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A ghouls night out for diabetes research

In this Helpers feature we chat with Divas for Diabetes founder Cynthia Cole about her search for a cure and the eighth annual Halloween fundraiser.

When Cynthia Cole’s daughter Marley was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes it convinced her to mobilize the women in her life to dress up in costumes and party for a cure.

“Marley was sick on and off for five years before they figured out what was wrong with her and she was diagnosed at 20 years old,” said Cole. “She had probably been a diabetic since she was 12. They told us it was a superbug that knocked her immune system out and she spent many years sick from it.”

Cole felt a sense of relief to finally know what was making her daughter sick, but she needed to know more about diabetes and what she could do to find a cure.

“Diabetes has become an epidemic in the last 20 years,” she said. “When I went to school there was one kid in the school that had diabetes and now there are tons.”

According to the World Health Organisation, cases of diabetes worldwide have quadrupled since 1980 and cases in Canada have nearly doubled since 2010. More than 33,000 children in Canada have Type 1 diabetes which occurs when a person’s immune system attacks insulin producing beta cells in their pancreas. Researchers believe it is caused by genetics and environmental conditions such as viruses. There is no known cure.

“We’ve done the Walk for Diabetes every year in June at Guelph Lake since my daughter was diagnosed,” said Cole. “We trip around that 5k walk and you never know who of the people walking around are diabetics but we get back for the barbecue part and people are giving their babies and their two year old and five year old children needles and I just don’t believe diabetes is incurable.”

Money raised during the annual Sun Life Walk to Cure Diabetes goes to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and that is the foundation Cole decided to support.

“I raise the money for Type 1 diabetes because those are the people who need insulin to stay alive,” she said. “It’s not related to lifestyle like Type 2 that can sometimes be managed.”

Cole wanted to do more to help fund research and the idea to put on an annual Hallowe’en fundraiser came to her during a girls-night-out party nine years ago.

“I rented a hall one night and threw a Halloween party,” said Cole. “We had 67 women show up in costumes just for a night out away from their husbands and kids. That night I was sitting there thinking if 67 women will come out just for a night out, we should turn it into something productive and that is how I started Diva Night.”

The event, which took place last weekend, has grown in attendance and donations over the past eight years.

“The first year we had about 90 and we have sold out for the last three years,” said Cole. “What is amazing too, as it has grown so have the donations. We do get some corporate but 80 per cent of the donations are from women in the community that just want to do something. I accept donations for up to 30 days after the event before I turn it over to the JDRF.”

Costume prizes are awarded in five categories, scariest, cutest, funniest, most scandalous and most original.

“There are some crazy costumes that come out,” said Cole. “The girl that won most original last year, her whole head was an aquarium. They are pretty amazing, actually. The time and effort they put into these costumes. They get better every year.”

The owner of Louie’s on Lewis, Glen Allen, donates the hall, Decadently Yours donates a couple hundred cupcakes and many others chip in to help. They have door prizes, raffles, games and a 50/50 draw.

“We have the guys in the band that come out year after year and play live music,” said Cole. “The dance floor is packed from note one to the end of the night. There is a core group of girls, about seven of us, that really put their hearts and souls into it because it’s a lot to set up.”

For many of the women it is the social highlight of the year

“If you get women to come out once they usually come back next time with more women,” said Cole. “It is groups of girlfriends, but it is also families, daughters, mothers, sisters, cousins 19 to 80 years old. I was standing on a chair videotaping everything and I was like wow, look what this has turned into.”

Photos and videos from the night are uploaded to the Divas for Diabetes Facebook page where people can connect and learn more about the annual fundraiser.

“Mostly it’s about getting out and having a really fun night and raising some money for a good cause,” said Cole.

“I believe there is a cure. They have made so many strides in even the treatment of it but I don’t believe it is an uncurable disease and whatever little bit we can give every year between the walk and the Divas for Diabetes goes to the Juvenile Diabetic Research Foundation so it goes to the research branch of it and I think every bit helps.”