3 Things I Wish I Knew About Diabetes in College

My blog post earlier this week probably made it very clear to you that I work for a nonprofit called the College Diabetes Network – but in case you didn’t know, now you know.

In my position with the organization, I semi-regularly interact with current college students living with type 1 diabetes. This causes me to reflect every now and then on my college experience and what I would change, knowing what I know now, about how I managed my diabetes when I was in college. I came up with 3 things that I wish I’d known then that would’ve likely made life on campus a lot easier for me – and it seems very appropriate to share these things this week, which is College Diabetes Week. Here’s what I wish I knew…

Me, almost 7 years ago, on the day that I officially became a UMass alum!
  1. I wish I knew then that an insulin pump would greatly benefit me. Hands down, this is the biggest diabetes regret that I have when I think about my time at college. I can’t tell you how many times it was inconvenient for me to whip out my insulin pen in the middle of the dining hall and inject before every meal. My rationale at the time was that there were already too many changes happening in my life (because as we all know, the transition from high school to college is huge), and that I didn’t want to toss learning a new piece of diabetes technology into the mix. Plus, I was stubborn – I figured that my then-current MDI regimen was doing a good enough job for me and my diabetes. If I’d only known that a pump would’ve allowed me so much more freedom…
  2. I wish I knew then that I should’ve asked my parents sooner to let me take over ordering diabetes supplies. All throughout college – and admittedly, for a few years post-graduation – my mom took care of reordering my diabetes supplies for me. She’d keep track of how much insulin I had left in the fridge, and my main responsibility was to let her know when I was running low on test strips or CGM sensors. I really wish I’d asked her (before I turned 26) to let me order supplies on my own, or at least walk me through the process so I had a better familiarity with it by the time I aged off my parents’ insurance plan. I had to learn a lot, and very quickly, when age 26 came around, and I could’ve avoided the steep learning curve if I’d been more proactive about it at a younger age.
  3. I wish I knew then that I could’ve avoided many diabetes mistakes by doing more research and getting more involved with the diabetes online community. Namely, I wish I’d known more about how to “party safely” with T1D. I went into college not having a single clue about how alcohol would affect my diabetes – and that is something that is incredibly dangerous. I learned a couple lessons the hard way in college, and I’m lucky that I didn’t have to pay any serious consequences. Knowing what I know now, I should’ve turned to the diabetes online community for guidance, tips, and tricks from people who could’ve helped me avoid some scary highs and lows I had after a weekend of partying. Imagine what I could’ve learned from Reddit threads, had I known they were available!

While I can’t change anything about the way I took care of my diabetes in my college years, I can say that I’m proud of myself for eventually gaining these insights about it. I may have done better had I known about these things sooner, but what matters is that I did find out about them in due course, which has led to positive changes in my diabetes care in the long run.

How CDN Makes Me Feel 100

This year, National Diabetes Awareness Month is an especially important time to me as it’s the first one that I’m celebrating as an employee of the College Diabetes Network. I’m commemorating the occasion by celebrating College Diabetes Week (which begins today and runs through November 14, World Diabetes Day) with all of our Chapters and by fundraising for CDN. Let me explain (as concisely as I can) why your support matters and how CDN makes me “feel 100”.

I’m a former CDN Chapter leader, past volunteer, and now a current employee. CDN has obviously shaped my career, but it has also had a tremendous impact on my physical and mental well-being as a person with type 1 diabetes.

Without CDN, I never would have realized the power of peer support in managing a chronic illness that is as demanding as T1D. I would have severely struggled to find the confidence and independence in my adulthood that is necessary in order to live and thrive with T1D. I would not be the diabetes advocate that I am today, I definitely would not have a successful blog about T1D, and I never would have made so many incredible friendships and connections that CDN helped make possible.

CDN makes me Feel 100, which is why I want to Raise 100.

Those are just some of the ways that CDN helps me “feel 100” about life with diabetes. “Feeling 100” is a colloquial term that describes feeling your absolute best and at your optimal level of happiness. That’s why it was chosen as the overarching theme of College Diabetes Week this year – we all want to feel 100, especially when managing the many challenges that comes with living with T1D while in college.

CDN has given me so much. Please consider helping me give back to CDN. Help me raise $100 (or more) and that money will go towards CDN Chapter stipends for the year, outreach kits, the ability for us to provide grants and sponsor Chapter activities, and so much more. We appreciate your support as we continue to empower and make positive changes in the lives of young adults with diabetes across the country.

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.

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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.