The Diabetes UnConference Alexandria 2017.

Full Disclosure: The Diabetes Collective paid for my hotel accommodations so I could reprise my role as a facilitator at the Diabetes UnConference. All opinions are my own.

That t-shirt says it all: No judgement. Just support.

The fifth Diabetes UnConference has completed. Our venue was the Embassy Suites hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. This time, the UnConference was co-located with the Diabetes Sisters Weekend for Women conference. This created the dynamic where, in addition to the separately attended UnConference and the Weekend for Women sessions, there were general education sessions available to both groups.

Obviously, I can’t speak to the Weekend for Women track, but they’re a fantastic organization populated with some of the smartest, strongest, most supportive people you could ever meet… some of whom are actually Diabetes UnConference alumni and facilitators. The general education track was full of informative tidbits.

And the UnConference was the UnConference. A safe, supportive space where adults with diabetes and their PLUs, or People who Love Us, could talk about and explore the various things going on in our heads and our hearts these days. And believe me, there was a lot to talk about.

As usual, the Diabetes UnConference weekend included cheerful and excited Hellos. It included intense discussions, and evenings out with the best of friends. It included tearful Goodbyes and promises to stay in touch and plan meetups in the future. Which brings me to this:

There will not be a Diabetes UnConference in 2018.

There are a number of reasons for this. Mostly, it’s time. Let’s face it… diabetes, and diabetes advocacy, takes a lot of our time these days. Plus, now that we’ve done this five times already(!), maybe it’s time to take a breather and reimagine the Diabetes UnConference for 2019.

One thing’s for sure though: no UnConference does not mean no UnConference activity. I’m looking forward to UnConference alumni gathering throughout the country over the next couple of years, to continue discussions, support, and all the things that make our safe, protected time together as wonderful as it has ever been.

My gosh, I already miss my tribe.

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Friends for Life Falls Church.

Like the Energizer bunny, Friends for Life just keeps going.

I think Children With Diabetes, the organization that stages the Friends for Life conferences throughout the USA, and in the UK too (and occasionally Canada), would rather be thought of on their own, as opposed to being associated with a battery company. But that aside, after attending many of these now, I am still amazed at how they make each gathering spectacular and unique.

In Falls Church, Virginia last week, I was working the DPAC table in the exhibit space again, like I’ve been doing for a while now. That means I don’t get to get into many sessions, but I do get to see a lot that goes on around the venue. Not backstage pass kind of stuff, but things that I think help me see how much of an undertaking each conference really is.

The first thing I noticed was the update to the sessions in the schedule. More advocacy sessions with Christel Marchand Aprigliano and Stewart Perry. Cynthia Rice from JDRF and Paul Madden from ADA also jumped in here and there.

Also, there were sessions about Succeeding as and Adult and Parenting with Type 1, a Safe Zone discussion for Significant Others of adults with T1D, and two sessions for Grandparents and Occasional Caregivers. I saw a session on Your Legal Rights as a Person With Diabetes. When you’re tackling these subjects, led by smart people like Kerri Sparling, Tamara and Sean Oser, Brian Grant, and Leigh Davis Fickling, you know you’re going to learn something significant without needing a PhD to understand the subject matter.

Unlike some of the other FFL events I’ve been to, this time I was able to see a lot of the staff working in the background to keep things running smoothly. Think about everything that needs to be done: Making sure everything arrives (think T-shirts, badges, and those wonderful green bracelets). Setup and registration. Getting rooms ready with the right amount of tables and chairs, screens to view presentations, and branding material. Coordinating meals and food choices with hotel staff.

That doesn’t even count little extra touches that mean a lot. When someone at registration asked me if I had diabetes (do I get a green bracelet? YES!), then someone else asked, “Do you still have an appendix?”, it was the funniest moment of the entire weekend. I don’t know how they all remember so much.

I’m not kidding… everyone works so hard, yet makes it look so effortless. Many of the first timers I met, from Ohio and North Carolina and Pennsylvania and beyond, really appreciated how they were made to feel at home, and how accessible everyone was. How can I describe it? Friends for Life is a comfortable place where everyone feels like they belong. It’s a conference, while redefining the very meaning of that word. Friends for Life is an experience, not one time, but always.

Here’s your notice: if you live in the eastern half of the USA, you should know that Friends for Life is coming back to Falls Church, Virginia next October. If you can’t make it to the big event at Disney in July, this is a great opportunity to learn a lot, interact with others living the same life you do, and enjoy being part of the biggest group that no one wants to belong to… that just happens to be populated with the most wonderful people. To find out more, go to childrenwithdiabetes.com

Extra: You should definitely read this post by Leigh Fickling over at Six Until Me. This describes FFL maybe better than anything you’ve read above.

**Note: I get nothing for writing about Friends for Life. DPAC paid for my travel and accommodations to Falls Church, Virginia. Opinions on Friends for Life are entirely my own.

A new role.

Since I became part of this Diabetes Community, I’ve been encouraged by a number of people to tell my story… to raise my hand… to ask questions… to speak my truths.

I was encouraged by Christel, who wrote this blog post nearly two years ago, and has had me thinking about how to use my voice ever since.

I’ve been encouraged by Cherise, who, for the last five years, has reminded me constantly that my voice matters just as much as anyone else’s.

I was encouraged by Bennet, who told me over four years ago:
“I tend to think of us as more inclusive than exclusive. We need all the advocates we can get”.

Thanks to the encouragement of these friends and many others, I can now reveal that Maryland’s Secretary of Health has named me to the initial State Advisory Council on Health and Wellness.

The council is pretty big: 34 members. Sixteen are from groups like the State Department of Health, Department of Aging, and Department of Education; plus groups like the American Heart Association, The American Diabetes Association, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the University of Maryland School of Nursing. The remaining 18 members are individuals like me. My term will last two years, during which I will attend two meetings of the full Council each year, plus at least four quarterly meetings each year working with a committee, hopefully on diabetes.

I don’t know where this is all headed. But I know this: the people in the room get to be part of the discussion.

We need people in the room.

So, as I have been challenged, let me challenge you:

– Think about and search ways to use your voice within your very own community.

– Remember that your voice matters just as much as anyone else’s.

– Don’t forget that we need every single advocate we can get.

I will also add: Look for places and ways to help others find their voice too.

I’ve often wondered if my writing and podcasting might eventually lead me toward more of a public service role than I had imagined five and a half years ago. I guess the answer is Yes. In fact, my service is now dedicated to my Diabetes Community, and my entire community on a statewide level.

My encouragement to you is to get into the room. Break the door down if you have to. Be part of the discussion.

People find their roles in ways they often cannot foresee when they begin a journey. The lovely part is enjoying the journey, and making each role as meaningful as possible. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my life.

8 Questions… just because.

It’s been kind of a whirlwind week, in the middle of two or three whirlwind weeks in a row. Lots of things going on, some important news, and a few really sad stories outside of the Diabetes Community.

Since we’re busy and we’ve had a lot of dark clouds hanging over our collective heads lately, I think we all could use a break. So, without further ado, here are eight interesting diabetes questions based on, well, nothing really. Feel free to leave your answers in the comments. Here we go:

1. Insulin pump or MDI (multiple daily injections)? Or neither? We know that some people who live with Type 2 diabetes don’t take insulin at all, and some insulin users are using inhalable insulin. I’m still working with my Animas Vibe pump, even though Animas has decided to go out of business. Whatever you do to help manage your diabetes, if it’s working, you’re doing the right thing. Isn’t it great to have choices? When we’re allowed to have choices?

2. Dexcom or Libre? With U.S. FDA approval of Abbott’s Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitor, I suspect this will be a question asked more and more in doctor’s offices and at diabetes conferences nationwide. These aren’t the only CGMs available, but they’re the only ones available as standalone devices (not required to be paired with an insulin pump). Again, it’s great to have choices, when we’re allowed to have choices.

3. Have you heard of The Affordable Insulin Project? This is another of DPAC’s efforts on an issue that affects millions of Americans. Check out the website and see how you can help spread the word and help make access to the life-saving drug that many cannot live without more affordable. To find out more, go to AffordableInsulinProject.org.

4. Have you donated insulin or supplies to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? Insulin for Life USA is helping to coordinate efforts to send much-needed insulin and test strips to those impacted by hurricane Maria, and also hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Find out how you can help pay it forward by going to ifl-usa.org.

5. Are you donating blood? All of us were shaken this week by the news that hundreds were gunned down at a concert in Las Vegas. In response, many have donated blood via the American Red Cross. Did you know that many People With Diabetes in the USA can donate blood? Whether it helps victims in Vegas, or those closer to your home, every pint is necessary and so appreciated. I can state unequivocally that donating blood has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Consider donating too, then go to RedCrossBlood.org.

6. Did you watch the Sammies this year? Maybe you missed them because you were concentrating on the Emmys. The Sammies, or Service to America medals, are known as the Oscars of government service. They’re given each year to federal employees who are recognized as “breaking down barriers, overcoming huge challenges and getting results”. That’s especially true of Courtney Lias and Stayce Beck of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who have been instrumental in helping artificial pancreas research move from the “maybe, someday” stage to patient’s hands. I cannot say enough good things about them. Read about their incredible work HERE. Congratulations Stayce and Courtney!

7. Will I see you this weekend? Friends for Life comes to the Washington, D.C. area this weekend in Falls Church, Virginia. If you’re coming, I hope to see you as I advocate at the DPAC table in the exhibit area. Look for a brief recap in this space shortly.

8. Will I see you next weekend? When it rains, it pours, and diabetes events will be pouring over Northern Virginia like monsoon season in Myanmar this October, as the Diabetes UnConference and Diabetes Sisters’ Weekend for Women co-locate in Alexandria October 13-15. I will once again be a facilitator at the UnConference, and I am very much looking forward to getting together for peer-to-peer support, encouragement, and all the feels. I’ll let you know how it goes later in the month.
 
 
Those are my questions of the moment… have any answers, or questions of your own? Let me see yours in the comments below.

Are you an Athlete? Ready for your medal?

Hey, I know it’s been a busy summer (or winter, depending on where you live). Here’s your early autumn reminder that we still have plenty of medals to give away to those living with diabetes who reach athletic goals.

Have you been like Luke, who played baseball this summer, and is playing football this fall while managing diabetes? Maybe you’re like Eli, a 13 year old cross country skier in Minnesota. How about Alisha, an equestrian who has placed well in dressage competitions?

You might have worked hard to complete one of the JDRF or ADA cycling events this year, like Mike in Virginia. Or maybe you did one of the ADA or JDRF walks instead. Hey, your definition of an athletic goal met is the correct definition, whatever it is.

Our goal in creating this program is to recognize how challenging it is to begin, maintain, and finish a fitness endeavor while managing diabetes at the same time.

Whether it’s you, a family member, a friend, or a colleague (who is likely a friend too), I want to encourage you to send a request and get your medal. Here are the rules:

1. The athlete receiving the award must be living with diabetes.

2. For now, we’re going with a pretty loose interpretation of the word “event”. If you feel you’ve accomplished something important to you, that’s an event. That’s enough.

3. Send me an e-mail at champswithdiabetes@gmail.com. Tell me your name, name of the athlete (it’s okay if it’s you), and your address (we have to know where to send the medal). Most important, tell me what athletic goal was accomplished, and when. Extra points if you tell me how you felt accomplishing the goal. Full disclosure: I reserve the right to use your testimonial here, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I will not use your name if you don’t want me to. As always, I will never share private information.

4. When you receive your medal, it would be great if you post a photo of it around the athlete’s neck. You can send a Tweet to @ChampsWithD (hashtag: #champdathletes) or post it on the Champion Athletes With Diabetes Facebook Page.

There’s a growing army of Champion Athletes with Diabetes who wear their medals proudly (over 80 now!), and I’d like to add you to that group. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me too. Your medal is waiting. I’d like to send it as soon as possible.

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