Yes, I Can Eat Cheesecake and Pizza.

Yes, I have diabetes.

Yes, I can eat cheesecake and pizza.

Yes, I can actually eat whatever I want – I just have to know the carbohydrate content of whatever I’m consuming (and being mindful of portion size doesn’t hurt either).

Yes, I’m telling you this because at the time of this writing, that’s actually what I had for lunch this afternoon: homemade pizza and cheesecake. The pizza crust was store-bought, but everything else – from the sauce to the cheesecake crust to the strawberry topping – was made by me and it was damn good.

Funny story: I sent a picture of my cheesecake (shown above) to my coworkers and because I have terrible lighting/I’m not a food blogger, someone thought it was a photo of baked beans and I couldn’t stop laughing.

I guess I’m just taking a moment to 1) congratulate myself on semi-mastering the home-cooked versions of these two foods, but also to 2) reflect on how there’s so much stigma, STILL, on what people with diabetes can/can’t or should/shouldn’t eat. It’s wild to me that there are countless people in our world who misunderstand that a diabetes diagnosis automatically eliminates certain food groups from an individual’s diet.

Let me say it louder for those in the back who can’t hear: People with diabetes can eat whatever they want. Diabetes varies from person to person, and so do dietary preferences – so just because one person with diabetes might follow a strict keto diet, it doesn’t mean that ALL people with diabetes do. It doesn’t make it right or wrong for a person with diabetes to choose or not choose to eat certain things – period, bottom line, end of the story.

And by the way – I took a big old bolus of insulin for aforementioned pizza and insulin and my blood sugar didn’t spike past 188 mg/dL several hours later – score! So I’m also using this blog post to remind myself that it’s okay to eat “treat” foods like this from time to time, and that does not make me a bad diabetic.

Spare a Rose for Ukraine

Just a couple of weeks ago, I shared my annual blog post in support of the Spare a Rose campaign – you can read about what it is, who it benefits, how it started, and why I like to do what I can to raise awareness of the campaign each year here.

But right here, right now, is about how the Spare a Rose campaign has been extended and taken on a new meaning due to recent world events.

The Spare a Rose campaign takes on even more important meaning in the month of March.

Presently, the campaign is now called Spare a Rose for Ukraine. In the past several days, I’ve seen rallying cries around the diabetes online community that have all echoed similar sentiments: What can we do to support people living with diabetes in Ukraine who need access to life-saving medical supplies in this time of crisis? That’s how Spare a Rose for Ukraine was born.

Throughout the month of March, donations made to the Spare a Rose platform will support people with diabetes in and out of Ukraine. These donations will help people who are in desperate need of supplies obtain them, and with donations being directed to Insulin for Life – a charity that has more than 20 years of experience providing insulin/diabetes supplies to under-resourced countries as well as responding to emergencies – I feel confident that this campaign will result in countless lives being saved in such dire circumstances.

If you’d like to learn more, or make a donation, please visit the Spare a Rose website.

That “Thing” on my Arm

This blog post was originally published on June 12, 2019 on Hugging the Cactus. I’m sharing it again today because when you live with T1D, it’s inevitable that you’ll attract stares – and sometimes questions you’d rather not answer – from people who are befuddled by your diabetes gadgets and gizmos. This one encounter in particular is a great reminder that not all oglers have ill intent…read on for more.

“Yo, I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s that thing on your arm? Looks pretty cool.”

I turned around to face the stranger who was looking at me and asking me this question. It was well after midnight and we were on the rooftop of a fairly crowded bar. It was a balmy, summery night and I was enjoying the atmosphere with my boyfriend and my best friend. I’d had a few drinks over the course of the night, but judging by the state of everyone else on the rooftop, I was probably more sober than most of them.

That “thing” on my arm is basically my pancreas – please don’t stare at it, bro.

I could’ve answered his question in a scolding manner; it wasn’t a “thing”, it was a device that keeps me alive.

I could’ve totally dismissed him and told him to mind his own beeswax, because really, it is sort of rude to point out something on another person’s body.

I could’ve lied and told him it was something that it’s not to get him to stop bothering me.

I could’ve launched into an educational breakdown of what an insulin pump is and why my OmniPod looks the way it does.

I could’ve done any number of things, but instead I decided to say, “Oh, this is my insulin pump. I’ve got it decorated right now with a picture of a lighthouse because I like adding some style to it.” I smiled at him as a way of reassuring him that I really didn’t care that he was asking me, because I didn’t.

My straightforward answer seemed to please this random man. He told me again that he thought it was cool, and then we chatted a bit about where the lighthouse is and discovered we both have a connection to Massachusetts. Within a few brief moments, the conversation was over as we went our separate ways.

It was a perfectly harmless interaction that could’ve went a number of different ways, but to me, it’s all about context. This guy was just asking out of curiosity, and I truly don’t think he was trying to be rude about it. So I answered his question succinctly but good-naturedly, because I felt that was the only way to go about it in this busy party environment. Plus, let’s be real here…had I delved into a discussion about diabetes and devices, this drunk man probably wouldn’t have digested a single detail of my description. (Ahh, I love alliteration.) And another important point? He was damn right, my pump did look cool because of the lighthouse sticker!

But man, how much simpler it’d’ve been if I’d just been wearing my “THIS IS MY INSULIN PUMP” sticker on my pod that night.

Spare a Rose and Save a Life this Valentine’s Day

The world has turned upside down in the last couple of years, but some things remain the same. For instance, we still celebrate holidays and special occasions with those we love. And today just so happens to be a holiday that’s all about love!

Valentine’s Day…whether you adore or abhor the day, it exists. It’s a day that’s synonymous with chocolate, love, and flowers; more specifically, a dozen red roses.

A dozen red roses is a classic Valentine’s gift. But what if you received 11 roses in your bouquet, instead of 12? What if you knew that a rose was spared because the value of that flower helped provide insulin to someone who needs it to live?

I bet you wouldn’t mind getting one less rose in that case. And it might just make you like the holiday a little bit more!

Who knew that the value of a dozen roses could pay for a child with diabetes to live another year of life?

A little bit of history: Nearly 10 years ago, folks from the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) started the Spare a Rose campaign for the organization Life for a Child. This campaign was able to give insulin and diabetes supplies to children and young adults with T1D in under-resourced countries. Starting in 2022, these individuals looked at how they might be able to support all people with diabetes, seeing as the need for insulin and related supplies and care lasts well beyond childhood.

Thus, Spare a Rose, Save a Life was born! Donations to this campaign go to Insulin for Life, a charity that provides resources, education, and advocacy to many of the same under-resourced countries that were supported by the original Spare a Rose campaign.

It’s an absolutely wonderful idea that will positively impact – and save the lives of – even more people living with diabetes who need access to vital medication, supplies, and healthcare.

I’ve written about the Spare a Rose campaign for the last few years on this blog because it’s a beautiful way to celebrate a day that makes some swoon and others sick to their stomachs. A common complaint among people in this day and age is that too many holidays are all about raking in the dough for companies like Hallmark; in other words, most holidays have lost their original meaning and have become too commercialized.

So here’s your chance to bring back some significance to Valentine’s Day. In the light of the health challenges the world has collectively faced in the last couple of years, it’s more important than ever that we do all that we can to help people with diabetes access life-saving supplies and care.

Learn more about Insulin for Life, Spare a Rose, and donate here.

Reflecting on National Diabetes Awareness Month 2021

Well, we’ve arrived at the end of another November, which means National Diabetes Awareness Month is drawing to a close.

What a time it’s been.

Another NDAM has come and gone.

I don’t know about you or anyone else, but it seems like all of my social media feeds were saturated with diabetes content all month long. This is due in part to my job, for sure, but outside of that it felt like diabetes was everywhere online. And overall, that’s a really great thing! To me, it shows that our community has a great sense of pride in our ability to be advocates and to dispel myths about a largely invisible and mostly misunderstood chronic illness.

The teensy-weensy downside to all that, though, is that I felt like a bit of a failure compared to everyone else.

Like I said earlier this month, I simply didn’t have the time or bandwidth to commit to anything specific for NDAM. The desire was there, but I didn’t think it would be right to participate in any daily postings or activities if the intention behind them was lacking authenticity. In other words, I didn’t want to be going through the motions this month of being a “good” advocate, I wanted anything that I did to serve the dual purpose of coming from the heart while also making a positive impact in the diabetes awareness space.

I’d like to think that I accomplished that, but as I inevitably saw the countless other posts from all the other incredible diabetes advocates in our online community, I still couldn’t help feeling like I could’ve tried harder. I could’ve devised a plan ahead of time to do something more significant…but I didn’t.

I guess it’s beginning to dawn on me that diabetes blogs are fewer and far between than they were a mere 5 years ago. I know there are other devoted diabetes bloggers out there, but it feels a lot lonelier than it did when I first started as people turn more and more to the more visually stimulating environments of Instagram and TikTok. Because of this, I think I’m my own worst critic – because I choose to blog about diabetes instead of posting about it in any other format, I fear that I’m not having the impact that I yearned to have on our community, thereby rendering anything I have to say on here semi-pointless.

However, just because I’m experiencing these feelings, it doesn’t mean I’m ready to cease blogging or believe that my form of diabetes advocacy is unacceptable. In fact, I think that in writing this post, I’m also realizing that diabetes advocacy is just like diabetes itself – there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. It will look different on all individuals.

So maybe that’s the attitude and energy I carry away from this NDAM and into the coming year…one that allows me to embrace the kind of diabetes advocacy that I enjoy, that I (hope) am good at, and that continues to connect me with others all around our community.

What I Wish People Knew About Life with Diabetes

As National Diabetes Awareness Month speeds by in a lightning-fast pace, I keep finding myself going back to this question: What do I wish people knew about life with diabetes?

My answer to this question changes depending on the kind of day and experiences I’m having with my diabetes. For example, on the occasions that I have a pod failure or my Dexcom loses signal for hours, I wish that people knew life with diabetes is marked by a dependence on technology. When I have several bad low blood sugars in the middle of the night, I wish that people knew life with diabetes means you lose out on a lot of sleep. And the times that it seems like I live at the doctor’s office or spend all my spare time on the phone with insurance companies, I wish that people knew life with diabetes can be a giant (and expensive) time suck.

While there’s obviously a lot that I wish people knew about life with diabetes, I think that I can identify the number one, most important thing that I wish people knew…and that is: life with diabetes is unpredictable. No matter how many years I’ve lived with it, no matter how often I think that I’m doing the right thing in my care for it, it can still prove me wrong all the time. It’s challenging, frustrating, stressful, and draining, and I really wish that people realized how much work it requires to have diabetes. It’s not as simple as counting carbs, injecting insulin, and eating right – it demands mental and physical energy in order to care for it properly, and people living with diabetes don’t ever get a break from that.

I do my best to smile, even when diabetes is at peak unpredictability.

Despite that, I try to smile through it all…because diabetes and its curveballs are a lot easier to handle with a positive mindset. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that people knew how difficult it can be, too.

Happy National Diabetes Awareness Month!

It’s that time of year again – National Diabetes Awareness Month!

Did you know that the blue circle is the universal symbol for diabetes? It represents the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the rising number of people affected by diabetes.

I’m not sure if it’s because I work for a diabetes organization now, but sheesh, this month seems to have arrived more suddenly than it ever has. I’d say it’s caught me off guard, but after literally months of preparing for it as part of my job, it’s really just got me marveling over how fast time flies.

It’s also got me reflecting on how I’ve participated in NDAM in the past. Previously, I’ve done daily postings on my Hugging the Cactus Instagram account and replied to various prompts throughout the four weeks here on the blog.

This year, I’m not so sure I have the bandwidth to dive so deeply into the spirit of the month – but that doesn’t mean I’m mentally checking out of it altogether.

Rather, I’m plan on being more intentional in my approach. Instead of replying to daily prompts (that, over the course of the month, start feeling like homework – in other words, an unenjoyable task), I’d like to post when I feel like I actually have something to say. I don’t want to post filler content, I want to post things that are meaningful and capture my feelings about diabetes, NDAM, and the broader diabetes community.

That’s not a knock on the everyday post inspiration that many members of the DOC take part in – I think it’s wonderful that they have fun with it and use it as a very effective way to raise diabetes awareness throughout the month. It’s just that for me, as someone who’s been part of digital NDAM activities for the better part of a decade (!!!) now, it’s time that I mix up my routine a bit and also step back so I don’t spend all of my mental diabetes energy on NDAM in lieu of my actual diabetes care.

Here’s to deliberate diabetes awareness and care this month!

Redirecting Guilt into Action: A Post by Elizabeth Roosevelt

This post was written by Elizabeth Roosevelt and it originally appeared on the T1International blog on July 16, 2021. I wanted to share it here today because Elizabeth did a beautiful job of summing up similar sentiments that I’ve personally experienced regarding insulin affordability and access. Thank you for sharing, Elizabeth, and know that many others feel the same way as you!

“We can discuss our technology, diabetes and Covid-19, our experiences with insulin affordability; anything you would like,” Beth, who oversees and organizes the T1International Digital Advocates, echoes through the Zoom during our Digital Advocate meet and greet.

A little embarrassed, I think to myself, “please, not our experiences with insulin affordability.”

As someone living with type one diabetes for fourteen years and a Digital Advocate for T1International since August 2020, it sounds like a conflict of interest that I wouldn’t want to share my experiences accessing insulin – a drug that saves my life each day. After all, this is a major goal of T1International: to advocate for global access to insulin.

It sounds like I shouldn’t be an advocate.

“This prompted me to seek organizations like T1International where I could not only learn more about healthcare inequalities that impact my own community but also fight for change.”

In reality, I’m just a little nervous. I am nineteen years old, was diagnosed with type one diabetes at age five, and have always lived in the United States. Growing up, I had no idea where my insulin came from, but I knew it would be there, delivered to my front door in an unassuming cardboard box with a few neon biohazard labels slapped on the top.

Every time I opened the refrigerator to grab insulin for a pump site change, a few vials of Novolog would be perfectly lined up on the top shelf. Each time I swung the cabinet open to reach for a new infusion set, the supplies were there, waiting for me. When packing for vacation, I never thought twice about having enough supplies back-stocked in my house to take with me.

When I wanted to switch from the Medtronic pump to the OmniPod, the thought that the OmniPod might be more expensive never crossed my mind. Money didn’t grow on trees, but my parents always made it happen. And for that I am eternally grateful and blessed.

So, if the other advocates started sharing their experiences with insulin affordability on that Zoom, I’m not sure what I would’ve said. That I’ve never had an issue with it? That I didn’t know insulin affordability was a pressing problem in the United States until a few years ago, when Instagram posts by Senator Bernie Sanders and diabetes influencers began to pop up on my feed, explaining that Big Pharma was killing Americans, especially those with diabetes? It was only when our country’s flawed healthcare system made headlines that I noticed I seemed to be in a position many American diabetics were not.

This ignited a spark in me. It didn’t seem fair that just because I was born into a family that could afford private insurance to cover my diabetes costs I could do just about anything a person without diabetes could do. I could study and work to the best of my ability because a high blood sugar wasn’t slowing down my mind. This prompted me to seek organizations like T1International where I could not only learn more about healthcare inequalities that impact my own community but also fight for change.

Because I’ve had access to technology that allows me to sleep through the night and insulin delivered to my doorstep, I sometimes feel like less of a person with diabetes (PWD) and guilty of my privilege. While all people with type one struggle with the condition in some shape or form, I find myself invalidating my challenges because I tell myself I have it much easier. And in many ways, I do. I’ve grown up as a privileged white person in an affluent neighborhood, sheltered from the reality that very few people have access to insulin as I do, especially under the heavy, capitalist-driven policies of the United States.

However, I’ve learned that having it easier than others is not something to be embarrassed about nor does it make me less of a PWD. Instead, it is a responsibility.

It’s crucial that those of us who have access to insulin use our platform and privilege to fight for our community and for the people with diabetes who are solely focused on surviving. We must serve as the voice for the people with diabetes who can’t use their own because they’re bogged down working three jobs and choosing between putting food on the table for their family or insulin.

Maybe this fighting takes the form of educating our friends, family members, and colleagues about the disparities in insulin access through discussion or educational posts on social media. Or maybe, it’s collecting near-empty insulin vials and diabetes supplies in your community to help provide short term relief to struggling diabetics. Or perhaps, it’s calling the offices of or requesting meetings with your districts congressional representatives to urge their support of regulating legislation.

Whichever way our fighting takes shape, we must redirect the guilt we feel over our privilege into a heightened sense of advocacy, into change, into a fire that spurs our movement forward and pushes the established healthcare system towards equality.

#insulin4all truly means for all, and until all those who need insulin have access to it, our work isn’t done.

People with Diabetes are Good at Minimizing

I attended a Massachusetts #insulin4all meeting recently that got me thinking about how good people with diabetes tend to be at minimizing.

I speak for myself, and some other people with diabetes I know, when I say that we’re really good at making it seem like it’s not a big deal. We manage a 24/7, 365 chronic condition like it’s not the full-time job that it is. I have family and friends who occasionally pick up on this and marvel at my ability to be present in a myriad of social situations while discreetly watching my blood sugar levels or calculating insulin dosages. I rarely act like diabetes is as serious as it is and that’s because I’ve become an expert at making it seem like small potatoes in my life.

And I’m not just good at minimizing my diabetes – I’m also highly proficient in minimizing the fact that it has forced me to make difficult decisions in my life, particularly when it comes to financial choices.

Over the years, I’ve become excellent at downplaying the impact of diabetes on many aspects of my life.

During this #insulin4all meeting, I was conversing with other chapter members about whether or not we, as individuals, have struggled to afford insulin. And a lot of us confessed that we’ve been pretty lucky and have never really had to resort to making truly difficult choices when it comes to affording insulin or other diabetes supplies. Despite that, we feel passionately about those who struggle to gain access because we understand how high the stakes are – it’s literally a matter of life or death.

But just because we’re able to (for the most part) afford insulin, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had to make certain choices that we might not have had to make if we didn’t have diabetes.

For example, when it comes to my career, I’d never consider a job that doesn’t offer solid health insurance plans. Even if my strongest desire was to be a freelance writer, I wouldn’t go through with it because I know that it would be challenging to figure out my health insurance. And I know that the minute I run out of FSA dollars each year, I start thinking about setting money aside just to cover the costs of my diabetes supplies…which means that instead of buying some new clothes or planning a weekend getaway, I sometimes have to sacrifice those luxuries in favor of ensuring I have enough money to cover my fixed expenses as well as my diabetes medications.

When I think about it, of course I realize that it’s not fair, but haven’t really considered it before because this is just how it is. I’m used to it. And so are many other members of my #insulin4all chapter. We’re all accustomed to having to make certain choices about our lifestyles or spending habits that minimize the larger issue of insulin affordability. We’re used to it, even accepting of it, but that doesn’t make it right and it certainly underscores the terrifying fact that too many people simply can’t afford insulin and have to make much tougher decisions in order to get it.

It’s time to become a little less good about minimizing and better at vocalizing – not just the seriousness of diabetes, but also the dire nature of insulin affordability and access that affects millions around the world.

Underrepresented Communities and Navigating the System – A Post by Alzahrra Almajid

This was originally published on the T1International blog on June 8, 2021 and it is written by Alzahrra Almajid. I decided to share it on Hugging the Cactus because it is my goal to understand the challenges faced by the BIPOC community and learn what can be done to help. Alzahrra’s experience is a massive wake-up call that we still have a long way to go when it comes to advocating for marginalized groups. Thank you to Alzahrra for sharing her story.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 8 years old. Having parents who were immigrants from Iraq and people of color was especially hard in navigating diabetes. My mom dealt with a lot of demeaning comments from healthcare providers because she was not taken seriously. In the initial months after diagnosis, her ability to care for me and help manage this new disease was often questioned. It felt like they thought she was too incompetent to understand how diabetes is treated. I remember how disrespected and vulnerable I felt because of the tone doctors spoke to us with.

When I was about eleven years old, I was hospitalized for having a high fever and diabetic keto-acidosis (DKA). On the second day of my stay at the hospital, a nurse asked me if I was purposely not giving myself insulin because it “did not make sense” that my blood sugars were still elevated. I was stunned by how demeaning that comment was. I felt so belittled in that moment that it has stuck with me all these years. Why would I want to feel that way? How could I fake it if the nurses were the ones administering my insulin at the hospital? It turned out I had an infection that was causing the high blood sugars and fever so no, I was not purposely not giving myself insulin. After that day, I started to notice how different my life was compared to other diabetics I met.

Alzahrra noticed her experience with diabetes was very different compared to that of other people with diabetes she has met.

There was not much awareness about type one diabetes in my community so it was difficult for me and my mom to find resources about what treatments were out there. We were not aware of what an insulin pump was or what a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) was. We had no idea that they even existed until I began to research diabetes on my own when I was about eleven years old. Only after I mentioned insulin pumps to my doctor, did we start discussing them as a viable option. When I learned about CGMs later on, I wanted one so bad because I was certain it would help my elevated A1cs. However, after hearing how much it cost, I knew that it was nearly impossible to get it.

Seven years after my diagnosis my brother was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes which made the already bad financial burden worse. Although all people with diabetes struggle with how expensive diabetes can be, immigrants and people of color often do not have access to quality health insurance (or any access) so they are less likely to benefit from advanced diabetes technology. As I got older I began to understand how difficult it is to navigate a system that makes it harder for people in underrepresented communities to get adequate care.

I knew from early on that I wanted to advocate for marginalized groups. Being a person with type 1 diabetes is already mentally draining and expensive. When you add the challenges of navigating through racial or ethnic disparities, diabetes becomes agonizing. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) deserve to have representation in the diabetes community and have their concerns addressed. They deserve the same level of care and access to resources that their white counterparts have. I chose to become a Communities of Color Lead for the Illinois #insulin4all Chapters because I want to influence positive change by making sure BIPOC are not left out of the conversation.