Happy 10th Birthday, College Diabetes Network!!!

Tomorrow, one of my favorite diabetes non-profits – the College Diabetes Network (CDN) – celebrates its 10th birthday!

All I can say is…wow. A whole decade of CDN doing beyond amazing, impactful things for the diabetes community.

Happy 10th Birthday, College Diabetes Network!!!
Congratulations on 10 absolutely fantastic years to my friends at CDN.

I’m not an active member of an existing CDN chapter today, but I used to be. In fact, I was the President of the UMass Amherst chapter of the CDN for close to three years when I was an undergrad there. And it just so happens that my time as President coincides with the time that CDN was really just beginning, meaning that it’s been my honor and privilege to witness it thrive from its origin.

I will never, ever forget being coerced – I mean, attending – a talk at a local college with my mom in which college students and parents sat together on a panel and spoke to high school students (like me, at the time) about the college experience…mainly, how to handle the transition from having my parents help me manage my diabetes to gaining more independence and accountability for it as a young adult away from home.

At this talk, I met Tina Roth, the founder and CEO of CDN. Actually, I didn’t just meet her – we chatted for a bit about how I was going to her alma mater, UMass Amherst, and that there was this little group on campus there called the College Diabetes Network. She told me I should check it out in the fall and think about joining in case I had the desire for peer support when it came to juggling diabetes and college life.

I didn’t know it then, but that conversation and my subsequent action to attend a CDN meeting changed my life.

Through my involvement with CDN, I was introduced and understood for the first time in my life the value of peer support when living with type 1 diabetes. As someone who rejected it her entire childhood, it was brand-new to me as an adult and an incredibly powerful tool that I believe helped me navigate college as a PWD in an informed, healthy, positive, and self-assured way. 

My involvement with CDN gave me confidence: as both a student leader and as a person living with diabetes.

My involvement with CDN gave me exposure: to other students just like me across the country, to new technologies, to resources that improved my quality of life.

My involvement with CDN gave me a career path, for goodness’s sake: It reinforced that I’m a writer. I became a T1D blogger through an opportunity that became available to me because of CDN. I was able to put both my CDN leadership experience as well as my blogging skills on my resume that lead me to the full-time job that I have today. 

My involvement with CDN gave me so much more, too…lifelong friendships being among the most important. I met the most inspiring, motivated, intelligent, and kind people through CDN. I love keeping up with them via social media and pre-2020, I was even able to catch up with some of them in person. And I can’t wait for the day that we can do that again.

There is no doubt in my mind that CDN changed my life. And I’m just one person. To think that they’ve continued to grow and expand, with more and more chapters being created at colleges across the country, and more and more people learning about their mission to provide young adults with T1D the peer connections they value, and expert resources they need, to successfully manage the challenging transition to independence at college and beyond.

Happy birthday, CDN. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, and thank you for all that you continue to do for countless young adults. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years look like for you!

As a 10th birthday gift, please consider donating to the CDN using this link – I can promise you that the cause is more than worthy and that the CDN will continue to do wonderful work for our community with your support.

 

What Every Parent of a T1D Child Needs to Know

I may not be the parent of a T1D child, but I am the T1D child of my parents. So I have a unique perspective on the concerns and fears that a parent of a T1D child might have.

I also have a little more insight on these concerns and fears through my interactions with many parents of T1D children over the years. These parents had children of all ages: from toddler to teenager. Their children ranged from newly diagnosed with diabetes to multi-year veteran of T1D. Despite these differences in ages and years with diabetes, they’ve all had something major in common: An intense fear over the day when their child would make the transition from living under their roof to living independently, on a college campus or in another living situation.

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The mere thought of their beloved son or daughter going through this was enough to make some of these parents on the verge of tears. It was heartbreaking, but also somewhat confusing to me. I understand the unconditional love that parents have for their children, so naturally, they were terrified at the thought of their children feeling alone as they made the transition to young adulthood, or frightened by the prospect of their children suddenly not wanting to take care of their diabetes anymore. But what I didn’t get was why they automatically assumed the worst.

What if their child thrived in this transition? What if their child found a wonderful group of people, such as the College Diabetes Network, that helped them through this period in life (like I did)? What if their child was ready to manage everything on his or her own? Certainly, it would be a source of pride for a parent to witness his or her child do well and embrace independence.

On the flip side, if a young adult with T1D struggled to make the transition smooth…well, I told many of these parents that it’s okay. Because I struggled. A lot, actually. But I made it through. The longer I spent away from home, the more I realized that it was time for me to hold myself accountable in terms of diabetes management. There was never really any big “aha” moment for me. It was more of a slow-and-steady recognition of the fact that the shitty blood sugars I was constantly dealing with could only be changed by me, and me alone. So I took the steps I needed to; naturally, with the support of my parents.

I guess that’s kind of the two-fold message I’m trying to convey here to worried parents of T1D children: 1) Have faith in your child’s ability to adapt to change, and 2) Never underestimate how your support, in any form, can mean the world to your child. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with him/her so you can get on the same page and understand how you’re both feeling about this new life stage. That way, you can find out exactly what kind of support you can offer to your child that he/she will find most helpful.

The bottom line: Parents with T1D children, it’ll be okay. Just like people with diabetes know they’re not alone in their struggle against it, you should also know that there are many other parents out there who probably feel the same as you.

In that way, we’re never truly alone when dealing with new challenges or changes in our lives. Once that’s realized, it becomes a million times easier to figure out the best way to tackle them with your support system by your side.

T1D and Peer Support: Because of CDN…

This blog post is a response to a prompt provided by my friends at the College Diabetes Network, who are celebrating College Diabetes Week from November 12-16. Even though I’m no longer in college, I like to participate in CDW activities as much as possible to show my support for the CDN!

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In my last Memory Monday, I touched on how CDN changed my life. But I didn’t go into great detail on how, exactly.

CDN was my first leadership opportunity as a young adult. In college, I became President of the UMass Amherst chapter of the CDN. That role came with tons of responsibilities: organizing meetings, recruiting new members, creating a constitution, getting approval from the student government, keeping track of chapter finances, electing an executive board…it was exhausting! But I was passionate about it and wanted to see it succeed, so I threw myself into the work of running a chapter. I took my role as a leader seriously, but also wanted to make sure that the group benefited everyone who decided to join it. I did my best to listen to member feedback and apply it accordingly to group meetings and activities, which I think shows that I’m a receptive leader.

And my involvement as a chapter leader is what brought me so many friendships. That’s because I was able to attend the inaugural CDN student retreat during my final year of college. That’s where I met student leaders just like me from colleges across the country. We commiserated on the hardships of running chapters as well as the challenges of having diabetes in college, and straight-up bonded for the few days we spent together. I felt that the retreat helped me come out of my shell a bit, and only molded me into a more confident leader with more resources than before that could help me run my chapter most effectively.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m eternally grateful for all the wonderful people and opportunities that CDN has brought into my life.

What I Wish I Knew When I was Diagnosed with Diabetes

This blog post is a response to a prompt provided by my friends at the College Diabetes Network, who are celebrating College Diabetes Week from November 12-16. Even though I’m no longer in college, I like to participate in CDW activities as much as possible to show my support for the CDN!

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I was four years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I don’t have many memories from that fateful trip to the hospital. Since it was Christmas Eve, my only real concern was whether I’d be home in time to enjoy Santa’s visit!

But in the nearly 21 years that I’ve had diabetes, I’ve come to learn that there’s so many things I would have liked to know at diagnosis. I didn’t truly understand what my diagnosis meant at that young age…I don’t think I realized how it would forever change my life. I was probably more frightened than anything else, since I was being poked and prodded by seemingly endless needles.

That said, I wish I could’ve told that four year old girl that having diabetes would make me stronger. Every single needle that I was stuck with would help me fight against this disease. Everything that was physical about diabetes would make me mentally stronger. The kind of strength it imparts is a different breed, one that’s difficult to describe, but one that I’m strangely grateful to have.

It always sounds slightly weird to say that I’m grateful for something associated with diabetes, but that’s what Hugging the Cactus is all about: taking the good with the bad and embracing it for what it is.

CDN Creates New Guide for Young Adults Entering the Workforce

In 2014, I learned that I was eligible to graduate college one semester earlier than expected. The prospect should have excited me, but it made me more anxious than anything else. I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I’d be starting my career sooner than I planned. The thought terrified me. Questions coursed through my mind: How would I adjust to an entirely new daily routine? Would my employer be okay with my diabetes? How should I handle it when it inevitably comes up with my new colleagues? Was I really and truly ready for this?

I can’t emphasize enough how valuable the latest resource from the College Diabetes Network (CDN), the Off to Work Guide, would have been as I made this scary transition.

This new addition to CDN’s Guides is chock full of information for young professionals. In tandem with current CDN students, CDN alumni, and professional resources, CDN has crafted a guide that contains both advice and facts intended to help readers worry less, learn how to be prepared for the workplace, and make a healthy and successful transition into adult life. It covers everything from writing a resume to navigating health insurance options with an employer, and it even features general financial planning advice that could benefit more seasoned professional individuals.

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As I read through the Guide for the first time, I found myself appreciating the sections that talked about workplace rights and networking. There are many legal rights that people with diabetes have as it pertains to the workforce, but I wasn’t familiar with most of them. The Guide presents this information in a way that’s easy to read and less intimidating. And it helped me be more comfortable with the word “disability” and what it means in a professional environment.

The networking section was also a great addition to the Guide. It covered both networking with others in the diabetes community as well as networking at professional events. I learned about several different ways I can keep up with my T1D peers now that I’m a CDN alum. From online groups to in-person meetups, there’s a bunch of options available to young professionals like me who value staying in contact with the diabetes community. Plus, there were some useful tips on how to handle social events when networking in a professional setting (and you’re not around other T1Ds). Check out this section and you’ll see quotes from yours truly on how to find a balance between networking on both a diabetes and non-diabetes level!

The Guide also features several other sections, including one about mental health, one with on the job tips, and one that details the steps to take after getting employment. Beyond that, the Guide covers so much more.

If you’ll be graduating college soon and you’re nervous about joining the professional world, don’t worry. You’re not alone in how you feel. CDN’s Guide contains all the information, advice, and materials you’ll want to know as begin this next chapter in life. And take it from me, someone who’s been through it already: This transition should excite you more than anything else. Don’t let your fears get in the way as you embark on your career path, and don’t let your diabetes deter you from pursuing your professional and personal goals. You can do this!

Request your free copy of the Guide now! https://www.tfaforms.com/4676766

Diabetes Connections: Gym Edition

“Are you a diabetic?” Despite the fact that I was wearing earbuds, I heard the question that was undoubtedly being directed toward me.

I glanced to my right and met the gaze of the teenage girl on the treadmill next to me. I smiled, tugging an earbud out, and said, “Yes, I am. My OmniPod gave it away, didn’t it?”

She nodded eagerly. “I have a Medtronic pump, but I know what an OmniPod looks like. When I saw it, I had to say something to you.”

This marked the beginning of what wound up being a thirty minute interaction with Shae, a high school senior with bucketloads of energy and questions for me about life with diabetes. We specifically chatted about college, and I couldn’t resist telling her all about the College Diabetes Network and what a useful tool it was for me during my three and a half years at UMass. The more we spoke, the more it felt like I was looking at a mirror image of myself from seven years ago. She had just finished taking her AP Psych exam and was relieved it was done. Her senior prom was in a few days, and she described how she’d wear her pump while donning her fancy gown. She was excited about college, but a little nervous about the dreaded “Freshman 15” and whether her diabetes would adjust well to college dining halls.

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It’s so funny to think how something as crappy as diabetes can introduce so many amazing people into your life.

I did my best to answer Shae’s rapid-fire questions frankly but reassuringly. As I told her about how much my CGM helped me in college (especially since I was still on multiple daily injection therapy at that time), she exclaimed that I was inspiring her to want to give her CGM another shot (pun unintended – I love spontaneous diabetes humor).

As we parted ways, we both grinned broadly and wished one another well. This is why moments like this – diabetes in the wild – are so great. Diabetes instantly bonds you to a stranger who you might not otherwise ever interact with, and the beauty in that immediate connection is priceless.

Disclosing Diabetes in the Workplace

Almost two years ago, my friends from the College Diabetes Network asked me to discuss diabetes in the workplace at their annual student retreat. The prospect of bringing diabetes into a new career and encountering new sets of challenges can seem daunting, so I was happy to talk about my positive experiences thus far as a young adult who has already made the transition from college to “the real world”.

Diabetes in the workplace – how do I navigate it? Here’s a little snippet in which I explain how I’ve decided to disclose my diabetes with my coworkers:

College Diabetes Week Day 5: My Advice to a High School Student with Diabetes

My final post for College Diabetes Week 2017…already?!

Here’s the prompt:

What advice would you give a high school student with diabetes preparing for college?

I would tell a T1D high school student who’s bound for college that these next four years are going to be some of the most formative, exciting, and opportunity-filled years in their life. Don’t take them for granted!!! With everything that will happen in college, it’s beyond important to prioritize health. Take care of your mental and physical health as well as your diabetes. Self-care works wonders on all aspects of your health, so don’t deprive yourself of it.

Do things for you. Explore. Share with others. Seek support when you need it. You are NEVER alone and there’s no shame in asking for help from others. Remember that the people who love us want the best for us and often WANT to help us – they just don’t always know how they can do that. So tell them how they can show support for you. You and your support system will thrive as long as you’re willing to share with one another.

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Hey, it’s me! Here I am giving some advice in a video featured on CDN’s YouTube channel.

Before I wrap up my blogging for College Diabetes Week 2017, I want to tell all students who are involved with CDN that they are amazing. I love seeing the various activities that CDN Chapters across the country are working on throughout the school year. These students are innovators and sources of inspiration – true assets to the diabetes community. Know that your work doesn’t go unnoticed! As a CDN alum, it makes me proud to see the national CDN and its dozens of Chapters flourish.

A Discussion about T1D, Mental Health, and Body Image with CDN

Last night, the College Diabetes Network hosted a Facebook Live that brought together a panel of young adults with T1D, psychologists, and special guests who discussed the mental health issues associated with diabetes. The conversation lasted just over an hour and a half, with viewers chiming in throughout to get their questions answered by the panel.

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Missed the Facebook Live? Visit the College Diabetes Network’s Facebook page to watch the whole video.

The topics covered by the panel included depression, burnout, anxiety, ADHD, and disordered eating vs. eating disorders. Incredible stories, insights, and tidbits of advice were shared as the panelists opened up to viewers and honestly answered the questions that were asked.

Several responses from the panel stood out to me, and I’d like to share what was said and why it affected me…

On T1D as a psychologically and behaviorally demanding stress in your life:

The idea of perfectionism…and you have to be perfect at everything, and transitioning into having to go into college, get good grades, do well, and plan for a successful career…and having diabetes also be a factor is overwhelming and can cause people to go into a state of ignoring it. -Karly

I related to this because I’ve always tried to be a perfectionist, in all facets of my life. Karly’s take on diabetes being an unwanted, demanding, and additional stress factor resonated with me because I also view it as just another thing in life that I have to try to handle perfectly – which, of course, is impossible when it comes to a chronic condition with a mind of its own.

On the concept of lowering expectations and setting goals:

It’s less about lowering expectations and more about establishing expectations that are real…Also, the way that diabetes is taught, I personally think is absolutely incorrect. Patients and loved ones are taught that blood glucose can be controlled…and that it responds to an algebra equation…what your insulin to carb ratio and what your sensitivity factor is can land you directly into the target, but what we know is the target is a zone, not a bull’s eye. And we don’t teach it that way. -Ann

I loved how Ann phrased that part I put in bold – I grew up thinking that I had to have my blood sugars right on the money at all times. If it was higher or lower than say, 120, I was failing (this ties in with that perfectionist attitude I was just talking about). But to hear her acknowledge that this way of thinking shouldn’t be taught was validating to me.

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On the fear and anxiety of losing control from low blood sugar:

During a workout…whenever I was making progress, it seemed like something just pulled me right back…because of that, I started training high, purposely. I would start training in the high 100s, to almost the 200s, which is not good at all…I had to become conscious of that…because of my fear of lows [and feeling like I’m about to die]…I intentionally made myself high. -Jiggy

Working out has always been a challenge for me, and my fear of lows during a workout is pretty intense. To hear that Jiggy responds to that in the exact same way as me made me feel not so alone.

On accepting mistakes and that you’re not perfect:

Remember that you were never meant to perform this function. Your body was meant to perform this function. You are trying to take over from something that your body was supposed to do for you…remember you’re a human being [who is] being asked to do something you weren’t supposed to do. -Will

Yes, yes, YES. Will could not have said it better. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s not easy to take over a job that your body is supposed to do for you automatically as a biological function. You just need to try to do the best that you can, and not beat yourself up when you don’t always get desirable results.

A major thank you to William Jennette, Karly Kroeten, Jiggy Yoon, Aaron Sherman, Heather Levy, Ellen O’Donnell, Ann Goebel-Fabbri, and Quinn Nystrom for volunteering their time to get together for this Facebook Live, as well as for being vulnerable for perfect strangers on the Internet. I know it’s not easy to share personal stories, but the integrity and eloquence displayed by each panelist made for a powerful live video.

The College Diabetes Network’s website contains a variety of information on how you or a loved one can cope with the mental health challenges of diabetes. Visit their page to access materials that help explain touchy topics, as well as additional resources.

College Diabetes Week Day 4: Triumphs in the Face of Diabetes

Happy Thursday! Let’s shift the mood a bit from yesterday’s challenging post to a more upbeat one:

Share your triumphs! How have you tackled the challenges you’ve faced relating to diabetes and college? What did college and diabetes teach you as a person?

I wrote about how I excelled in college despite my diabetes last year, so this year I’m going to write about how I’ve triumphed in the “real world”. The major challenges I’ve tackled, and succeeded in, include:

  • Landing my first “real world” job. There’s many aspects to this accomplishment that make me proud: I’ve gained experience writing in a professional setting, I’ve been able to pay off my student loans, and I’ve thrived in this environment. But what I feel especially triumphant about is the fact that my diabetes has NEVER interfered with my job. I’m always able to turn in assignments on time and I’ve never had a bad hypo while at work. Diabetes is seldom my reason for not feeling well, and I’m fortunate to be working with a group of kind, caring, and inquisitive individuals who support me and my diabetes.
  • Overcoming my fear of traveling alone. Three years post-graduation, I’ve flown on more planes than I can actually count. I’ll estimate that I travel every other month, mainly for personal reasons, but the first time I did it alone was far from easy. My anxiety was through the roof and I was beyond paranoid, constantly rifling through my bags to quadruple-check that I had all my supplies and breathing shakily during take-offs. Rather than dwell on how nervous I used to be, though, I prefer to remind myself that I continue to travel in spite of all this.
  • Launching my own diabetes blog. This recent triumph is one that I’m especially proud of. I was incredibly hesitant for a long time to create my own blog. Many times, I had to remind myself why it was important for me to just go ahead and do it. These reasons include 1) I wanted to share a more personal side of my diabetes experience, 2) I hoped to reach a wider audience and foster more connections in the diabetes community, and 3) I desired a creative outlet through which I could share my story. Though it’s been scary at times to be so vulnerable on my blog, I’ve greatly enjoyed having one of my own and look forward to improving it in the future.

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My 10-year Lilly medal is a tangible representation of my diabetes triumphs – next month, it’ll be 20 years!

Speaking of things to look forward to, I can’t wait to see what kinds of triumphs (both diabetes-related and otherwise) I’ll be able to claim this time next year!