My New Role as Community Engagement Manager at the College Diabetes Network

This blog post was written by me and it was originally published on the CDN website on June 8, 2021. I just wrapped up my first week as their new Community Engagement Manager, so I figured it’d be fitting to share the post I wrote for their website here so my readers can get a better understanding of what this role means to me! Read on for more…

Growing up, I wanted nothing to do with diabetes. My parents and doctors encouraged me to attend diabetes camp so I could meet and make friends with T1D peers, but I stubbornly resisted the notion…until it was time for me to go off to college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I was nervous about making this transition, but this changed when I had a chance encounter with someone named Christina Roth. She told me all about a group she started when she attended UMass herself: And that happened to be the College Diabetes Network.

In September 2011, I attended my very first CDN chapter meeting and I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to hang out with people my age who knew exactly what it’s like to live with diabetes. I was hooked and wanted to make as many connections as possible! In my three-and-a-half years at UMass, I served as the Chapter President and started writing for an online diabetes magazine in my spare time.

CDN…the best thing since insulin.

When I graduated, I put diabetes work on the backburner and started my career as an Editor in the financial technology industry. But I still kept in touch with my contacts at CDN and volunteered at the annual student retreats and provided my editorial skills to some of their resource guides. Eventually, I missed actively forging connections within the diabetes community, so I decided to blend this with my love for writing/creating content by launching my own diabetes blog, Hugging the Cactus, in October 2017. My blog has cultivated and deepened my relationships within the diabetes community, and by choosing to leave the corporate world behind and officially joining the CDN team, I will continue to do so on a new, exciting level as the Community Engagement Manager.

I’m thrilled to be part of an organization that has given me confidence, skills, connections, and so much more over the years. I can’t wait to jump into all things CDN and help provide young adults with what they need in order to live their best lives, despite diabetes!

Change is on the Horizon

In the last year and a half, change and I have grown to be more than just acquaintances: We’re very good friends now.

The big changes that I’ve experienced in that span of time (to name just a few) include buying my first home, getting my puppy, Violet, and naturally, coping with the numerous ripples of change that were brought about by the pandemic. As someone who has always found comfort in the “known”, these changes made me anxious and scared because of all of the uncertainties associated with them…but they also taught me that I’m capable of adapting to them.

So I figured, why not add one more change into the mix?

Another big change is headed my way.

Today is my last day with my employer of the last six and a half years. On Monday, I start a brand-new job at an organization that means a lot to me, one that I’ve happened to write about here many times before…

…and that is the College Diabetes Network!

I’m pleased to share that I’ll be joining the talented CDN team as their new Community Engagement Manager.

This job represents so much to me. It’s a career shift, for sure, but it’s a shift into a field that obviously is very near and dear to my heart. I’m excited to see how my personal passion, advocacy skills, and creative energy will translate to this professional role. And I’m even more thrilled to know that I will be working with an absolutely amazing group of individuals, both internally within CDN and externally with a community that I care so much about.

While I will miss my colleagues from my now-former employer very much, I do feel that taking this opportunity with CDN is the best possible decision I could’ve made. It feels like a dream come true. I’m honored that I was selected for this role and I am determined to achieve a lot with it.

For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to going to work on Monday and starting this new chapter…and I really can’t wait to see (and share) what the CDN team and I will accomplish in the future!

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.

 

Looking Back on my First Diabetes Conference

This post was originally published on July 18, 2013, on the ASweetLife website. Since I’m away on vacation this week, and it also happens to be the week of the 2020 CWD FFL conference, I thought it’d be fun to look back on the diabetes conferences I’ve attended in the last seven years. I got very nostalgic when reading this old post – all the feelings that I had during that week rushed back at me. To this day, I feel so lucky that I got to go and meet so many amazing people with diabetes – many of whom have literally become my friends for life. Read on for my full conference experience…

Children With Diabetes Friends for Life Conference 2013: A First-Timer’s Report

I was the kind of diabetic child who refused to attend any sort of diabetes camps or events. I always told myself, I don’t need any diabetic friends. I can do this by myself. And I wasn’t exactly alone with my diabetes. My mother has type 1 diabetes, too. We’ve always had a diabetic partnership, and for most of my life that has been enough of a support system for me.

However, as years have gone on I have become more comfortable with the diabetic part of my identity, so much so that I joined the College Diabetes Network (CDN) last year, an organization whose mission is to empower and improve the lives of students living with type 1 diabetes through peer support and access to information and resources. Through CDN I started meeting other diabetics my age, and was blown away by how refreshing it was to chat with them about the daily challenges of living with diabetes as a college student. And thanks to CDN, I learned about an opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend the Children With Diabetes Friends for Life conference in Orlando, Florida. The CDN team, Christina Roth and Jo Treitman, encouraged me to go for it. This past April I applied, and by May, I had received the news that I was chosen as a scholarship recipient. I was overjoyed.

Looking Back on my First Diabetes Conference
I recreated my overjoyed reaction to receiving the scholarship almost immediately upon arriving to Disney. Here’s the photographic evidence.

Fast forward to July 10th, when I found myself sitting next to my father, the most wonderful traveling companion, on a plane. Our destination was the Coronado Springs Resort located in Disney World, where we would spend the next five days taking advantage of all the conference had to offer. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I meet other people my age? Would I enjoy myself? Would I benefit from the conference? I was anxious, to say the least.

My concerns were allayed once I registered and saw a lobby full of conference attendees. I did my best to absorb the sea of faces before me: all of those people had something gigantic in common with me. It dawned on me that I would get to know some of them well over the course of the next few days, and I couldn’t wait to start the process of making some friends for life.

Before I go on, you might be wondering what exactly happens at a Children With Diabetes Friends for Life conference. In short, families or adults with type 1 gather to spend time together. Participants are are divided into groups by age. I was sorted into the college-age group, which was for 18-22 year olds.

For the duration of the conference, attendees are encouraged to participate in workshops that address a large variety of diabetes topics, like the latest technology for diabetics, dating and diabetes, starting a family with diabetes, and creating diabetes blogs. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica Apple and Michael Aviad at the diabetes bloggers session, as well as fellow bloggers Kerri Sparling and Scott Johnson. As a relatively new diabetes blogger, I found this workshop to be enlightening as I listened to the advice other bloggers had to offer. I’m excited to explore the intriguing realm of diabetes blogs and gain insight that I can apply to my own blog.

As far as the social aspect of the conference was concerned, I hit it off immediately with several people at the college dinner that was held on Wednesday night. Each person I spoke to had a different perspective on what it was like to be a young adult with diabetes. I was impressed by the clear resilience and independence of the students around me, and I was truly pleased to learn that diabetes wasn’t the only thing we all had in common. Thursday night proved to be fantastic, too. We attended the Friends for Life banquet and ball, which was a full-fledged party with food, music, and dancing. Then my newfound friends and I ventured to Downtown Disney and had a blast soaking up the magic of Disney World and exchanging stories – both diabetes related and unrelated.

One story that I heard at the conference particularly moved me. I was at Brandy Barnes’ workshop about Women and Diabetes – another excellent session – when a diabetic woman sitting next to me became emotional as she spoke about her young daughter with diabetes. She explained how she was dealing with guilt, as she felt responsible for her daughter’s diabetes. She feared the consequences this would have on her little girl later on in life. I felt a compelling need to reach out to this woman and let her know everything would be okay. I spoke to her briefly after the workshop, and explained to her that my mom and I are a diabetic duo, too. I told her that when her daughter grows up she’ll be grateful for her support, knowledge, and perspective as a fellow diabetic with a deeper understanding of diabetes. My mom and I can attest to how even though diabetes has tried to knock us down over the years, we’ve taken control of it and become stronger as a result. I gave the woman my e-mail and the address to my blog, and if she is reading this now, I want her to know that I meant what I said: everything will be okay.

Looking back now with the eyes of someone who attended the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life conference I can say that I regret – to a certain degree – not attending camps when I was younger. Being around others with diabetes has given me greater awareness of what it means to live with diabetes. Additionally, I am feeling more inspired than ever as a diabetic and a writer to put my story out there and do anything I can help and impact others, all while listening to and learning from what others affected by diabetes have to say about it, too.

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.

You are a rare gem. (1).png

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.

Supporting T1D Students with my #SensorSelfie

I’m taking a departure from a “traditional” blog post today to tell you, my dear readers, that you should consider celebrating a special holiday with me today: National Selfie Day! Before you roll your eyes at the mere idea of that, please keep reading to learn how participating will help support students with diabetes.

Dexcom has partnered with a nonprofit that is very important to me – The College Diabetes Network (CDN) – to help put some focus on the diabetes community and raise money. They’ve created the #SensorSelfie social media campaign to encourage people with diabetes to take photos of themselves proudly donning their Dexcom sensors.

947D37E4-B661-4EC5-8E02-C58D07A66110
Here’s my #SensorSelfie, which wouldn’t be complete without my cactus shirt.

But what exactly do you need to do in order to take part in the campaign? There’s four simple steps to follow today, June 21st:

  1. Take a picture showing off your Dexcom sensor
  2. Post the photo to your Facebook and Instagram pages
  3. Use the hashtag #SensorSelfie and tag @Dexcom
  4. Tell ALLLLLL your diabuddies to do the same

For every post that uses #SensorSelfie today, Dexcom will donate $1 to CDN. Can you imagine how much money could be raised if you got all the T1Ds you know to participate?

If you’re looking for some more information on this social media campaign, click this link. Otherwise, what are you waiting for? Get to snapping, posting, and tagging!

Leadership in the T1D Community

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!

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 7.53.18 PM

Recently, I’ve asked myself, “Am I doing enough?”

I want to make meaningful contributions to the diabetes community. I think that I make a slight ripple by writing this blog, but to me, a ripple isn’t enough. I want to do more.

That’s why I want to put more effort into seeking additional advocacy opportunities. I haven’t defined those yet, but I know that there has to be more ways in which I can make my voice heard in a way that has a greater impact. Perhaps I can do more to further the #Insulin4All initiative, which, if you’re unfamiliar with, is explained on the Insulin Nation site in the following terms:

T1International is a global nonprofit that works to improve life-saving access to insulin, supplies, and healthcare for individuals with Type 1 diabetes around the world. Their mission is to support local communities by giving them the tools they need to stand up for their rights so that access to insulin and diabetes supplies becomes a reality for all. The organization helped to launch the #insulin4all hashtag and campaign, which has recently gained a lot of traction in the United States, where diabetes costs have grown especially exorbitant. Note: T1International is not limited to #insulin4all and vice versa, although both are discussed here.

I admit that it’s an effort that I’m only vaguely acquainted with, and I’d like to change that because it’s massively important. It goes without saying, but diabetes is difficult enough. Anyone who lives with it or cares for someone with it should be able to afford the insulin they need to survive, or to help a loved one survive.

If you’re someone who’s worked on this campaign, or if you know a way that I can step up and do more as a leader in the T1D community, please feel free to let me know. We’re in this together, and the more people we’ve got chipping in on various efforts, the more impact we’ll make.

Adulting with T1D

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!

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 7.53.01 PM

Most people who know me understand that I have a bit of the Peter Pan syndrome going on – I don’t want to grow up. I’d rather embrace my inner child and shun the responsibilities associated with adulthood. That’s what I’d like to do, anyways.

But the harsh reality is that I’m a woman in her mid-20s who does, indeed, have quite a few responsibilities in life. In addition to the gamut of obligations that most other adults have on their shoulders, I have an extra-special one – yup, you guessed it: diabetes.

I didn’t realize just how much my parents managed my diabetes until I got to college. Suddenly, it was on me to make sure I had enough supplies at all times, to make doctor’s appointments for myself when I wasn’t feeling well, and to do basic things like feed myself regular meals. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re adjusting to college life, meeting new people constantly, and making your own choices as to how you spend your spare time…then it becomes a big deal that can feel overwhelming at times.

The shift in responsibility was tough at times, but I made the adjustment and learned to hold myself and myself alone accountable for all aspects of my diabetes care and management. And I’m starting to prepare myself for yet another big change coming in about six months. On my 26th birthday, I’m going off my parents’ healthcare coverage and will need to enroll in my company’s plan. There’s going to be a learning curve there as I discover what will and what won’t be covered under my new plan, and I’m teaching myself to accept it. After all, it’s unavoidable, so like everything related to diabetes, I’m just going to choose to embrace the challenge with a smile on my face.

Type 1 Diabetes, an Invisible Illness

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!

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 7.52.43 PM

Invisible illnesses like diabetes can be difficult for healthy people to truly understand. Typically, they only see bits and pieces of it; for instance, when someone performs a blood sugar check or injects insulin. There’s so much that they don’t see: doctor’s appointments, late/sleepless nights, complex calculations, careful monitoring, and so forth.

But what’s really difficult for anyone to see is the emotional impact of diabetes.

Unless I choose to open up to someone about it – which is easier said than done – then there’s no way for another person to grasp the magnitude of the emotional side of diabetes. There’s no way for someone to feel the incredible amounts of anxiety, fear, and anger that cycle through me as I deal with diabetes. While I don’t experience these emotions every single day, I DO have to experience diabetes daily, and it’s impossible for someone to know what that’s like unless they either have T1D or care for someone with it.

I don’t wish for anyone in the world who’s unfamiliar with the (literal and emotional) ups and downs of diabetes to actually learn what it’s like. But I do wish for a world that’s a little more understanding, accepting, and educated when it comes to all things related to diabetes – and that’s why I advocate.

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!

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 7.52.29 PM

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.