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Inspiration Exchange Diabetes Moments Episode 5: Humor, Complications and Outreach with Chelcie Rice, Comedian

Chelcie Rice joins Cherise to discuss how he uses humor to educate people about diabetes and the importance of reaching out to men of color affected by diabetes.

Show Notes

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Intro/Outro Music

Road Trip by Joakim Karud. Music promoted by Audio Library.

Chelcie Rice of Men of Color living with Diabetes performing stand-up comedy on stage

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Show Transcript

Intro: Hello and welcome to Inspiration Exchange: Diabetes Moments podcasts, a collection of inspirational stories brought to you by Roche diabetes care. I am your host, Cherise Shockley. And during this podcast we will focus on stories of inspiration and peer support while on the go. So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the show.

Cherise: Hi Everyone, this is your host, Cherise Shockley. Thank you so much for tuning in today. I am joined with my special guest, Mr. Chelcie Rice. How are you doing, Chelcie?

Chelcie: Doing good. Sis, how you doing?

Cherise: I am doing well. I am just so happy that that I actually have you on a podcast. Um, we've seen each other several times but never on a podcast and I'm excited to hear you share your story with everyone. Um, and also we're going to take a deep dive into how you became a comedian. We're going to talk about men of color, the diabetes community you've created in the online space. So before we kind of go into those things, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and of course your diagnosis story.

Chelcie: Cool. Um, yeah, I'm glad to be here cause like you and I have like no more, you know, talk more online. And then it was like more than a few years before we actually saw each other face to face and then we never really got a chance to just sit down and, you know, and talk because it was usually at a conference or something. But, uh, yeah, so it was great to be here. Um, I'm originally from a little small town in northeast Georgia called Toccoa. There's not a whole lot really known about it except, um, uh, that's where James Brown met Bobby Byrd in the music, kind of started from there. Um, like I said, born and raised there, uh, eventually, uh, along the line I moved to Atlanta. Prior to moving to Atlanta around, cause I never really wrote down when I was diagnosed. I think it was around maybe in 1988, 1989 when I was living in Athens, Georgia.

Um, cause when I was diagnosed and I was actually diagnosed by a urologist, um, yeah, because at the time, um, I was a musician at a local church in Athens and my roommate and I were both musicians, um, for that church. And he kept noticing that I was, you know, getting up in the middle of service to go to the restroom. Uh, which I had never had an issue with that as long as I've been going to church, I never had to get up in the middle of service to, you know, go. Um, and it got to be a reoccurring thing is so, you know, without me knowing, he set up an appointment for me with a urologist and so went, um, you know, he did I guess took the, uh, the urine sample or whatever. You just basically game makes it, well you have diabetes and so what we're gonna do is gonna set you up, uh, at a local hospital, uh, for, you know, treatment and education.

And, uh, that was about it. And it was weird cause it turned out I worked at that hospital that I was in, um, that I was admitted to. So that was always fun, you know, seeing all my coworkers walking by and then try not knowing what was going on with me. Um, and, but that was the way it was way I remembered. It was like wiz-bang I was in the hospital for like a week. I'm getting hydrated. I would, I think they maybe put like five or six bottles of, uh, IV fluid in me. Uh, cause I dropped, I was like, I'm maybe hundred and 178 pounds at the time or before I was diagnosed and when I was diagnosed I was like 152.

Cherise: So just to give everybody a good idea. How tall are you?

Chelcie: I'm about 5' 11".

Cherise: Okay.

Chelcie: Yeah. And so I've lost a lot of weight. I had gone from like a 32-33 inch waist to down like a 29-30. Um, and so it was a, you know, it was the typical, um, symptoms, you know, frequent urination, a blurred vision, um, lethargic, you know, all of the above. Um, and so it was, but like I said, it happened so fast. I didn't, I, I don't even remember a whole lot. Um, the week I was in the hospital because it was mostly just, you know, stay hooked to an IV and then bringing in a lot of pamphlets and whatnot for me to read and showing me how to, you know, take an insulin shot. My grandmother was diabetic, I'm pretty sure she was type 2. I don't, I never remembered her actually taking insulin. Um, my father, uh, eventually later on in life he was eventually been diagnosed as type 2 as well. But other than that, that was it. Um, no one else that I knew of in my family was type 1. I was the only one. I was 25 years old when I was diagnosed. Um, so I had no idea of how that could happen, how, where it came from or anything. Um, far as I knew my health was pretty much, um fine.

Cherise: So how did you, so you didn't know anyone with diabetes, um, you were a musician, so how did you become a comedian?

Chelcie: Right.

Cherise: And when did you decide you want to take this, um, take your story on stage and with the Sugar Free Comedy series?

Chelcie: I was diagnosed when I was 25 when I was about maybe 35 is when I first took a standup comedy class. Um, because people had always told me I should try it, this, that and the other. And so, uh, when I was living in Atlanta, I came across, uh, a noncredit course in standup comedy. So I took the course, um, that I knew if I did pretty well, at least the instructors said I was good and I should pursue it. So I just kept at it. Um, you know, going to open mikes and performing. Um, and at the time, a couple of friends of mine, they started running a comedy room and I'm in Atlanta. And one thing that they, they started doing was reaching out to people who wanted to do fundraisers. Um, say if I'm an animal shelter, it needed to raise some funds or whatever.

They would, they would, um, have a fundraiser with us as comedians performing and then raise money through the show. And one day I just got to think, and it was like, well, I could probably do this with diabetes. I mean, I had no inkling can become an advocate. I just figured like that'd be a cool way to raise some money for, say if I was going to do, um, one of the walks, it'd be an easy way for me to make some money as opposed to going around asking people for a dollar a year and a dollar. Figuring out what's the laziest way I can go about getting this money. And so I figured I'd just, you know, find, okay, I have a show and, you know, raise it that way, that way I don't have to talk to anybody.

So, so I, uh, that's what I did. I mean, I pitched it to the guys that, you know, yeah, let me do this. And so I picked it out to the local, you know, the ADA. Um, and you know, they helped me out as far as setting up at least, you know, trying to get the word out to their people. And, um, it was a struggle because a lot of times we didn't really have a big crowd or not and sometimes we had good shows cause I did it for like maybe five or six years. Um, and sometimes we had good shows and sometimes we had, you know, pretty small shows. But it was, you know, fun. I learned a lot. Um, this was in when I started this, this was before, um, social media. Um, what we know to be social media today. Only thing with there was even remotely, um, possible back then was Myspace.

Um, and everybody knows the members how mind space was back then. That was just a, just a total crap shoot. You know, you just put something out there and then it just disappears and you don't ever know whether anybody's going to see it or not. Fast forwarding to around 2010, maybe 2011, um, you might have to help them with because I connected with you, um, and Michelle Litchman and it, that kinda got me started and then Michelle invited me out to Utah to perform for her, um, Diabetes Mixer. Um, and that, that, um, performance, it was a thing that actually kind of pointing me in a direction of using comedy as a way to reach people. Because I know myself, when I was being taught everything about diabetes, when you start talking about all the, the scientific and then just adding that other, it just likes, you know, your head's just starts swimming as like, Oh wow, man.

I was like, I, you know, like how am I going to remember this? And it's like hard to really retain all that. And so I figured like if you use humor as a way to teach people about diabetes are any chronic illness for that matter, I think is easier to swallow because you're not just, you know, banging them over the head with numbers and devices and things of that nature. You're coming at them in a way to where they actually, you grabbed their attention with the humor and then, you know, out of the blue all of a sudden catch them and actually teach them something. Um, and that's, that's what I wanted to do. I mean, I, I'm not an athlete by no means. Um, and as far as like the technical stuff, and you know, that's like I said completely over my head, but I know how to do, I learn how I used to teach computer classes and so I learned how to teach. And so I use the humor as a way, as a vehicle. That's my vehicle. Some people are athletes and they advocate, you know, diabetes through using physical fitness are, if they're in the healthcare profession, they use their education and health care to deliver that message. I'm just a comedian. I can find a way to make something funny and then teach you something in on the back end

Cherise: So if I was to come to one of your comedy shows, what would you say to the audience?

Chelcie: Um, when I, when I started talking about it, there's like a certain section in my, my act, I started talking about it and you don't want to talk more about myself. Um, I talk about things such as the devices that I use. Uh, cause I started out using needles and then pins and then eventually, um, the pump and CGM. And so I started talking about all the devices, um, that are connected to me. Uh, you know, I'd do some jokes about, you know, going to the airport. Um, cause going to the airport is just like, you know, you never know what's gonna happen. Cause I get nervous every time I go through TSA because you know, I'm gonna, I'm always afraid I'm going to get that one guy that missed that, that missed out on diabetes class. And he's only like, oh, what's that sir?

And I know, you know, then I was starting getting patted down for 20 minutes. Um, because junior here doesn't really know what, what an insulin and a CGM insulin pump or a CGM is. Um, so I mean, I do jokes about that. I do, uh, I guess more, I don't really do a lot of, well what in comedy we call blue stuff, like, which is dirty. I don't really get blue. Um, but I talk about, you know, adult things such as, you know, love making with an insulin pump and things of that nature. So, um, and, and now talk about different stories that, that, um, that I've had to deal with. Like the time I got stuck in my car in Atlanta. We, we don't, they don't really do ice storms very well. And I got stuck in my car for like six hours and only thing I had to eat was some uh and this was in the month of February and the only thing I had to eat in my car was a leftover bag of candy corn from Halloween, um, to sustain myself. Um, yeah. Yeah. I mean like this is all I got. Well he's going to be candy corn tonight baby.

Cherise: You've touched on a couple of things that I kind of want to circle back to. Um, so you were diagnosed in '88 so you started the, yeah, you're becoming a comedian and learn on the ropes in [inaudible] '98 and then five years later you kind of did your own thing for about a year. But then in 2010 you found the diabetes online community. How did you find the community and what made you actually go online to, did you look for, or did it, did you just happen to find it?

Chelcie: I think I just happened to find it because I'd always had questions, um, about better treatment, better things, things that I can do better. Um, because you got to back up cause he's, like I said, we said this was like, you know, 2010, around 2005 is when, um, I had my first occurrence of a diabetic retinopathy. I develop, uh, leaks in my left eye. Um, and at the time I didn't really have any decent insurance if I had any at all. And so, um, I didn't know what was wrong with me, um, until I actually, I think I went to someplace like Lens Crafters or whatever and went to the eye exam and, um, they could really help me. They knew that it was obviously blood, but I needed to go to an actual, uh, I guess an optometrist ophthalmologist. Like I'd get the two mixed up.

Um, and so, and that's when I found out that, you know, I had obviously blood leaks in mind. And so, like I said, I literally drove around and it's like I said, I didn't have the insurance to get, get it treated. So I pretty much drove around like a year or so with that, with my eye full of that blood.

Cherise: Oh, wow.

Chelcie: Uh, cause there was nothing I could do about it. And so eventually when I, and this was all because of the type of work I was doing when I was working retail, I didn't have a decent insurance, are decent jobs. So when I finally got a decent job around '06 or so, uh, I was able to get the vitrectomy. And for those who don't know vitrectomy is basically when they go inside your eye and they use a laser to I guess in a sense cauterized the, the blood vessels that stop the leaking, um, and just basically flush out everything else.

And then it's kind of weird because they literally put like half the liquid back in your eye. And so I through the rest of that, after that surgery, I just kind of drove around with my left eye just, it was like I was looking through a fish bowl because it'd been my, I was literally half full, I could watch it, just to kind of sloshing around in there. And it was just the weirdest, most surreal thing. I, I've never been, you know, high off of drugs or anything, but you know, that's, I felt like I was because why, what is this, whose idea was it to feel my I halfway and, but then the human body is a remarkable thing because eventually just filled up on its own. Um, and I was able to get most of the vision back in my left eye. Um, is I gained

I would say maybe 98%. The peripheral vision is still kind of lost. Um, but it's my, but it is far better. Um, a few months down the line, the same thing happened in the right eye. Um, fortunately I had still had my job and I was able to go back to the hospital and have the surgery. But unfortunately this time the retina had detached and so they had to fill my either what they do, they did have attracted me and then they, um, they fill the eye with a silicone, uh, fluid, um, to basically hold the retina in place, uh, for it, I guess for it to heal or are just cause I, from what I understand, I think of retina healing like that. It takes quite a long time. That was around 2006. I still have that silicone in my eye. And now, um, I've been to the doctor, you know, several times and they all, they've always said, wait, there's no really point in taking it out.

The depression was, you know, it comes and goes because you know, a lot of times, you know, you, you get tired of bumping into things of bumping into people. Um, I, I'd make one joke about it. It's like, I remember one time I was at a show and I was like, got finished and I was sitting at the bar and this big guy was like, you know, standing next meeting's lad, great job man. And I was like, oh thanks. And I just kind of turned away, was looking at the stage and then all of a sudden he said it's for real. And I was like, what? And I looked over and he had his hand out trying to shake my hand, but I couldn't see it. And so, you know, I almost got knocked out just because I couldn't see him see him shaking his hand because this dude was huge.

And I was like, oh gosh, okay. No Man. I got an and explaining everything. Oh cool. I'm sorry man. Oh, I'm sorry. I was like, yeah. So what I did after I started making a point to tell people when I'm on stage and look, I would love, I appreciate you guys coming out. I would love to meet all of you and shake your hand, but definitely, you know, if you come up and shake my hand, come at me from the front because you know, becoming, we from the right side, you might, I might stole on you can cause, you know, sneaking up on me [inaudible] I get kind of nervous. So, you know, just come back in front the front, I'll take a hug, whatever, you know, just to keep from, you know, um, inadvertently punch people, you know. So I had to, I had to do that.

Chelcie: You know, you got to find the humor in sometimes think some of this stuff because if you don't, um, the darkness will consume you. Um, and I'm sure that, yeah, and I think that's, I think that's something that, that that is kind of a universal for people. Anyone that may have a chronic illness because the darkness can consume you if you let it. I definitely agree. And so, you know, I just went and doing searches on diabetes groups and you know, people diabetes and I've came up with all these different groups that, um, that got, uh, I um, joined and I came across DSMA and you know, the rest is kind of history because I, and I wish I had diabetes online community back when I was first diagnosed. I tell people that are newly diagnosed, um, now is like, man, you, you have no idea the amount of resources that you have right now that I didn't have when I was first diagnosed.

Um, I mean if I went to a support group back when I was diagnosed, I'd be like a 25 year old dude in a room full of 70 year-olds, you know, and then I didn't feel comfortable in there and they probably wouldn't feel comfortable with me thinking, you know, this was Athens, Georgia. So they probably thought I was there to park the car or something, you know, they didn't know what I was doing there. And so, you know, I just wish I had that when I was, um, when I was first diagnosed because in a way, sometimes I'm an, I don't dwell on this, but you know, if I had maybe had those resources, I may have been able to, you know, um, not have to go through the situation with my eyes complications. I don't know.

So anybody that I meet this newly diagnosed, I refer them. I mean, if you've got Facebook, don't sit up there and just wasted posting pictures of your cat or you know, connecting with all your, you know, high school friends that you know, you don't like anyway. Um, that's the truth. You know, you know, you, you get on Facebook and then you start hooking up with these people you went to high school with and you find out, it's like, why am I friends with this person? I got, I really don't like you right now. I don't know what it was I liked about you in high school, but right now I don't really want to see you.

Someone told me, uh, online, Patrick, he said he explained social meet. The difference between Facebook and Twitter. The best way I've ever heard it and I always use is Facebook is a place where you already know people, right? But Twitter is where strangers become friends. And I think that for me, I can't speak for you, but for me, I think having that live interaction back and forth on the go or waking up in the middle of the night. We have a low blood sugar to talk to someone that's I don't get from Facebook and I've never been a huge Facebook person now becoming more of a Twitter slash, Instagram person. So, um, which kind of brings me up to that next topic. Can you tell us a little bit about Men of Color?

Yeah. Um, what I started noticing when I started attending either conferences or just being online, um, looking at the makeup of most of the diabetes groups. Uh, even if I was like, if I went to like one of the walks or something um, often times, the diabetes conferences. You didn't see a great deal of people of Color in general, specifically, um, black males. And I understood that going to the doctor has always been an issue for black men in general. That is, that is a, I guess you could say a historical, um, issue that black men don't go to the doctor as much as they should, considering how a more likely we are to get prostate cancer, high blood pressure, hypertension, things of that nature. And of course diabetes. So it was kind of disheartening to see, especially in this day and age that a lot of the, the old ways are still around and those ways we're taught.

Um, because not a lot of people understand the history of African Americans and, um, health care in general because of a lot of the experiments that were done to, um, African Americans throughout history in the name of science. Um, so there was always been a kind of a distrust between the African American community and, um, healthcare professionals. Um, that's one issue. The other issue is a lot of times when you live in an impoverished community, you don't have access to a lot of things. You don't have access to proper food choices. You see more liquor stores and, um, check cashing places than you see fresh food market. Um, so the information is not getting there and it's kind of a double edged sword because you can easily say that these organizations aren't reaching out to the black community like they should. And, but at the same time, the black community's not coming together and searching for these groups to get help.

I understand that, you know, you may be able to feel uncomfortable, um, going to the doctor on a regular basis, but there's so much information out there and there's so many people that'll support you if you need help. You know, and especially in this day and age because we're all walking around with the whole world in our pockets, on our phones. You, like I said, you're using the Facebook to connect with people you don't like anyway, but you know, at the same time, if you've looked for things that could help you, you'd be surprised at what you would find. And so that was the reason I created that Instagram page was because I wanted to kind of showcase, um, Men of Color that, um, live with diabetes to make them more visible because there are a lot of, um, definitely younger African Americans who probably living with diabetes that don't see a lot of these examples of people.

Living with diabetes in spite of the fact that they, you know, have diabetes. There's brothers out there that are chefs that are brothers, obviously athletes. Uh, casually, we were just talking about just an engineer at one of the, um, CGM companies, you know, these guys need to be showcased because we've got to get that information out there to make this more visible. Um, I mean, I've gone online and said that there's a lack of diversity and many of the groups and stuff. Um, but like I said, that's a double edged sword because, you know, I, I can look at an Instagram feed and not see any people of color until I come talk to the only person of color I saw was a stock photo of a person with color. You know, all the people that there are other people with the arms around each other having fun at camps and I'm doing all these walks and runs and all these different conferences and stuff.

And I see more and more white people, but less and less people of color. That's disappointing because diabetes specifically type 2 diabetes, black people are more, are twice as likely, are twice as susceptible, developing type two diabetes. So it doesn't make sense that if we're the ones out here, that more likely to catch it, we should be the ones being seen, um, educating ourselves about it. Um, and so, I mean, I've talked to people, you know, at my home church in Toccoa and trying to find a way to get some information to folks to try and encourage them specifically to log on to the, at the, the, uh, to Facebook and find these different groups. You know, if you don't feel like going and talking to your doctor, you know, get on Facebook, you'd be surprised what you can find.

There's a whole community of people that are willing to support you. Um, you know, if it's nothing but them shooting you a website or sending you a word document that they found is all kinds of stuff out that you can find. Um, so it was kind of a, like I said, it's a double edged sword. I don't see a problem. I see an opportunity, like I said, what that double edged sword. You know, both parties need to work harder at this. Um, obviously the org need to find a way to reach out to the African American community, whether it be, my one suggestion I came up with was trying to find a way to get on these HBCU campuses and, and start making some noise. Um, maybe reach out to the, to the, the Christian communities, go to the churches, you know, just go to the church in the African American community was always basically the nucleus of the community. That was a safe place. That's where the civil rights movement started. So follow that, you know, a pattern

Cherise: Sometimes all we need is a start extending your hand. And I always go back to um, devices, touch screens, right? Everybody thought, oh my gosh, who was going to use a touch screen phone and then guess what it was created and now everyone has a touch screen phone. So, um, so I think sometimes we have to look outside of that box go and go to where people of color are and help them where they are and then we can teach them and show them what this online community is about. But it's something that, um, you shared yesterday, not yesterday, but Wednesday on Twitter. Um, that, that when I read it, I was like high five. So it says this is from you, a Diabetic Comic/Chelcie Rice on Twitter. It says, I wish people knew that diabetes doesn't mean give up. You can find your joy, your peace, your laughter in spite of the fact that you have a condition you didn't ask for. It's not easy, but getting stronger is never.

Cherise: So, so with that, what inspires you? Like to listen to your story? Um, being diagnosed in 1988 not having resources and becoming this, this big time diabetes advocate who goes around spreading joy and humor and finding joy and humor in diabetes. What inspires you to, to do the things that you do for the diabetes online community and also for, for people of Color?

Chelcie: I've, um, I've seen that dark side and, um, I kind of lived there for quite a while and I let it kind of weigh me down to the point where I didn't want to. And you know, this was common before I understood what diabetes burnout is. Um, I thought I was just being negative about it would just being, you know, um, beaten, beaten down. Uh, and so I've been to that, that's about when I see people online that have gone through different, um, issues with any of the complications or fear of complications. You know, I tried when I, if I get a chance to talk to him, I try to get them to understand where you are I've already been and I'm no master of staying above that darkness because it comes and goes. It, it comes and goes. Um, right now I'm, I've got some pretty upbeat, but you know, all it'll take is, mmm. A crazy low. That'll just drive me insane. And then are going through the changes with insurance companies going back and forth. Why I can't get the supplies that I need you know, the price of insulin. And things of that nature. I've been there, I've been, I've dealt with the depression to the extent where I wanted to just quit and give up. Um, but yeah, I think what inspires me the most is definitely watching other people in the diabetes community watching. People just, you know, just not, they're just slaying just killing it.

Cherise: It's all about finding your way. Like you said, knowing when it's time, knowing what you want to do it and accomplishing it. And Chelcie, you have been a light in the community and I am so glad that we, our cross paths in 2010 and I'm so glad and so thankful that you were able to share your story with us today. But thank you so much for being real and raw and being you.

Chelcie: Yeah, I mean, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Outro: Thank you for listening to the Inspiration Exchange: Diabetes moments. If you have questions or comments, feel free to send me an email or a tweet using hashtag #diabetesmoments.

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