Tracy Foss

Paying Hope Forward

By Jasmine Gomez | Photography by Mary Grace Johnson

On a family road trip to her in-laws’ house in Boston for Thanksgiving, Tracy Foss began to wonder if something was wrong. Her daughter, Madeline, was remarkably thirsty. She just couldn’t seem to get enough water. The family had to keep pulling over to let Maddy use the restroom. The same thing happened on the way home, and then again when Maddy returned to preschool.

Wondering if something was off, Tracy took her 5-year-old daughter to see a doctor, not expecting life to change completely. Now, it’s been about 10 years since Maddy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to produce little to no insulin. There’s currently no prevention or cure for type 1 diabetes.

No one else in the family had been diagnosed with the disease. For Tracy, it really felt like the diagnosis came out of nowhere.

“It was an absolute shock,” Tracy said. “She was a happy, healthy little girl.”

Looking for an outlet, Tracy became involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation — now simply known as JDRF — a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding type 1 diabetes research. Within a year of Maddy’s diagnosis, she attended a fundraising event for the JDRF One walk, an annual family event aimed at supporting the JDRF’s mission. The walk also serves to connect families caring for those with type 1 diabetes.

Through the JDRF, Tracy learned how other families managed the diagnosis. That knowledge helped Tracy and her family decide what would work best for her daughter.

Finding the organization’s events to be an excellent resource, Tracy became a dedicated volunteer. She helped with the walk and became co-chair of the JDRF’s annual spring gala.

“Diabetes can be really challenging and overwhelming and sad. So, I felt if I started to get involved, the volunteering was cathartic and therapeutic,” Tracy said. “It gave me a sense of empowerment and that I could do something positive in light of this bleak diagnosis.”

As her children got older and life busier, Tracy always stayed connected with the JDRF in some way.

Then, in December 2016, Tracy made the transition from volunteer to full-time staff member. Now, she serves as executive director for the Central New York chapter of the JDRF.

“If you’re going to spend time away from your family, you want it to mean something and you want to make a difference,” Tracy said. “And in this particular case, I’m able to combine my personal passion to find a cure for Maddy and everyone like her along with my career, so I think that that’s an ideal combination.”

In addition to community outreach, Tracy’s responsibilities as executive director include fundraising to support the management of type 1 diabetes, as well as the search for its cure.

“Our goal is to do the greatest good for the largest number of people in the shortest period of time,” Tracy said.

The JDRF is constantly working to support families who have received a new diagnosis. Each person who has been recently diagnosed receives a Bag of Hope, filled with toys, a glucose meter and information on life with type 1 diabetes.

For Tracy, the JDRF and the families involved with the organization gave her a support net-work, something she needed when Maddy was diagnosed. Now, as executive director, Tracy has the chance to pay that support and hope forward to other families faced with new diagnoses.

“The greatest source of hope for me is knowing [about] all of the research that’s happening, knowing that there is a possibility that Maddy won’t have to live with this disease for the rest of her life,” Tracy said. “That helps make really bad days a little bit better.” SWM

For more information on the JDRF, visit Mark your calendars for the organization’s upcoming One Night Gala, slated for Saturday, April 7, at SKY Armory in downtown Syracuse.