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.

Memory Monday: The First Time I Tried Alcohol & How it Affected My Diabetes

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the first time I drank alcohol and how it affected my diabetes – more specifically, my blood sugars. And that’s right folks, I CAN recall it…fortunately, this experience does not coincide with my first time actually getting drunk.

Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, you won’t recoil in horror while reading this post!!!

My first time drinking alcohol occurred during my first week of college, freshman year. So…college of me.

My freshman year dormitory held fewer than 100 students. Due to the relatively small nature of the building, everyone started bonding and forming friend groups pretty quickly. By the time our first weekend on-campus rolled around, we were all itching to get together, continue to get to know one another, and naturally, drink like delinquents.

I Volunteer To Drink!

That Friday night, I was sitting on the floor of my friends’ dorm room – Emma and Kira had the largest, swaggiest digs in our whole friend group, if not the entire dormitory – when our friend Chris entered, holding a full bottle of grape-flavored Svedka vodka in his hands. I remember him making the rounds, pouring us shots of vodka that we would drink as a group. As he filled shot glasses, I started feeling extremely nervous. I had zero prior experience with alcohol, let alone vodka. So many questions flitted through my mind: Would I feel drunk right away? What was it going to taste like? Does the grape flavor mean that it contains more sugar, and would it make my blood sugar go up?

I barely had time to contemplate answers, though, when people started lifting their shot glasses into the air and toasting the beginning of our college careers. Even though I was sweating bullets, I smiled and cheered along with everyone else as we tossed back our shots…

…which tasted absolutely foul. I’m pretty sure I almost retched, but did what I could to contain myself because I didn’t want to seem like a loser. I’ll never forget thinking to myself, this shit tastes just like how nail polish remover smells. How can people possibly drink and enjoy this?

I sat there, internalizing all my thoughts and feelings about drinking my first shot of alcohol, and just tried to blend in with the group. But it was kind of difficult for me to do, because at some point in the night, my anxious thoughts consumed me and I abstained myself from drinking anything else. I was too caught up in the unknown, and I cared too much about how this one little innocent shot of vodka might impact my diabetes.

As I would come to find out later that night, one shot of vodka had zero-to-no affect on my blood sugars. And of course, in time, my fears about alcohol and my blood sugars faded because I educated myself on how to do it safely. I learned that every type of alcohol has a different carbohydrate content. I discovered what did and didn’t work for me, often in a controlled environment. But I wouldn’t change my first encounter with it at all because the shared experience of drinking shitty grape vodka with this group of strangers, on the first Friday night of college, is one of the many shared experiences that turned them into some of my dearest friends. That, I can raise a glass to…as long as it’s not filled with Svedka anything.

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.

Memory Monday: Attending my First CDN Meeting

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…attending my very first CDN meeting as a college freshman who had no idea what to expect.

I remember wandering into one of the dilapidated buildings on campus, my stomach twisting in knots out of anticipation. I had no clue what to expect. I’d decided to go to the meeting partly to find out what it was like to interact with other T1Ds who were my age, and partly to placate my mother, who encouraged me to give it a shot (pun definitely intended).

When I walked into the room, I was greeted by the then-president of the UMass Amherst chapter, a couple of members, and the chapter’s adviser. I remember smiling nervously at them, introducing myself, and sitting down to join in on the animated conversation.

That would be the first and only CDN meeting in which I didn’t have much to say, only because I was too fixated on the novelty of the whole thing. Growing up, my mom and my aunt were the only two T1Ds I had in my life, and I was very okay with that. They were (and still are) excellent resources for my diabetes-related questions, so much so that my young/naive mind couldn’t see what I’d possibly have to gain by befriending other people my own age with diabetes.

If I’d known then what I know now…!

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CDN became such a big part of my life that I even wound up on the cover of their Advocacy and Awareness Guide!                    Who woulda thunk?

To make a long story short, that meeting marked the start of something wonderful for me. A journey, of sorts, to feeling empowered with diabetes. The beginning of many treasured friendships. An introduction to leadership in the diabetes community. A foray into feeling less afraid to rely on others for emotional support when I struggle with my diabetes.

That first meeting showed me what it was like to be around peers who I don’t have to constantly explain things to because they already know the ins and outs of diabetes just as well as I do. And that is invaluable.

I like reflecting on my involvement with CDN because so many positive things are associated with it, and it’s especially fitting on this Memory Monday in question, because Diabetes Awareness Month is right around the corner! My upcoming posts will reflect that, and they’ll also address prompts provided by the CDN to celebrate College Diabetes Week. Even though I’m not in college anymore, I’m looking forward to writing posts that respond to those prompts, because they’ll serve as a great way to reflect and reminisce some more. Be on the lookout for those posts in the next two weeks!

Drinking and Diabetes: Lessons Learned in College

This post initially appeared on Beyond Type 1 on May 19, 2016. I wanted to republish it here because I will be exploring this topic further in November, which is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Stay tuned!

In September 2011, I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt when my parents dropped me off: anxious, excited, anxious, scared, anxious, curious … and did I mention anxious?

A reason why I was so nervous was that going off to college represented my first true taste of independence. I would be a full 90 minutes away from my parents, who have acted as key teammates in my diabetes care and management over the years. It wasn’t like I was starting this academic and social pursuit freshly diagnosed; after all, I’ve had diabetes since I was 4 years old. Growing up with it made me accept it as my reality early in life, and I never really minded it. It started to become a worry, though, when I was hit with the realization that I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment, away from my parents and healthcare team who knew me and my diabetes best. I wondered, “Can I do this?”

Fortunately, my schedule was so full, so quickly, that I barely had time to dwell on my concerns. I attended my classes, bonded with my roommate, established a diverse friend group, experienced the culinary offerings of the dining halls, stressed over homework assignments, and tried new group fitness classes at the gym, among other things. Best of all, my newfound friends didn’t seem to mind my diabetes at all — they asked me endless questions and thought nothing of it when I whipped my insulin pen out in the dining halls to bolus for meals. Establishing a routine helped with my diabetes management and before long, I started to feel more comfortable with this whole college thing … except for one aspect of it.

Alcohol: It’s a taboo concept in the diabetes world, but certainly not on college campuses. Before I left for college, my parents and I did talk about drinking and social pressures, but we didn’t have an in-depth discussion about diabetes and drinking. The main takeaway was a tacit understanding that safety should always be my number one priority.

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Diabetes won’t stop me from enjoying the occasional drink – I just need to imbibe carefully.

I’ll admit that among the various other activities I participated in freshman year, an occasional party at which alcohol was present was part of the gamut. One particular party stands out in my memory because it taught me, more than words from my parents or my endocrinologist could, just how important safety is when it comes to drinking and diabetes.

I ventured to an off-campus party with a group of friends one Saturday night. It was a stereotypical college party: loud music, lots of people, long lines to use the one bathroom in the house. For the first couple of hours that we were there, we were having a great time meeting new people and drinking a bit. As I was sipping on my beverage, I helped myself to some of the tortilla chips, the communal appetizer laid out for party-goers (clearly, no expenses were spared for this shindig!).

I was stupid and didn’t monitor how many chips I was eating or how much I was drinking. Instinct told me to test my blood sugar and I discovered that I was high—much higher than I anticipated. I started rifling through my purse for my Humalog pen when it hit me that I never packed it.

This story could have ended much differently, but I’m happy to say that I was just fine by the end of the night. I told my friends what was happening. Instead of expressing disappointment over leaving the party, they were super understanding and insisted on escorting me home to make sure I could get my medication. Before long, I was back in my dorm and administering insulin. Once I started to come down, I went to bed and woke up at a normal blood sugar the next morning.

What exactly did I learn about drinking and diabetes that night? A few important things:

  • Always have all of my supplies with me when I go out and indulge in a drink or two. This means I would triple-check, from that point onward, to make sure I had my meter, insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and everything else I might possibly need.
  • Check my blood sugar before, during and after drinking to maintain healthy levels.
  • Set an alarm or two before bed so I can wake up and check my blood sugar.
  • Go out with a supportive group of friends — even though I was panicking that night over my hyperglycemic blood sugar, I felt comforted by my friends’ presence and support.
  • Refuse drinks if I don’t want them. I’ve never felt pressured to drink, even when everyone else around me is. As long as I’m having fun, my choice to not drink doesn’t matter.
  • Research carbohydrate content of alcohol so I know how to account for different drinks. I also have done my homework, so I know that different alcohols affect my blood sugar at different rates, if at all.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. They’re often not worth it, and it’s easy for me to replace certain mixers with diet or sugar-free drinks.

I learned a major lesson that night. Since then, drinking has become an occasional social activity for me that I no longer fear due to my preparedness and openness on the subject. I understand that drinking and diabetes sounds scary and forbidden, but this is why it’s important to talk about. Discussing it with family, friends, and your healthcare team can help you feel reassured over how to handle it. Now, I can confidently raise a glass of dark beer or red wine (my personal favorites), knowing I can enjoy a drink safely despite my diabetes.

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

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:

That Time I Lost my Dexcom, and a Cop Flirted with Me

I bet that title caught your attention, huh?

Not too long ago, I was fondly reminiscing about my college days. So many stories, so many of them related to diabetes in some manner. But this one that I’m about to share is one of the funniest, most cringe-worthy stories. Hopefully, you’ll be delighted by my awkward adventure:

It was the night of the “senior ball”. This was a dance held at the Mullins Center at the UMass Campus for graduating seniors. I was particularly excited to attend mine, because it presented me with an opportunity to see all of my college friends again. Technically speaking, I didn’t graduate with them – due to extra course credits and an overloaded schedule, I was able to graduate one semester earlier than the rest of my friends. This means I last hung out with the group in December; fast-forward to May, and it had been nearly five months since I last saw my crew.

So this meant we had to celebrate! As I got ready at my friend’s apartment, we caught up on each others’ lives and drank some wine. By the time we were ready for the grand ole ball, we were feeling more than ready to dance the night away.

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Drinking and diabetes: Things can get a little…dicey, when celebrating special occasions.

And we certainly did. We spent several hours that evening taking pictures, laughing with friends, snacking on appetizers and sipping more wine. And in the middle of it all, my Dexcom CGM somehow managed to vanish from my purse’s strap. I didn’t realize this until I needed to check my CGM to stay updated on my blood sugar, so I had no idea how much time had passed between then and when I lost the CGM.

What I do know for sure, though, is that I instantly panicked when I discovered it was gone. I rely heavily on my CGM when I’m at an event like this. It’s really useful for me to stay alert of how I’m trending, especially when I’m drinking alcohol. Typically, I know what to expect in terms of my blood sugar when I’m imbibing in different kinds of alcohol, but having my CGM handy makes me feel more secure.

So that’s why I freaked out. How the hell was I supposed to find my CGM in the Mullins Center? For context: It’s an arena that can hold almost 10,000 people. There weren’t quite that many attending the ball, but there were enough bodies in there to guarantee that searching for my CGM wouldn’t be easy.

I admit it, I was a little tipsy, so that definitely didn’t help in the situation.

After telling my friends what happened, and a brief group effort to search for my CGM, I knew I needed more manpower. So I found a police officer and told him what was going on. Once he found out I was a diabetic, he sat me down in a chair – he must’ve been afraid I’d pass out or something – and he assured me that we’d locate it by the end of the night. He struck up conversation with me while we waited for news from the other officers who were on the case. I had nothing else to do, so I gamely chatted with him.

I have no idea how much time passed. It could’ve been 20 minutes or 2 hours, but in a matter of time, my CGM was found. I jumped for joy when it was returned to me, cradling it in my arms. Meanwhile, the police officer seemed kind of bummed. He took something out of his pocket – a card – circling a number on it before handing it to me. “That’s my number,” he said, “just in case you need me again.”

I took it, nonplussed, and thanked him for his assistance. He nodded, and watched as I walked away to rejoin my friends. We all walked home and passed out soon after, exhausted from the fun but chaotic night.

The next morning, I woke up and rummaged through my purse to get my meter and CGM so I could do my first BG check of the day. As I looked through, I found a card in my bag – the cop’s card. I chuckled out loud, explained what happened to my friends, who laughed riotously as I relayed my interaction with him the night before.

“Molly, face it – you got hit on by a cop while you nearly had a medical crisis.”

Yup. True story.