Music has been huge here. People feel like they can talk to me. Being able to communicate with fans and hear that my words or anyone’s words who are empowering to them.
OTD: A mom on social media wanted me to ask you what advice you’d give to parents who have kids with diabetes?BR: There’s only so much a parent can say to a kid to make them feel normal. At the end of the day, it’s just advice but the advice I’d give is to get your child involved in a camp or with other kids who are battling diabetes so they don’t have to be a battle all the time if you allow yourself to be confident about who you are. There are all sorts of camps. The Chris Dudley Basketball Camp in Oregon was super pivotal for me.
OTD: As a teenager did diabetes allow you to pick yourself up more easily from disappointments like being cut from a sports team, not winning the X-factor or not having a lot of success right away on the country music circuit?
BR: That’s what keeps life interesting, don’t you think? Having diabetes made me mature and grow up earlier in many ways. At 14-years-old having to do all those things—carrying your kit; always having a snack. At the camp, I can’t get over seeing an 8-year-old who has a pump. I can’t imagine that burden at such a young age. Having to count carbs and figure the pump…that’s a lot.
OTD: Great life lessons for sure from living with Type 1. Your latest single, Let ‘Em Loose…can you talk about your inspiration for the song here?
BR: This song was something a friend pointed me toward. I had been trying to write a song with this same message, but it wasn’t coming across like I wanted it to. This son –I didn’t write it—but it’s about living without fences and it speaks so perfectly to the #BuckOffDiabetes campaign because it’s all about pushing boundaries and not pushing back. It was released last Friday…I hope everyone connects with it because it’s a message everyone needs to hear.
OTD: Nick Jonas wrote a song he said was inspired by his health—living with the highs and lows. Have you ever written a song that was inspired by diabetes?
BR: No, I’ve never written anything about checking my blood sugars or anything like that. But a lot of those qualities I learned as a kid, I feel like they’ve shaped my mind to write certain things. But I’ll take that as a challenge. Someday when you interview me again I’ll have a song about diabetes…
OTD: Have you ever considered doing a joint concert—pop/rock/country—with other singers who have type 1? Say, you, Nick Jonas, Eric Paslay and Bret Michaels?
BR: No, but that’s a terrific idea. I can tell you that I really enjoy comparing diabetes stories with Eric. I’ve spoken with him at length about his A1Cs and the new technology he has that I might need and what he does to manage his diabetes. But hey, Quinn, I’d be all over that collaboration if you can make it happen!
OTD: Or if not a song, how about a new diabetes boy band…need a great new name for that. Maybe you and Eric can collaborate on a name and co-write a diabetes-themed song. I’m full of ideas as you can see.
BR: You got it!
Q: Finally, how can people find you and follow your music?
BR: If you’d like to hear my new song go to my website…www.benruemusic.com. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram too. And to learn more about this terrific Accu-Chek campaign you can find information at buckoffdiabetes.com.
I love to connect with people…I’m always happy to answer diabetes-questions too so feel free to reach out.
OTD: In the meantime, I’ll look forward to hearing your forthcoming song about living life with a broken-down pancreas!
Let’s join Ben and post a photo of ourselves on our social media pages with the bullhorns, so that we can all pitch in to raise funds for diabetes education and awareness.