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Friends for Life: Madcap Recap.

A bulleted list because that’s what bloggers do.

  • My personal schedule had me running around like a chicken with its head (and pancreas?) cut off, and while I felt really lucky to be so busy, I didn’t have enough quality time with people I love.  It’s a nice problem to have, but it was frustrating because now that I’m home, I wish there had been long coffee chats with so many different people.
  • Coffee tastes best out of my new favorite mug –>
  • One of my favorite moments was during the Parenting with Type 1 Diabetes session, when Marissa Town and Melissa Lee started singing the Dexcom “ATTENTIVE” low alarm song, complete with facial grimaces and in perfect harmony.
  • It’s weird how therapeutic it can be to cry in a room full of “strangers.”
  • Even odder still is putting the word “strangers” into quotation marks because anyone living with diabetes has intimate knowledge of moments in my life that even my closest family members can’t quite wrap their head around.
  • It was so nice to meet the team from Kedz Covers, and yet so odd to meet them in Florida, seeing as how they live here in Rhode Island.  Only in the diabetes community do you meet your actual neighbors at a conference 1300 miles from home.
  • (And yes, that’s the “Don’t Mess with Rhode Island, Either” t-shirt, but I negated its awesome message by wearing my bag cross-body style, covering the little Rhody and making it look like I’m on the welcoming committee for Texas.  Whoops.)
  • The “Reducing Social Stigma from Diabetes: A Patient Perspective” session with Richard Wood, Kelly Close, and Adam Brown was one that I wish I had been able to attend, because the stigma related to (and nestled around) diabetes of all kinds is a topic that is very top-of-mind for me.  I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing more about this survey and have been stalking the #dstigma hashtag for feedback.
  • Watching Melissa pass the diaversary torch (so to speak) to Briley in the bar at midnight was a moment that made me laugh, but also gave me goosebumps because marking a diaversary can be intense, but doing it a room full of people who love you is fucking empowering.
  • It was an absolute honor (and wicked fun!) to partner with Dexcom last week, sharing stories and giving away copies of Balancing Diabetes. A huge thank you to Dexcom for their support, and also to the diabetes community for stopping by to say hello at the booth.
  • And thanks to Scott for lending me a pen to use at the book signings, which just so happened to be a pen from George’s office, making me feel like a little bit of George was at Friends for Life, too.  Full circle, there.
  • I loved being part of a session for parents of children with diabetes aiming to answer the questions they might not be asking their own kids, and it was an honor to partner with Adam Brown (of Close Concerns) for this session.  The discussions were intense, but productive, and for anyone in attendance who didn’t end up watching The LEGO Movie that night, here’s a link to what the hell I was talking about.
  • I learned that Scott, aka “Pockets,” keeps an army of diabetes (and non-diabetes related) supplies in his pocket.  The man is half kangaroo.
  • (Happy belated birthday, Pettus!)
  • After Friends for Life was over, Chris and Birdzone flew down to Florida to meet me and we spent a few days at Disney.  Getting ready to head out to the park the next morning, Chris asked why I still had my conference bracelet on.  “I like it,” was my response, because it’s hard to articulate what the green bracelet really means to me, or how the orange bracelets keep me going.
  • I still have my green bracelet on.  We walked through the Magic Kingdom and I found myself glancing at wrists around the park to see if anyone from the conference was there.  I didn’t see any green bracelets.  But I kept mine on in case someone was looking, too.
  • I still have it on now, only I don’t think the cats give a shit.
  • (Total sidebar:  It was Loopy‘s birthday two days ago, and Birdy and I will be making her a “cake,” which equals out to Birdy wanting to eat cake and this is her excuse.)
  • Attending Friends for Life is a place where I can wear my emotions on my sleeve and my pump on my hip.  It’s somewhere I can feel safe admitting the things that weigh heavily on my mind but also celebrate something as simple as a 100 mg/dL on my glucose meter.  And nothing reminded me of this more than when I was walking towards my next session and I saw Briley outside of it, tears streaming down her face.  “I just had my eyes checked.  And they’re totally fine!!  After twenty-five years, they are still fine.”  I couldn’t hug her fast enough, or hard enough, because that’s what you do.  You celebrate the things others would never think to celebrate, and you appreciate the people who understand.

 

Ante Up.

During one of the discussion groups at Friends for Life, one of the attendees took a look at their Dexcom, gave it an exasperated sigh, and threw it into the middle of the room in frustration.

“I don’t want it near me.”

There was a brief pause.

“Ante up,” someone quietly said, their own Dexcom case hitting the floor alongside the first.

And within a matter of seconds, a diverse pile of diabetes devices met in the middle of the floor in solidarity.

This is Friends for Life.

Masterlab: Tides are Rising.

In the last ten years, the DOC has evolved from a small pocket of voices to an entire choir that can’t be housed in one town, or state, or even country.  I love seeing more hands raised and more people saying, “Me, too!” and providing support and understanding for one another.  Patient stories matter.  Our stories matter.

The DOC is also becoming more diverse, more inclusive, and more action-oriented, moving these online conversations to offline endeavors, making a tangible difference in the world of diabetes.  I’ve seen the start of this kind of change, and the tides are rising beautifully. And with it go all of our boats.

But there’s more work to be done.  Which brings me to Masterlab.

In a few days from now, dozens of diabetes advocates will bring their voices to sunny Orlando, Florida to participate in the Diabetes Hands Foundation’s Masterlab program, which is about “building a sense of what is possible and creating a formula for successful diabetes advocacy in the future.”

My response?  Oh hell to the absolute yes.  I asked Manny what the impetus was behind Masterlab, and he said that he’s hoping to address the “squeaky wheel” mentality of advocacy … namely, helping diabetes advocates make the wheel squeak more.

“We are in dire need of people who will tell their story, who will come out of their caves and tell to FDA, CMS, NIH, or your-favorite-alphabet-soup, the ways in which a particular drug, device, therapy, or research affects their lives. Maybe it’s not the A1c or the cardiovascular risk, but being able to live through less hypos or not having to take a shot. But we need more,” he said.

“We need advocates willing to speak where their voices need to be heard. We need people who can wear their passion “like a sports coat” (as Glu’s Dana Ball would say), balancing it with solid data to support their views packed with emotion. But we need more.”

The Masterlab takes place on July 2nd at the Orlando World Center Marriott from 7 am – 5 pm and is free for anyone who has already registered for the Children with Diabetes “Friends for Life” conference.  (If you would like to register just for Masterlab, the cost is $50.  You can register here.)  The full agenda is listed here, but if that’s tl;dr, the topics include Today’s Diabetes Advocacy Environment, What Has Been Accomplished by Other Patients (and How), Getting the Attention of Decision Makers, and Mobilizing the Diabetes Community, plus several others.

Manny added, “We need everyone behind the voices speaking on behalf of the community, providing an echo effect, to amplify our voices and make sure that there is not a single corner in any government office that has something that it could be doing to help more people touched by diabetes that doesn’t hear about it.  Putting in place the building blocks to start making this vision a reality… that is what Diabetes Advocates MasterLab is about. I hope the event sells out… because we need more.”

Click here for details on Masterlab, and please register if you’re coming to FFL, or if you live in the Orlando area.  Register soon, as space is limited.

Your voice matters.  Use it.

FFL: Social Media as Part of the Prescription.

At Friends for Life this  year, there was a special panel discussing “Social Media & The Monster Under the Bed: The Latest Thinking on Fearing vs. Embracing Social Media,” focusing on efforts to validate the role of peer-to-peer support in diabetes management.  Moderated by members of the diabetes online community, the panelists included:

  • Korey Hood, PhD – Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco
  • Jill Weissberg-Benchell, PhD, CDE – Associate Professor at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • Barbara Anderson, PhD – Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Baylor College of Medicine
  • Jeremy Pettus, MD – Internal Medicine Physician, San Diego, CA

Pretty awesome panel (and the discussion was live-streamed – video embedded below).  The point of this discussion was to get health care providers talking openly and honestly about their thoughts on people with diabetes finding support online.  “In terms of how healthcare professionals view the DOC, I think that there are mixed feelings about it,” said Korey.  “I think that some can see the value in it and see it as an extra resource and others are a little bit worried about the information that individuals can take from the online community and whether it will be accurate and consistent with their recommendations.”

“What do we do to get providers using this [social media] more, I think it requires a change in mindset, using social media as another tool,” said Jeremy.   “We concentrate on using insulin or the pumps and CGMs, but we don’t really think of this as another way of of helping our patients reach their A1C goals.  As we all know, diabetes is a very psychosocial disease and we have a lot of tools to help people ‘get there,’ but there’s a big disparity between what we can do and what actually happens.  That’s kind of where I see social media and online support fitting in – taking what the providers can do and adding the support element to make sure it gets done.  I think of this as another way of reaching treatment goals.”

Barbara tackled the question of whether or not HCPs think support is important in terms of predicting or improving patient outcomes.  “I think the assumption that medical providers would think support is important – I wish that was right.  I think that what medical providers think is important is the algorithm that I’m giving you, or the prescription that I’m giving you.  Not that the reality is that it’s [also] the support.”

Korey added to that:  “I do work in changing patient behavior because it’s easier than changing provider behavior.”

Actually, in the meetings leading up to the event, the goal seemed to be to validate the role of the DOC in patient outcomes, but throughout the course of the discussion, it became clear that validation wasn’t ‘necessary.’  The fact that there were so many people in that room, talking about their experiences and how they’ve learned, grown, and benefited as a result of being involved in the DOC was enough.  The proof is in the people.

Jill summed up things nicely for me:  “Social media is here to stay.  It’s an amazing opportunity to meet with people who have the exact same experience that you have, who get it at a level that your family, no matter how much they love you, can’t get.  You get this sense of community that is impossible to get at your doctor’s office.”

Diabetes is a background issue.  The BEEP of the Dexcom as it alarms for a dropping blood sugar isn’t preceded by the loud scraaaatch of a record needle scraping across the vinyl, signifying a break in the soundtrack of our house.  And my insulin pump is simply something that I wear.  Except at Friends for Life.  There, a wailing Dexcom can cause seven different people to reach into their bags, furrowing for a jar of glucose tabs to offer up.  And my insulin pump becomes a show of solidarity.

This summer was my fifth Friends for Life conference, and I don’t like the view of my life without it.  For years, diabetes was the thing that made me different, and made me the odd one out in my elementary school, then high school, then college, and so forth.  But now, thanks to a flourishing diabetes online community and conferences that are centered around educational and emotional support for people with diabetes, diabetes is what makes me the same.  People I’d never know, or ever have anything else in common with become friends and a huge part of my support network in the context of living with diabetes.

The influence of the support of others who understand can have as much of a positive impact as anything else prescribed for life with diabetes – maybe more so.  Feeling emotionally capable of managing a daily, demanding disease is what keeps me doing what needs to be done, and staying adherent/compliant.  All aspects of my health are better for it.

Thanks to the panelists for raising their voices about this topic, and I look forward to watching conversations evolve.

 

Friends for Life Frenzy.

Bringing Birdy to the Friends for Life conference was awesome, because I was finally able to introduce my bonkers Birdzone to my friends in the diabetes community.  (And by “finally,” I mean in a way that counted.  When I brought Birdy to the conference when she was two months old, it barely counts, because she was more in the “burping and pooping and sleeping,” which she’s still into, but in a different capacity.  Except the “sleeping” bit. She’s not really into that.)  This year, my daughter was part of the party.

This year’s Friends for Life conference was different, for me.  With my mom and my daughter traveling with me, my perspective was skewed, seeing the conference through my own eyes (as an adult T1D PWD and faculty member), my mother’s (the parent of a grown-up CWD), and my daughter (the kid of an adult T1D PWD – holy acronym).  I watched as my mom worked to find her footing, immersing herself into a large network of other parents, even though her own kid was now grown.  I watched my daughter reintroduce herself to some of my favorite people, like Scott and Christel, and hug them fiercely.  I saw how Friends for Life could touch the lives not just of people living with diabetes, but for the people who care about the people living with it.  Because they’re also living with it.

As part of the conference team, I was responsible for co-leading several sessions, including the impact diabetes has on dating, a discussion about pregnancy, one about parenting, and a session on social media and the diabetes online community.  These discussions always serve to reignite my passion for connecting with other people who have diabetes, and talking about ways to improve our collective experiences.  (That, and they’re fun.)  More on these talks later, as I unpack suitcases and reclaim the parts of my brain that smash words together.

It’s a busy conference – lots of running around – and the breaks are brief and coffee/glucose-tab fueled.  There are so many people there that I want to talk to, and so many that I want to give huge “thank you” hugs to.  Running from session to session, with stop-overs at daycare to bring Birdy to the bathroom and then drop her back off with the other little kids, I felt like there wasn’t ever enough time to do or see it all.  I wanted to slow everything down, but the week rushed by at an incredible pace that left me hoping for ways to stretch hours into days.

It’s sometimes too much, trying to find words to describe how this conference has changed my life over the years.  I knew I wasn’t ever truly alone, but sometimes diabetes can capture you in a cage of isolation, making you feel like even small changes are too big to make.  But then you look around, right?  And you see the sea of green bracelets on the wrists of people whose pancreases are the same as yours, holding tight to family members with orange bracelets, and becomes more than diabetes.  It’s more than insulin.  It’s more than meters.

On Thursday night, at the FFL banquet, Scott and I were honored with the Friends for Life award, recognizing our work on our respective blogs, and also in helping to bring the “adults with type 1” track to life for the conference.  That night, I couldn’t figure out what to say.  Even now, a few days later, I still don’t know, other than a “thank you” that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.  But I do know that those awards stand to recognize not just individuals, but what the DOC has done and changed over the last decade.  Every voice matters, and every story heals.  For me, sharing these stories has been part of the prescription for good health.  Being part of this community has improved the way I manage my diabetes, and I am forever grateful.

Our lives are all different, from those without diabetes, and even within our own diabetes community.  In a week at Friends for Life, we learn that our differences can be empowering.  And our sames can be uniting.

“Mawm, I wuv confwences,” Birdy told me, spinning the orange bracelet on her wrist.

I touched her orange one with my green one, and she smiled.  “Me too, love.  Me too.”

My Little Orange Bracelet.

At the Friends for Life conference, people who are living with type 1 diabetes wear bright green bracelets.  Green bracelet’ers are the people who know what my diabetes life is like, from the injections to the blood checks, from the guilt to the successes.  They get it.

But the orange bracelets go on the wrists of the loved ones of people with diabetes.  The moms and dads.  The siblings.  The friends.  The people who take such excellent and compassionate care of PWDs.

And this year, there’s an orange bracelet on the wrist of my three year old daughter, who is experiencing her first Friends for Life conference.  She’s played with beach balls in the exhibit hall and covered her name badge with stickers, danced in restaurants while waiting for ice cream, had her face painted, and made art projects out of colored pom poms and pipe cleaners. She’s meeting other mommies who have type 1 diabetes, who wear their insulin pumps on their hip and test their blood sugar.  And she’s meeting other little kids who have parents who are wearing green bracelets, who know that glucose tabs are for “whoa bwoodsugars” and that our bags are always packed with snacks … for everyone.

This is the magic of Friends for Life – it’s not just magical for me anymore.  It’s for her, too.

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