How Ottawa native Taylor Efford's 'frustrating' experience turned her into an advocate

When her health began deteriorating, she turned the spotlight to her health issues and openly discussed her diabetes diagnosis.

Elizabeth Payne 4 minute read November 23, 2021

Taylor Efford’s experience with her diabetes diagnosis during the pandemic has motivated her to become an advocate for young adults like her who are diagnosed with and learning to live with Type 1 diabetes. Supplied

The early months of the COVID-19 pandemic were a terrifying time for Taylor Efford.

The 27-year-old Ottawa native and actress was living in Toronto, working on social media and waitressing, and getting progressively sicker.

By the summer of 2020, she had lost 40 pounds, had chronic numbness in her left leg, was weak, and constantly nauseous.

The pandemic proved to be a barrier to getting quick medical help for her worsening symptoms, something Canadian researchers have shone a light on.

Efford had been unable to find a family physician and had to visit a walk-in clinic three times before she was sent for blood tests. Before that, her symptoms were dismissed as “women’s problems” on one occasion, and a pinched nerve a second time. Just going into a walk-in clinic during the pandemic was a worry because of the possibility of infection, she said. Having to go repeatedly added to the stress of her condition.

“It was completely frustrating.”

Those blood tests confirmed something was seriously wrong with Efford. She was quickly sent for a second set of tests, which pointed to Type 1 diabetes. But, because a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis must come from a specialist, she had to wait 20 additional days for that diagnosis. Meanwhile, she was treated with oral medicine for Type 2 diabetes until the final assessment came in. It helped some, but didn’t significantly improve her symptoms. At the same time, doctors ruled out a cancer diagnosis.

“It was pretty scary.”

Eventually, Efford got to see an endocrinologist who confirmed that she had Type 1 diabetes. She was shown how to inject herself in her stomach with insulin and introduced to what would become the almost constant calculations about how much insulin she needed and when.

“There is a lot of math with this disease.”

But, even then, many of her appointments have been over the phone.

Her experience during the pandemic reflects the findings of a study by University of Toronto researchers. It was published in the Lancet this fall. The study concluded that the quality of care for patients with diabetes “may have declined during the early stages of the pandemic.”

Among other things, researchers noted that the proportion of people with diabetes in Ontario who had face-to-face visits with general practitioners and specialists, who underwent eye exams and had diabetes-related blood tests decreased during the first six months of the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic times. The paper concluded that efforts should be made to further examine quality of care during the pandemic to initiate strategies to make up for deficits in patient care.

Efford’s experience has also motivated her to become an advocate for young adults like her who are diagnosed with and learning to live with Type 1 diabetes.

Before her diagnosis, Efford was building a serious following on TikTok, curating a following with her content about the beauty industry.

When her health began deteriorating, she turned the spotlight to her health issues and openly discussed her diabetes diagnosis.

Today, she has over 400 thousand TikTok followers and 11.2 million likes on platform.

Efford, who is a patient voice during National Diabetes Awareness Month in November, said she found support and some of the information she needed through social media networks and knows how helpful that support can be.

Among other things, Efford said she was advised to get a continuous glucose monitor — which constantly monitors blood sugar levels and sounds alarms when action is needed.

She did purchase a monitor and Efford said it has changed her life, taking a large part of the stress out of the disease. Prior to that, she was sometimes afraid to go to sleep at night for fear that she wouldn’t know if her blood sugar levels became too high or too low.

“The technology is truly life-changing in terms of having good lives that are as close to normal as we can. It is nice to know something will wake you up if you are in danger.”

She said she is confident the monitor has “saved me from trips to the ER at a time I really didn’t want to be there.” Since diabetes is an underlying condition that can lead to severe COVID-19 outcomes, staying out of the hospital and limiting social contacts has been important to Efford.

But that technology is costly. Efford pays $300 a month for the continuous glucose monitor — an expense that is not covered by the Ontario government. Five other Canadian provinces cover the cost for residents.

“For me it is essential. I can’t imagine living with this disease without one.”

Efford, who studied theatre both in Canada and the U.K., dreams of one day being a comedic actress. For now, she is using her improv skills on social media to support young adults with Type 1 diabetes and to help normalize the disease and remove stigma.

Between 75,000 and 150,000 Ontario residents have Type 1 diabetes.