The "I Can't Wait (Be My Wife)" singer gets candid with PEOPLE about living with a chronic illness — and why he's ready to help bring more visibility to diabetes
Ben Rue was just 14 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes. The revelation, he says, made the country singer feel like “my whole life was over.”
“My mother is a nurse and always brought home little gadgets to test on her boys for fun and so she brought home a blood sugar test one day to test all of us,” recalls Rue. His, he says, “was sky high. I thought I had won something before I realized it wasn’t a good thing.”
After meeting with a doctor, the “I Can’t Wait (Be My Wife)” singer says he realized the signs had all been there — though as a teenager, he just brushed them off. Admits Rue, “I had been wetting the bed a little bit and as a 14-year-old kid I was a little bit embarrassed about that. I remembered I had symptoms of some sort of dizziness and being thirsty a lot, but I had no idea.”
The lifestyle change came at Rue fast: “We hadn’t covered that in health class yet,” he jokes. As a freshman in high school, he was focused on building friendships and joining sports teams, and sometimes felt ashamed that he had to break off to test his blood sugar.
“I would sneak away to the bathroom and test in the stall so no one saw me,” he tells PEOPLE. “So I saw it as being weak or an outcast.”
Now, Rue is focused on making sure others with the chronic illness know they’re just the opposite.
The singer is partnering with Roche and Accu-Chek Guide for their new Buck Off Diabetes campaign, an initiative that aims to help inspire those who are living with diabetes.
“Buck Off Diabetes represents this bold new attitude of taking on diabetes,” Rue says.
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Through the campaign, social media users are encouraged to turn their fingers into bull horns and share a photo with the hashtag “#BuckOffDiabetes.” For each post, Roche Diabetes Care will donate a buck to diabetes education and awareness. Those with diabetes are encouraged to use the Accu-Chek Guide SimplePay program, to in turn save a buck with their affordable test refills.
Of his own health, Rue tells PEOPLE, “I’ve seen all the ups and downs but I’ve seen the amazing things that could come of it.”
He admits, “Managing my diabetes can be difficult, especially with my job on the road. Being diabetic is all about having a routine, checking your blood sugar six to eight to 10 times a day and trying to eat the same regimented meals. But being a musician, there’s no such thing as a routine.”
And Rue says the campaign speaks to a life unhindered by diabetes.
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“We all have the same vision as far as empowering people with diabetes,” Rue says of the campaign. “They just want to help people live as unrestricted as possible.”
The rising star is traveling across the country as part of the campaign — and performing his new single “Let ‘Em Loose” — first stopping off this weekend at the 2018 iHeartCountry Festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday.