The Sugarless Plum—a Ballerina’s Triumph over Diabetes
by Zippora Karz
Summary (From Goodreads):
For dancer Zippora Karz, a rising young star with the famed New York City Ballet, being diagnosed with diabetes could easily have ended all her dreams. She was just twenty-one when she was plucked from the corps de ballet to dance solo roles like the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker. It was near the end of a grueling season when she became exhausted, dizzy, and excessively thirsty. Heavy pancake makeup covered the sores under her arms that would not heal, but still Karz neglected to return her doctor s urgent calls. When she finally went to the doctor, she learned that her blood sugar was excessively high. If she continued to ignore her symptoms, Karz risked heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation of toes, feet, and legs. Because she was over twenty, doctors misdiagnosed her with Type 2 diabetes, when in fact she had juvenile (or Type 1) diabetes. Her weight dropped and she became dangerously ill as a result of being prescribed the wrong treatment. Once correctly diagnosed and placed on an insulin regimen, she would inject herself with unsafe doses before going on stage in ill-judged attempts to obtain peak performance. The potentially fatal result of Karz s self-experimentation became all too real when she nearly put herself into a coma.
Balancing ballet and her blood sugar would be a long and difficult struggle for Karz, but eventually she learned to value her body and work with it, rather than rage at its limitations. In The Sugarless Plum, Karz shares her journey from denial, shame and mis-education about her illness to how she lead an active, balanced, and satisfying life as an insulin-dependent diabetic and ballet star. Through her fascinating story, those struggling with diabetes and other serious illnesses can find encouragement and inspiration as well as practical advice on achieving physical and emotional wellness.
After sixteen years with the New York City Ballet, Karz retired and took her passion and skills into a whole new arena as a diabetes educator and advocate, where today she inspires people to not just manage their illness, but to thrive and fulfill their passions. The Sugarless Plum takes readers deep into the heart and soul of a young dancer, and is a remarkable testament to determination and perseverance.
Zippora’s memoir is touching, inspirational, dramatic, and profound. I felt 100% in her shoes through her story, not just because I am a dancer and can relate to a lot of the experiences, but because of the way she has written it. She writes like the whole thing is magic—because Ballet is magic. I just can’t think of words to describe how much I loved this book.
There was a lot of information about Diabetes in the text, and I did skip over a paragraph occasionally. But for the most part it all fit in perfect. She described how she worried about how much Insulin to take before a show so that she wouldn't faint on stage. She told about how she was in complete denial for a while. She told about the horror to find that after she broke down and tested her blood after eating off-diet for so long, and her reading was off the charts—and another time, while she was having short black-outs, her reading was so low she didn’t know that a human’s blood sugar level could get that low… and how she felt in all those situations.
How Zippora felt was a key element running through the book. It wasn’t just “this is my story, hope you enjoy.” No, it was “First this happened. It looked like this, it felt like this, it smelled and tasted like this. Then this happened!”
Would a non-dancer relate to this book? Yes I believe they would. Maybe they wouldn’t have the same respect for what she went through as I do, but they would still relate. I danced through injuries and illnesses and partnered people who could at any moment throw up all over me and had six hour rehearsals en pointe and stayed at the studio from 8:00am to 7:30 pm with only a few crackers and water keeping me alive and ate dinner at 11:30 at night. I remember how it feels. But Zippora’s memoir tells us how it is in the professional world—which is all that I mentioned to a higher degree—and does it in a way that you don’t have to have that background to understand and relate to it and feel it (Although dancers will know what a pirouette or a tendue is without the explanation that she gives. At least the better if they call themselves dancers :).
THE SUGARLESS PLUM wasn’t just for dancers. It’s for anyone who dreams of the stage. Any athlete who suffers from an illness or an injury, either Diabetes or otherwise. It shows people that although they may not be able to overcome or fix a chronic disease, but it is possible to achieve your goal and cope with it and still achieve what you dream of most.
Content: There is one scene with brief mention of sex but no explicit details, and there is no language.
Recommendation: Ages 12+ to anyone who has ever dreamed about the stage, any athlete who suffers from Diabetes and needs encouragement, or anyone who loves a touching and inspirational memoir.