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Snapshots: Fell Off.

Until next time.

Unexpected Advocacy.

The last thing I wanted to do was take my cover-up off.

Chris and Birdy (and our friends and their daughter) were at a water park in New Hampshire where kids can run and play in safe-for-littles sprinklers, pools, and water slides, and as the adults, we were tasked with guarding the perimeter.  Pacing back and forth, the four of us kept watch on our kids, ready to jump in at any moment to help them climb a slide, pick themselves up if they fell, or slather on more sunscreen.

I didn’t care who saw my body.  Not really, anyway.  I’ve run miles and given birth (not simultaneously), so I know there are strengths and weaknesses to my frame, but it wasn’t the shape and curve of my body that made me want to stay covered up at the water park.

I didn’t want people staring at the diabetes devices stuck to my body.

“Oh, suck it up.  No one is looking at you.”

Of course they aren’t.  They don’t mean to.  But when someone walks by wearing a bathing suit with a few curious looking devices hanging off it, it’s hard not to notice.  My standard beachwear is a bathing suit with my pump clipped to the hip, the tubing snaked out to wherever the infusion set happens to be living, and my Dexcom sensor taking up more real estate elsewhere.  These items aren’t jarring, and people don’t snicker, but they do look twice because cyborgs aren’t the norm.

Most of the time I don’t think twice about who might look, but on this particular day, I felt self-conscious.  Why?  Who knows.  Who cares.  I just felt eh that day.

But motherhood dictated that my self-consciousness take a backseat to being part of Birdy’s waterpark experiences, so I sucked it up and removed my cover-up.  My insulin pump infusion set was stuck to the back of my right arm, the tubing snaking down and tucked into my bathing suit, where the pump was clipped to the back.  My Dexcom sensor was mounted on my right thigh.  Even though these devices are reasonably discreet, I felt like I had two giant toasters stuck to my body.


Birdy needed help climbing to a higher platform in the play area and I helped her do that, thankful that my pump was waterproof.  We ended up in the sprinkler pad for a while and I was thankful that the tape around my Dexcom sensor was strong enough to withstand the water.  After a few minutes, I got over the whole “blargh – I don’t want to wear giant toasters” feeling and got on with things.

“Excuse me.  Is that an insulin pump?”  All casual, the question came from behind me, where one of the park lifeguards was standing.  His arms were crossed over his chest as he confidently watched the pool, but his question was quiet.

“Yeah, it is.”  I wasn’t in the mood to have a full chat about diabetes, but I didn’t want to make him feel awkward for asking.

“You like it?”

“I like it better than taking injections.  I was diagnosed when I was a kid, so the pump is a nice change of pace from the syringes.”

“I bet.”  He paused.  “I was diagnosed last August and I’ve been thinking about a pump.  But I hadn’t ever seen one before.  Is that it?”  He pointed to the back of my arm.

“Kind of.  That’s where the insulin goes in, but the pump is this silver thing back here,” I pointed to the back of my bathing suit, where my pump was clipped.  “This is the actual pump.  It’s waterproof.”  A kid ran by, arms flailing and sending splashes of water all over the both of us.

“Good thing,” he said.

“For real.”  Birdy ran by to give me a high-five and then took off playing again.

“Your kid?”

“Yep.”

“How long have you had diabetes?”

“Twenty-seven years.”

He gave me a nod.  “Thanks for not making it seem like it sucks.  Enjoy your day,” and he moved towards a group of kids that were playing a little roughly.  I stayed and continued to watch my daughter play, very aware of my diabetes devices that, for the first time ever, didn’t seem quite noticeable enough.

 

(Also, today has been unofficially designated as a “day to check in” (hat tip to Chris Snider) with the DOC blogs that we’re reading.  I read a lot of diabetes blogs, but I don’t often comment because I usually want to say something meaningful, instead of “I like your post.”  (But I do like your post!)  But instead of finding that meaningful comment, I usually roll on and forget to return to comment.  NOT TODAY!  Today I’m commenting on every blog I read, because that’s the name of the game.  I love this community, and today I’ll show that through comments.  So please – if you’re here, say hello!  And thanks. xo)

Miss Idaho: #ShowMeYourPump!

Have you heard?  Sierra Sandison just earned the crown as Miss Idaho, and she accomplished her goal with an insulin pump clipped to her hip.  Yes, that’s right – another Miss America contender has hit the stage with diabetes front-and-center.  And since winning Miss Idaho barely a week ago, Sierra has already brought type 1 diabetes to the national stage via stories on NPR, People Magazine, Buzzfeed and a host of other media outlets.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just after she turned 18, Sierra is helping empower people with diabetes to wear their devices proudly with the #showmeyourpump hashtag as her rallying cry.  Today, Sierra is sharing some some of her diabetes story here on SUM.

Kerri:  Sierra, you were just crowned Miss Idaho and are off to compete for the Miss America crown this September.  Congratulations!  And you’re also living with type 1 diabetes!  Can you share a little bit about your diagnosis story?

Sierra:  My dad is a family practice physician, but I was diagnosed shortly after my 18th birthday and had recently moved out of my parents’ house, so we didn’t catch it as quickly as we could have if my dad had been able to see the symptoms. Fortunately, I was never hospitalized!

I was extremely thirsty and hungry! It finally got to a point where it was ridiculously inconvenient. One day, I was snowboarding, and had to buy water bottles every time I got done with a run. I would drink them on the way up the chairlift, and then have to “relieve” myself at the top, and then again when I got to the bottom. Then, the cycle would repeat. On the chairlift, I called my dad and said, “Dad, I have a problem. I am an aquaholic. Can I go to rehab for a water addiction?” He immediately knew what the real problem was, since my late uncle and grandpa had diabetes, and my second cousin does as well.

However, when it was confirmed, and 550 [mg/dL] popped up on the glucometer, I bawled and bawled and bawled. A diabetes educator came and spoke to my class the next day, because I was terrified that they would make comments along the lines of “it’s your fault”, “maybe if you ate healthier…”, etc.

Kerri:  I saw on your Facebook profile that you were proudly rocking your t:slim insulin pump onstage at Miss Idaho – were you nervous about showing the judges your diabetes device?  What made you decide to go for it and share openly?

Sierra:  I’m going to be completely honest, it still scares me sometimes to wear my insulin pump. Getting the confidence to wear it on stage has been a journey.

When I was first diagnosed, I hated diabetes so much. I just tried to ignore it, and let my blood sugar be high until I felt to sick to deal with it. It was awful. In July, my friend asked me to compete in our local pageant, Miss Magic Valley. I met the director for lunch, who told me everything that was involved. When our food arrived, I pulled out my insulin pen, and she immediately told me about Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999.

Nicole wore her insulin pump on the Miss America stage while she competed for her title. Knowing that has had such a huge impact on my confidence. As a young woman, we often long to look like the girls in the media: movie stars, super models, cover girls, etc. The media gives us unrealistic expectations, and most of us will never measure up. We soon begin to think that, because we are different from those girls we see, that we are somehow worth less, or less beautiful than them.

What a disgusting lie! Unfortunately, I don’t think we can ever completely escape the influence the media has on us. I hope that someday the media can be filled with a variety of beauty! That is one of the reasons I love the Miss America Organization:  Nicole Johnson rocking her insulin pump in 1999; Alexis Wineman, the first woman with autism to compete at Miss America, in 2012; Heather Whitestone, the first deaf Miss America in 1995; Nicole Kelley, Miss Iowa 2013, was born with one arm.  And countless more women who have inspired the country while competing at Miss America!

So, eventually, after thinking about, researching, and following Nicole Johnson, I got the guts to get a pump. However, it took me another year to compete with it.

This year at Miss Idaho, I was honestly terrified. I was nervous the judges wouldn’t ask me about it in my interview. I was nervous that the audience would be confused. I was scared the other contestants would think I was using it to try and get pity from the judges.

I walked into my interview, and the very first question was about diabetes. It was a huge relief. “I can do this,” I thought, until I walked out of the dressing room, and was immediately asked about the pump.  The person who asked me was Miss Idaho’s Outstanding Preteen, McCall Salinas. While my heart sunk when she first pointed it out, that quickly changed when she explained she was a diabetic, but was too scared to get a pump because of what people would think.

That was it. I was doing it. I was going to wear the pump for McCall, no matter what people said or thought, and no matter how badly it may affect my score. I walked on stage, and the rest is history.

Kerri:  Since the competition, you’ve also encouraged others to wear their devices proudly, with the #showmeyourpump hashtag/mantra.  What’s the response been like?

Sierra:  It has been so overwhelmingly AMAZING! You have to understand, I am a completely normal person. My sisters and I are getting embarrassingly excited about all my new followers and likes. It is so crazy how many people were so inspired by me doing such a simple thing! I was prepared for a lot of negative backlash for competing in a beauty pageant with a swimsuit competition involved, but as far as I know, most everyone has been positive!

The response to my #showmeyourpump campaign has been crazy as well! I can’t keep up—it is unreal! We have had responses from diabetics all over the country, and from all over the world. I have also heard from kids with hearing aids, feeding tubes, etc. How awesome that it is having an impact even beyond the DOC! Keep the pictures coming(:

Kerri:  Is diabetes advocacy part of your competition platform?  Can you tell me about how you plan to use your voice to improve diabetes awareness?

Sierra:  It was my original platform, but before I was Miss Idaho, I didn’t have much of a voice. My platform now is actually a program my sister and I started for kids with developmental disabilities. We put on sports camps for them! The program is called Possibilities for Disabilities. Originally, we just wanted to give them the chance to participate in the fun extracurricular activities their peers do, because we think that sports and music are important to adolescents in finding their identity, discovering their passions, and building confidence. What we soon realized is that the program was doing so much more! We have students at the high school volunteer as “student coaches” and work with the campers. By placing the kids with disabilities in a fun, empowering, positive environment with their peers, it breaks down barriers and helps the kids form friendships with their peers. This has transformed their lives more than anything else! The entire culture of the high school we work with has changed towards the kids in special ed. They have formed identities beyond their disabilities, and are accepted more than they ever would be at another school. I am so excited to have the opportunity to spread Possibilities across the state, and even across the nation, as Miss Idaho!

With my diabetes, the message I try to get across to everyone I come in contact with is this: whatever obstacle they are facing in their life, they can not only overcome it, but use it to become a stronger person, as well as impact the lives of others. There is one girl in my camp who is a high functioning autistic, and has decided to put on a Possibilities camp for her senior project next year. I am so excited. She is doing exactly what I hope I can inspire others to do: take their challenges and use them to serve others.

I love Possibilities for Disabilities, but now that I have a more powerful voice as a diabetic, I am ECSTATIC to use it! Who said I couldn’t have two platforms?

Kerri:  There’s a lot of discussion in the diabetes online community about diabetes stigma.  Have you ever been discriminated against in terms of diabetes?  How did you handle it?

Sierra:  Before my family and close friends were educated, there were some hurtful comments about how my diabetes was my fault, because of the confusion between type 1 and type 2. Aside from that, I cannot recall any other negative experiences, aside from confused and slightly cold questions about my insulin pump. I have been very fortunate!

Kerri:  How can the diabetes community help support you as you make your moves for Miss America?

Sierra:  In a couple weeks, all the Miss America contestants will be publishing their “People’s Choice” videos. America can vote one contestant into the top 15! Only the top 15 get to compete in the televised portion of the pageant. It would mean the world to me if the diabetic community would help me win People’s Choice to guarantee that I have the opportunity to compete with my pump on national television!

Kerri:  Sounds like a plan, Sierra.  Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Sierra:  I am so happy I can have a voice to inspire others who are similar to me, and hope to serve the diabetes community to best of my ability this year! The best way to reach as many diabetics as possible is through the DOC and social media! You can follow my year as Miss Idaho in the following ways:

Twitter: @sierra_anne93, @missidorg
Instagram: missidahoorg, sierra_anne_nicole
Facebook: Miss Idaho Organization

I have also had a lot of people ask me about sending letters and gifts! I adore snail mail, so everyone is welcome to send mail to:  Sierra Sandison, P.O. Box 6159, Twin Falls, ID 83303.  I love you all so, so much! Thank you again for all your support!

Thanks, Sierra!  You can follow more from Sierra on her personal blog, Miss Idaho, and via the #showmeyourpump hashtag.  We’ll be following your journey to Miss America this fall, and supporting you along the way!

Tallygear Winners!

The Tallygear giveaway was fun to run because it helped contribute to a discussion about how people in the diabetes online community are tackling diabetes-related stigma.  The comments section had some great points about erasing diabetes stigma, and I wanted to highlight a few:

“Today I had a good discussion with my sister about the different challenges I face (35 years worth!)—– things that I usually keep to myself for fear of ‘boring’ someone. We both learned something special.” – Deb

“Isabella just started a Dexcom trial so she now has two devices on her 3-year-old body (Omnipod, too). When we go places I never encourage her to wear clothes that cover up her devices. I’d rather people see them and ask us what they are so we can spread awareness and educate them. In fact, Isabella is proud to show off her pods that we decorate…sometimes you forgot that even 3-year-olds can fight off stigmas, too.” - Kristina

“I am stupidly proud to admit that I am becoming a ‘regular’ at my gym. More people wave, say hi and even start conversations with me. More often people are asking me what my D-devices are. And I am more and more comfortable in telling them. And if further asked I actually find a little happiness in explaining what my (and our) T1D is and they actually want to know more. Erasing #dstigma one workout at a time and it really feels awesome. Really.” - Marie C

“I try to help change the perception of T1 by showing my friends/family that my daughter can do ‘normal’ activities and eat ‘regular’ foods!” - Zak

“I work as a nurse in a hospital and while my unit is not diabetes-specific, nearly all of my patients have some form of diabetes. While I don’t think it is appropriate to tell them about my diabetes, I try to have real conversations with my patients about managing their diabetes as effectively as possible. My hope is that I am doing my small part to reduce the #dstigma by giving people the chance to talk openly about their disease.” - Melissa

“My answer to reducing the #dstigma is to talk about my experiences. I don’t hide the fact the I have diabetes, and am always happy to answer questions. Can’t change the world all at once, but a little bit at a time can go a long way.” – Mark

Loopy hates stigma but loves ribbons.

And now, the winners!  The winners of the Tallygear giveaway (chosen at random by the Rafflecopter widget, which tallied blog comments and Twitter interaction) are Jen L, Gisela, and Kristina G! Thanks for joining the diabetes stigma (#dstigma) discussion and sharing your perspectives.  I’ve sent you an email and will send out your Tallygear fun stuff in the next few days.

Thanks to Tallygear for making this giveaway possible (be sure to check out their website and peruse their fashionable, and functional, products), and thanks to you guys for being an advocacy force that is changing the way society views diabetes, one moment at a time.  Like Mark said, “Can’t change the world all at once, but a little bit at a time can go a long way.”

What Do You Want to Talk About?

Last night’s #dsma chat was a particularly good one, because its intention was to generate discussion and feedback about what people in the diabetes online community (DOC) want to talk about.

Over the last ten years, the diabetes community has created some effective and supportive roots on (in?) the Internet. We are a vocal and passionate group of people (living with diabetes ourselves or caring for someone touched by diabetes) and the community seems to help people who are looking for their peers, looking to change something, or simply looking to share their stories. No matter what your level of involvement might be, the DOC is a place where you can find your footing.

So this question of “What do you want to talk about?” is a great one because it can help serve the needs/ hit the goals/ scratch the itch.

The evolution of the DOC is constant, and powerful, and we all have a chance to influence and shape it.  What’s important to you?  What do you want to talk about?

(And if you’re looking for more information on how to jump into the #dsma Twitter chats without losing your mind, check out this Diabetes and Twitter 101.)

CGM in the Cloud: Personal Preferences.

“Why would you want your continuous glucose monitor information in the cloud?”

Fair question, especially coming from folks in the CGM in the Cloud Facebook group, which is heavily dominated by parents of children with diabetes.

I didn’t want to answer, at first, because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.  When I meet with parents of kids with diabetes, the instinct to protect them is undeniable.  I want to tell them stories about people who are thriving with type 1 diabetes – “Hey, have you heard about the guy who is running across Canada?  Have you heard about the woman who gave birth to twin boys?  Have you heard about the couple who met and fell in love via the diabetes community?” – because that is the perception of diabetes that feels best to share.  It feels good to share successes, triumphs, proud moments.  You can thump your fist against your chest in pride; we are not held back by diabetes.

This is what I want to tell the parents of kids with diabetes.  Their kids will be okay.  Because that’s true – their kids will be okay.  But not without compromise, and that’s hard to articulate because it seems to fly in the face of “your kids will be okay.”  I don’t like reminding people that their kids with diabetes will become adults with diabetes because this disease is forever.  It’s uncomfortable to admit that diabetes is hard.  It’s hard to find words to illustrate the concept of, “I’m fine … sort of.”

“Why would you want your continuous glucose monitor information in the cloud?”

I’ve had some low blood sugars that have rocked me so hard I couldn’t recover, even after I had technically recovered.  Whether you want to admit it or not, diabetes requires extra planning.  Even the best and tightest and most well-controlled diabetes still comes with the threat of lows or highs.  This is why glove compartments end up crammed with jars of glucose tabs, and why back-up insulin pens litter the bottom of purses.  I was always taught to hope for the best – you can do anything with diabetes! – but to have a plan for the worst, should it happen.  Never ride a subway without snacks.  Never put diabetes supplies in checked luggage.  Always check blood sugar before driving.

“Call me when you wake up so I know you’re alive,” is a phrase casually uttered by my mother when my husband is traveling, but the honesty to it stops me cold.  Does my mom worry that something will happen to me at night?

Before Birdy was born, I had a healthy fear of lows, but after she arrived, that fear became something different entirely.  Now, a debilitating low blood sugar doesn’t just touch me, but it could hurt her, too.  When she was a few months old, my husband went away on a weekend trip and it struck me for the first time that if I didn’t wake up, no one would be there to take care of my daughter.  I pictured her in her crib, crying, alone, and without care.  The idea of her going without breakfast hurt me more than picturing my own unresponsive body.

Sounds dramatic?  It’s dramatic as fuck, because diabetes is quiet, until it’s not.

“Why would you want your continuous glucose monitor information in the cloud?”

Why?  Because having someone else able to monitor my blood sugars makes me feel safer.  I can’t make insulin anymore, but I can create peace of mind for myself, and for my family.

So I’m not waiting.  I’m not waiting for bad things to happen.  I’m taking a preemptive bite out of fear by putting another safety net into place.  When I’m traveling for work, I will have my CGM data streaming to the cloud, and my husband and my mother (as needed) will have access to it.  When I am alone in a hotel room, my family will have the peace of mind knowing that they can see my blood sugars while I sleep.  Same for when my husband is traveling and I am alone with our daughter.  As much as I know the CGM companies are working hard to bring this technology to patients, waiting removes the safety net that would help me sleep better at night.

I am not waiting.

 

 

Tallygear Giveaway! Exclamation Point!

Tallygear is awesome, and I’ve been a big fan for many years.  After switching over to the Dexcom G4 continuous glucose monitor, I was so happy to see that Donna at Tallygear had created a case to protect the G4 (and have been using it daily since).  And now she’s up and running with a lot of new cases for the Dexcom G4 unit, as well as some other colorful ways to dress up the otherwise drab world of diabetes devices.

Check out some of her new designs!

Donna was kind enough to send some samples to me, and I’d like to turn that favor around to you guys.  But there’s a catch.  I have three Tallygear “gift packs” (in quotation marks because there are things from Tallygear that I’m including, but I’m sending the packages myself, so there will be some additional surprises to be determined by how much cat hair I can collect from Loopy and Siah … just kidding … sort of …) to give away, but I want to couple this up with the recent, and important, discussions about diabetes stigma.

To win one the Tallygear giveaways, you’ll need to leave a comment here on this blog post or Tweet about this giveaway (see the Rafflecopter widget below), but not in the “promote me!” sort of way.  Instead, I want you to answer this question:

“How will you help change the perception of diabetes today?  #dstigma“ 

As a community, we can help change the face of diabetes, one moment at a time.  Dealing with diabetes-related stigma isn’t something that can be “fixed” overnight, but every time we make diabetes visible in an accurate, educated way, we’re taking a bite out of stigma.  Kind of like McGruff the Crime Dog.  So let’s keep talking.

You can follow Donna from Tallygear on Twitter @Tallygear and on Facebook.  The official Tallygear website, with a complete product listing and a catalog of colors to choose from, is at Tallygear.com.  If you’re one of the winners, I’ll contact you for your mailing address (so be sure to leave a valid email).

And thanks for playing along.  I’m excited to see the discussions that have cropped up about diabetes stigma, and I hope to contribute to them.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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