The idea started in seventh grade and recently came to fruition after Morgan Panzirer completed her freshman year at Villanova.
Panzirer, a biology major who plans to attend medical school and study pediatric endocrinology, has a new title: author.
On June 9 her first book was released — “Actually, I Can: Growing Up with Type 1 Diabetes, A Story of Unexpected Empowerment” (Wyatt McKenzie Publishing). This month it reached No. 1 on Amazon’s Teen Health new releases list.
Her main message to readers is a simple but poignant one.
“Type 1 does not have to be a disease that stops you,” Panzirer said. “Rather, you can use it to do the complete opposite. So, you can take an obstacle — this applies to anything in life — and kind of twist it and change it into an opportunity if you just flip it on its side and look at it in a different way.”
Panzirer has had Type 1 diabetes since the age of 6. Also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, Type 1 is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.
The Mayo Clinic says that despite active research, Type 1 diabetes has no cure. Treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet, and lifestyle to prevent complications.
Well before becoming an author, Panzirer was an advocate for Type 1 diabetes awareness. In 2009 she attended Children’s Congress, where Type 1 diabetics from each state traveled to Washington to lobby Congress for funding.
During the visit she met President Obama at the White House.
“This was a big moment for me because it marked the beginning of my advocacy,” she said.
In 2016, she was invited to speak at the Stem for Life Conference at the Vatican. Panzirer was part of a panel to highlight a patient’s perspective on chronic illness. As part of the conference she was among the people who had an audience with Pope Francis.
“He gave a moving speech and afterward awarded me the Pontifical Hero Award,” Panzirer said. “There were no words to describe this experience other than life-changing.”
Panzirer’s goal of writing a book on the topic began in the seventh grade.
“There are a couple reasons for why I decided to write it,” she said. “The first was because I was really sick and tired of hearing all the misconceptions like, ‘Oh, you got diabetes because you ate too much sugar,' and things along those lines. It really bothered me, and I was like, [I want to] put an end to this.”
The second reason was motivational.
“I just really wanted to empower and inspire others living with the disease,” she said.
She began working on the book project, put it down for a time in middle school, then picked it back up throughout high school. It wasn’t until her senior year that she decided to figure out if she should do something with it.
That’s when Panzirer asked her senior-year English teacher, Karen Zlotnick, to read it and offer advice. (Panzirer attended John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y., about 50 miles north of Manhattan.)
Not only was Zlotnick encouraging, but she became invaluable in her editing suggestions. When Zlotnick first read it, her advice was straight to the point.
“She told me, ‘You have to get this out there,’” recalled Panzirer.
That gave the aspiring author the confidence to move forward. For her English teacher, it was an invigorating experience.
“It was exciting to work with Morgan because she was such a dedicated student and open to ideas about how to tell her story,” Zlotnick said in an email. “She embraced the writing process wholeheartedly — including brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing.”
Panzirer had mostly completed the manuscript by the end of high school, and then spent much of her freshman year at Villanova polishing it with a publisher — while maintaining a 3.8 grade point average.
“I was lucky enough to get to know Morgan this year and learn about her book,” said Villanova professor Samantha Chapman, who taught Panzirer’s Introductory Biology course. “Morgan is an incredibly dynamic and insightful student. Her passion to communicate her experiences with diabetes dovetails nicely with her passion for her studies in biology. I can’t wait to see what exciting things she does in her next three years as a biology major.”
For now, Panzirer is experiencing the excitement of being an author with a motivational message.