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All-American Sweetheart Tells Story of Battle with Diabetes

Emmy-winning actress Mary Tyler Moore is no stranger to activism. She has long fought for animal rights. More recently, she has focused on advocating for diabetes research and educating people about the disease. She's had diabetes for 40 years. In a new book, the 72-year-old actress looks back at her life and offers a personal account of her struggle with diabetes and other issues.

In the 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore starred in a hit TV show that moved situation comedy in a new direction. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she portrayed Mary Richards, an independent, young working woman living on her own - setting an example for single women in the viewing audience and in subsequent TV shows.

Although Mary Richards was in control of her life on the TV screen, in reality, Mary Tyler Moore was struggling with many issues. At age 33 - as her series began - she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a life-threatening illness with serious health implications. Moore told ABC Morning News, she was in denial at first.

"After having cleaned the house of anything that was strong in carbohydrates, sugar especially," she says, "I then - in an act of absolute defiance - got in the car, drove to the market, grab a box of a dozen doughnuts and put them in the seat next to me and drove around Beverly Hills eating one doughnut after another."

As she recounts in her new book, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves and Oh Yeah, Diabetes, Moore soon learned about insulin syringes and blood sugar readings. While many diabetic patents now use the glucose monitors and insulin pumps that take automatic readings and deliver a dose without a syringe, Moore says she still prefers using finger pricks and test tapes to measure her blood sugar and inject insulin whenever needed. In addition to forcing her to give up doughnuts and other carbohydrates, she explains the disease also affected her vision.

"I'm now considered not to be capable of driving," she says. "So, that privilege, that freedom is taken away from me. I don't see those side things. My eyes don't really change focus as quickly as they are supposed to. There are a lot of reasons why it's threatening, because a lot of people went totally blind in decades past, but I can certainly walk across a room. I can even cross a street, but I have to be careful."

Changing the way we think about alcoholism

Learning to accept and live with her diabetes, Moore says, helped her grow up. So did facing another serious problem - her alcoholism. Talking about that publicly, she adds, helped others by putting a face on the addiction.

"There was a time when the image of a woman who is an alcoholic was that she had to be a slave to whatever it was that she thought was important to her," she says. "So an alcoholic woman in most people's eyes was one who had just really gotten sloppy, gotten dirty. And being able to come out and talk honestly about that, I think gave a lot of people the opportunity to look at themselves carefully and say, 'Yes, I look good. My clothes are nice. And I'm warm and delightful, but I'm also an alcoholic.'"

Learning to take control

Growing Up Again, Moore says, sums up her battle - on many fronts over several decades - to take control of her life. She married and divorced twice. She lost her only son to an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980. But for the past 25 years, she has been happily married to cardiologist Robert Levine.

Moore says when she looks back at her life, she feels as if she fell down and finally has been able to pick herself up.

"I think just being my own light, being able to make my own decisions without having a great monster presence in back of me saying, 'This is what's good for you. This is what's best for this situation,'" she says. "That's a good, comfortable way to lead your life, but it doesn't really give you the full enjoyment of life."

Mary Tyler Moore now serves as the international chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She says the process of writing the book, talking with people with diabetes and all the experts, provided new insights into how to manage the disease. She says she hopes the stories about the losses and triumphs that have helped her grow up will help others - with or without diabetes - better understand themselves and find new ways to face their own challenges.