Podcast: Life of an actor with type-1 diabetes

Actor Veenu Sandu sharers her story of being an actor with type-1 diabetes in the latest podcast episode of Diabetic to Dietetics with host, and diabetes dietitian, Katie Bartel.

Additional article is below.

Stigma of T1D

TV and film actor Veenu Sandhu plans to one day play a character that features type-1 diabetes in film.

After decades of hiding her diabetes, Sandhu has had enough.

It’s time to get rid of the stigma attached to T1D, the BC actor says.

Sandhu was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes in 1990, one month before her 11th birthday.

She grew up in a small town in Northern BC, and the knowledge of type-1 diabetes was limited.

Sandhu recalls hearing constant negative messaging related to diabetes – both directly and indirectly.

Her doctors told her that she was ruining her body without T1D perfection.

A distant family member chided her for being terrible at diabetes.

Media told her that people with diabetes were brittle and limited.

“All that stuff kind of builds up,” she says. “It’s tough because it’s such a stigma.”

BC actor with T1D Veenu Sandhu regularly practices yoga
Practicing yoga helps BC actor Veenu Sandhu find calm in a world of T1D chaos
Hiding T1D in public and on set

Sandhu hid her diabetes for years.

She refused to go on an insulin pump because she did not want her T1D on display for all to see – especially as an actor.

Sandhu acts predominantly in TV and film. She’s had several smaller roles, usually portraying police officers, doctors, and lawyers because of her “authoritative” sounding voice.

Her largest role has been 3 seasons playing Prisha Dhar on Netflix’s Lost in Space.

The insulin pump did not fit into her career.

“There was a lot of resistance to [an insulin pump] for a long time,” she says. “Having an appendage on the body, especially being an actor, having my illness being visible was a huge one.”

But in 2018, that changed.

Sandhu wanted to improve her diabetes health, and she heard that an insulin pump could help.

“My blood sugars have never been stable,” she says. “They’re functional, and they’re great sometimes, but I got to a point where it was just time to figure out how much better I could be if I had support like that.”

BC actor Veenu Sandhu is no longer hiding her type-1 diabetes
BC actor Veenu Sandhu isn’t hiding her T1D anymore.
There’s a costume designer for that

The insulin pump presented an assortment of challenges for the actor.

Where would she wear it when shooting?

Are there clothes that could hide it?

What if she landed a role with more revealing scenes?

That was a huge worry early on.

“I don’t know if it’s because of my darker skin, but [the pump infusions] leave little marks all over,” she says.

She did not want to reveal those pump scars.

“In film, it’s all about how you look,” she says.

But, now in her 40s, “the chances that they will ask me to disrobe are very minimal,” she says. “And if they ever need to, that’s what makeup is for.”

Sandhu quickly discovered solutions for nearly all of her concerns with wearing an insulin pump on set.

A costume designer introduced her to a garter belt style, typically used for alcohol flasks, but that also fits the insulin pump beautifully.

Another costume designer built pump-sized pockets into multiple sets of clothes.

“The costume designers have been amazing,” she says.

Disguising T1D on set and on stage can sometimes be a challenge for BC actor Veenu Sandhu
Disguising T1D on set and on stage can sometimes be a challenge for BC actor Veenu Sandhu, but costume designers have helped make it easier.
Coming out with T1D

After 32 years with type-1 diabetes, and four years with an insulin pump, Sandhu is no longer interested in hiding her disease.

“I feel like I’ve had a second coming of age transitioning to the pump,” she says. “It just kind of opened my eyes that [diabetes] doesn’t need to be something that we need to be ashamed of.”

Sandhu wears her T1D loud and proud in the community.

And she wants to do the same in film.

It’s T1D’s time, she says.

T1D has been featured poorly in mainstream media for too long, and Sandhu intends to change that.

“If I ever get the opportunity for larger roles, I want to push for the visibility of the pump,” she says.

“People need to know about [type-1 diabetes], and they need to know that we are all different with it. I don’t like saying that it’s my struggle, but it is this one other thing that I have in my brain all that time that other people don’t have to think about.

BC actor Veenu Sandu on set with type-1 diabetes
BC actor Veenu Sandhu hopes to one day present T1D in film, TV, and on stage with more realism than has previously been shown.

“We’re living in such an amazing time and we’re seeing [advocacy efforts ] in so many different communities – let’s now see that in our media.”

** Veenu Sandhu is performing in the theatre production of Himmat from May 6 to May 15 at the Vancouver Cultural Centre. For more information, click here.

To listen to other Diabetic to Dietetics episodes click the links below:

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