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Posts tagged ‘advocacy’

You Don’t Look Like You Should Have Diabetes.

“And this, too, please,” I said, sliding the opened and half-consumed bag of gummy candies across the counter, my hands shaking.

This low was bad.  The symptoms were very visible, with unsteady hands and knees that were buckling out and sweat beading up on my forehead despite the 40 degree weather outside.  I knew I was the color of a cotton ball, with the mental capacity of one as well.

My Dexcom had gone off about ten minutes earlier and I picked around in my purse for the jar of glucose tabs that I soon realized were tucked neatly into the cup holder of my car.  Out in the parking lot.  (Useful.)

Necessity forced my hand to grab the way overpriced bag of candies off the shelf and consume a handful.  “Most expensive low ever,” I muttered, aware that coming up from this 45 mg/dL was going to cost me a pretty penny.  I needed to get out of the store and reassemble my wits, but lows don’t excuse shoplifting, so I made my way to the cashier to check out.

“Are you okay?” the cashier asked, probably because I looked half-removed from the planet.

“Yes, thanks.”

“These candies are open.  Do you want a different bag?  These have been half-eaten,” she said.

“No, it’s okay.  I ate them.”  I smiled in a way that I hoped looked reassuring but probably looked weirdly menacing.  “Low blood sugar.”

“Diabetes?”

“Yeah.”

She smirked.  “And here you are, buying candy.  Isn’t this part of the problem?  You don’t look like you should have diabetes.  Maybe you should stop eating candy.”

I would have rather been eating a banana, to be honest.  Treating with fruit is my preferred way to upend a low.  Or I would have rather had some measured glucose tabs so I knew how much I was consuming and could avoid the post-low rebound.  Fuck, you know what?  I’d rather not have been low at all, because being low in a public place is embarrassing and makes me feel vulnerable.

Let’s just round it out and say that I’d much prefer not to have diabetes in the first place.

“The candy is to bring my blood sugar up.  It’s to keep me from passing out here at your counter.”  It was hard to make the right words come out, but anger jumped ahead of hypoglycemia.  My voice was sharp, like the plummet on my Dexcom graph. “What does someone who should have diabetes look like, anyway?

She didn’t look at me.   And I was glad she didn’t.  I popped a piece of the candy into my mouth, my attempt at a PWD version of a mic drop.  I don’t look like I should have diabetes?  Maybe that’s the point.  Maybe she needs an education on what diabetes does look like, instead of viewing my disease as a punchline, one that society judges unabashedly.

All of a sudden, I can’t wait for November.

Diabetes Dominator.

It’s nice to talk with other people who have diabetes.  It’s even better to laugh with other people who have diabetes, finding some levity in the diabetes moments that seem like they’re shuttling towards chaos.  And a few weeks ago, I had the chance to both talk and laugh (hard) with the Diabetes Dominator herself, Daniele Hargenrader.

We talked about a broad range of topics, from diabetes diagnosis to growing up, from intimacy and diabetes to my sloppy swipe at tips for people living with diabetes.  And it was fun.  She’s a force to be reckoned with, and I’m really happy she asked me to visit her video series.

For more from Daniele, you can check out her website.  Thanks for watching (and thanks to Daniele for not yelling at me for talking too fast).

Panel: Challenges in Healthcare Leadership.

Yesterday, I took part in a panel discussion at the Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership Class of 2017 Convocation at Brown University (say that three times fast … I sure as hell can’t) and part of our discussion was about leadership in the healthcare space.

My fellow panelists were folks who were employed in the healthcare arena (Michael Hudson, EVP of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Roberts, President and CEO of Care New England Dennis Keefe, Director of Alnylam, Ironwood, Momenta Pharmaceuticals Marsha Fanucci … and me), and I thought about who I work with:  medical device companies, diabetes advocacy organizations, magazines, publishers, etc.  I like the work that I do and I like the organizations I work with.

But, but, but.  Who do I work FOR?

The people I work for are people touched by diabetes, and to be honest, that starts with me and my family.  (My oxygen mask on first, right?)  One of the attendees yesterday asked me what kind of advocacy work I did as a kid with diabetes, and I admitted, “None.  I decided to get involved when I was in my mid-20s.  Before that, I didn’t do much at all in terms of diabetes advocacy.” It took time for me to grow into a desire to connect, and that desire was driven by isolation.

I joined this community because I didn’t know anyone in my day-to-day who was dealing with diabetes.  That absence of community drove me to seek out my peers and find people with whom I could be weird together.  And now this community of like-pancreased people can lean on one another and learn from one another in ways and about things that healthcare professionals aren’t able to provide.

Spent some quality time yesterday with the EMHL class of 2017 at Brown University. #rhodypride

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

I spoke about the positive influence of patient communities a lot yesterday.  When discussions turned to the silos of healthcare and the dissemination of information, I advised people to take cues from patients who are sharing their stories online for a how-to.  “If you want to see information that’s crowd-sourced and self-policed, hopefully without a whole bunch of egos and competing interests, the online patient communities can give you some tips on how it’s done.  It’s not medical advice but it is honest and shows what illness looks like in the wild.  Patient communities take information from medical teams and integrate it into real life, with better health outcomes as the goal.  And that’s what we all want, right?”

Discussions about “what makes a good leader” took up the better part of the afternoon discussion, and I leaned heavily on bursting the bubble of privilege.  “My job as a voice in this community is to recognize what I have access to and what others are striving to gain access to.  My refrigerator is stashed with bottles of insulin, while some of my fellow people with diabetes are panicked about where their next injection will come from.  I need to remember that and raise their voices, whenever I can.”  (See also:  Spare a Rose.  See also also:  CGM Medicare Coverage.  See thrice-so: DPAC)

I’m hopeful it was an interesting panel discussion to listen to; I learned a lot by listening to my fellow panelists.  Secretary Roberts repeatedly voiced concerns about the different factors that play into health (socioeconomic, literacy, etc) and urged discussions about improving society’s views on proactive health efforts instead of reactive ones.  Dennis Keefe voiced hopes for true universal healthcare and how we can transition to that system most effectively.  Michael Hudson made an excellent point about throwing bias and stigma aside when communicating with one another; we aren’t just “the insurance guy,” or “the patient.”  Each panelist brought their unique flavor to the discussion, and I did my best to inform this EMHL about the crucial need for input from patient perspectives.

One of the other panelists mentioned that high deductible insurance plans force patients to have “skin in the game,” but I’ll counter that being responsible for paying doesn’t give us skin in the game.  We’ve always had skin in the game.  Now we have a voice at the table, and it’s high time we raise it for the betterment of our communities.

I’m proud to work with diabetes organizations, but I’m prouder still to work for people with diabetes.  This community, and all perspectives in it, have improved my life and my health in ways I’ll spend the next few decades gratefully and respectfully repaying.

Flick of the Wrist.

In the interests of getting through TSA in Orlando as quickly as possible and making my way over to my gate so I could find some iced coffee and a banana, I disconnected my insulin pump and put it through the x-ray machine, caring very little if it melted in the transaction because I was melting in the transaction.

The tram to the gates was arriving just as I was finished at security, so I grabbed my pump off the tray and held it in my hand. dragging my bag to the shuttle. Just after “stand CLEAR of the closing doors,” I reached around to the top of my hip and reconnected my infusion set, sticking the pump into my pocket.

A woman boarded the tram, her infant daughter strapped to her chest. I noticed her noticing me while I reconnected my pump.

“Insulin pump?”

“Excuse me?”

“Is that an insulin pump? Sorry – my son has diabetes and I recognized the pump.”

“Oh, yes.” I searched her wrist for an orange or green CWD bracelet but didn’t see one. “Were you here for the conference?”

“What conference?”

“The diabetes conference. It’s called Friends for Life and it’s put on by an organization called Children with Diabetes. It takes place here in Orlando, over at Disney.”

She smiled. “I’ve never heard of it, and I live right here in Orlando. What’s it called?”

“Friends for Life. It’s a diabetes conference for families with diabetes. Lots of kids with type 1 attend with their parents, and lots of adults like me who go to connect with other adults who have diabetes. It’s really nice, like diabetes camp. Community helps, you know?”

She nodded, and the baby on her chest flapped her arms happily. “My son goes to camp. He loves it. But I’ve never heard of the conference before.”

I reached into my bag and fished around for a pen. Nothing. Checked my pockets for a business card. Nothing. The tram was about to stop and ditch us at the gates, leaving me just a few seconds to try and explain how a few days in Florida can change your life for the better.

“What’s the conference called again?”

I grabbed the edge of my green bracelet and pulled it off my wrist.

It's on. #ffl15

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

“I know this seems weird to hand you a slightly-used conference bracelet, but the URL for the conference website is on it. Everyone who has diabetes wears one of these green bracelets. You see one of these and that person understands, you know?” I handed her the bracelet, pointing at the website address. “I hope this doesn’t seem creepy. It’s just an amazing experience, being around all of those other families, and it would be great to have you and your family check it out, if that’s your thing.”

She took the bracelet and put it in her pocket. “This is very nice of you. Thank you. I’ll check it out for sure.”

The tram doors opened and we stepped out.

“Where are you headed home to?”

“Rhode Island.”

“And you come here just for that conference?”

I thought about the week that had just passed, when I was surrounded by people who redefined family.

“All the way here. Green bracelets are pretty awesome.”

She waved, and her baby waved, too. “Thank you for passing this along. Safe travels back home. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

Usually when I board the plane home from Friends for Life, I like to look down at my green bracelet because it reminds me of my PWD tribe.  This year, with a flick of the wrist, I was grateful it had found a new home.

What Are You Advocating For?

A discussion from Masterlab at Friends for Life:

Some answers:

My answer:

What’s yours?

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