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Posts tagged ‘peer support’

Guest Post: What FFL Was Like as a First Timer.

Wondering what it’s like to be surrounded by thousands of people affected by diabetes?  Today, my fellow Friends for Life faculty member and longtime family friend, Scott Johnson, takes over SUM to share his experience as a first-timer at FFL back in 2010.  

Scott was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes back in 1980 and has been blogging about his experiences since 2004 over at Scott’s Diabetes Blog.  Today, he’s an integral (and huggable) part of the diabetes online community, working tirelessly as an advocate and also as the US communications lead for mySugr.

(And if you’re looking to connect in person with like-pancreased people, you can register for Friends for Life here.  Or, if July in Orlando is not your thing, there’s another conference in Falls Church, VA that might hit the mark for you.)

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As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I started noticing people with diabetes stuff around the hotel. A Dexcom sensor or OmniPod pump on their arm. Maybe a diabetes-related t-shirt. A used test strip. I was gawking at everyone! Rubbernecking my way from place to place as I walked around the hotel. It’s so uncommon to see people like me out in the world, but at Friends for Life, it’s the norm, which is a very powerful experience.

And when it comes to powerful experiences, Friends for Life has plenty to offer. One of my favorite moments was walking into the big breakfast room for the first time. By dumb luck, I picked a corner door and walked inside. That moment stopped me in my tracks.

I was stunned by how massive the room was. I couldn’t see everyone because it was too big. The other side of the room felt lost to the curving horizon line of the earth. And it hit me, suddenly, that everyone there was there for me. Well, not me, exactly, but “me” as in type 1 diabetes. I’d never seen so many people together specifically for type 1 diabetes before I’m my life – and I’ll never forget feeling so amazed, so grateful, and so ready to drink it all in. It tugged on some heartstrings I hadn’t known were there. I’d found a family I didn’t know I was missing.

Friends at Friends for Life

photo credit: Jeff Hitchcock

The whole conference was extremely emotional for me. Seeing little ones with diabetes knowing they’ll grow up with a better experience than me thanks to Friends for Life made me so hopeful and happy for them. But knowing they’ll know the shitty sides of diabetes too made me want to hug them and cry.

Some sessions were presentation style with slides, others were small group sessions offering a safe place to vent about tough topics with others in similar situations. There were different tracks to choose from, depending on interest, relationship to diabetes, age group, and more. I bounced around from session to session and was impressed by all of them. Jeff, Laura and the FFL team pull together an impressive roster of faculty members and volunteers to make magic happen. It was the first time in my life where I could listen to a famous doctor or scientist that I’d only read about give a presentation one hour, then find myself visiting with them later that day somewhere else in the conference. It felt surreal in so many amazing ways.

And then there’s simply sitting with a group of PWDs for hours and commiserating about some situation that we’ve all dealt with or just laughing the night away and talking about everything but diabetes.

It’s hard to describe the level of understanding present at Friends for Life. I remember listening to Rick Philbin give a talk about insulin pumps and exercise, and as he’s up at the podium he described the subconscious urge to check his pockets for glucose tabs every time he programmed a correction bolus out of fear for going low down the line. I was like, “whoa… he can see inside my soul..” but I’d never been able to articulate that subtle fear! And then there’s the story of getting to play basketball with Rick and Gary Scheiner – an awesome experience – until they got into a “discussion” about the score. That’s a day I’ll never forget!

And stay tuned for another guest post all about eyes …

I have to acknowledge Roche Diabetes Care’s huge roll in my first Friends for Life experience. They invited me to the second Roche Social Media Summit and hosted the event at the same location as the Friends for Life conference. This reduced some of my out of pocket expense (airfare) which made it possible for me to attend. That small logistical favor changed my life in so many ways. I’m forever grateful.

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Thanks, Scott.  See you in a few weeks!

Guest Post: My Magical Disney Moment.

The power of peer-to-peer connections is not lost on the diabetes community.  While insulin remains our strongest medication tool, our mental and emotional health is nourished by connecting with like-pancreased people, making any diabetes burden that much lighter.

One of the most amazing peer support cultures in the diabetes community is found at Children with Diabetes’ Friends for Life conference.  As a board member, I’m extremely proud of the influence FFL has on families affected by diabetes.  Which is why stories like Noor’s are so powerful, because they illustrate how finding your tribe can make all the difference in your health.  

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Born and raised in the Middle East, in a culture where a lot of stigma is attached to people with medical conditions, growing up with T1D was very isolating, lonely and resentful. I was diagnosed at the age of 5, the first 8 years went by smoothly; my mom took on majority of my care load and those pesky hormones still hadn’t made their grand appearance. My doctors put me on a pedestal; I was their most “compliant” patient (yes that was a word that was actually used back then). Puberty kicked in and life as I knew it was over; the hormones took me on a never-ending whirlpool ride. I was embarrassed, tired, exhausted and done with diabetes. I was done with being different. I didn’t know how to explain that to my family and doctor. I felt like I was failing them and they wouldn’t understand, so I decided the easiest way to deal with it is to not deal with it at all. The next 3 years were a nightmare; I was in and out of the hospital more times than I can count. I was in severe DKA 3 times, once so severe the doctors said that I was going into cardiac arrest. I was in a coma for 5 days due to a hypo seizure. My a1c was 13%.

My parents did everything in their power to try and help; they tried soft love, tough love, grounding, reasoning, bribing, yelling, etc. but nothing worked, nothing fazed me. My doctor back home recommended attending the Friends For Life conference in Orlando; he thought it would be an encouraging experience. Little did he know it would save my life, LITERALLY. My parents dragged me kicking and screaming (maybe less kicking and more screaming); the last thing I wanted was to be in a room filled with “outcasts” and “weirdoes,” because you know as a teenager I was a “cool kid.”

The turning point of my life wasn’t when one of the amazing inspirational speakers talked about how he won the super bowl with T1D nor when a world renowned researcher talked about the effects of high and low blood sugars on our organs. It was on a Disney bus on the way to EPCOT with a group of teens who took me in and invited me to join. Kenny, a T1D teen, who was on top of his diabetes game, was checking his blood sugar using his forearm. I asked him the reason behind it and he casually answers, “In case I ever develop complications and need to read braille, I don’t want calluses on my fingertips.”

THAT was my wake-up call, THAT was my holy moly moment, THAT was all it took, THAT was my magical Disney moment.

Fast-forward 13 years; I haven’t missed a single conference, besides one because I was too busy having my twins (I know my priorities are off psht). I am not a mushy cheesy person; sarcasm is my language but brace yourself for this. These people have become my family, my friends for life and my squad. We have been through birthdays, relationships, breakups, marriages, childbirth, graduations, political turmoil (yes that’s a big one), highs and lows together. They inspire me everyday to do better and be better, not only with T1D but also with life in general. They made me comfortable in my own skin (after that summer I agreed to go on a pump after years of resistance); proud of the person I am with my diabetes and embrace it every day. When I’m having a screwed up T1D day, I know I can text them and they “get it.”

When I manage to workout and stay in perfect range they “get it” and understand what a huge deal that is. When I send them a screenshot of my dexcom with 2 arrows up after eating pizza, their “but that was worth it” response lets me know they “get it.” They have normalized this disease; suddenly I wasn’t alone, an outcast, or scared. They are nurses, doctors, advocates, athletes, chefs, photographers, businessmen/women and the list goes on. They proved to me that you can be anything you want to be and be amazing at it, in spite of the struggles.

That is the power of a community.  This is what they meant when they said “it takes a village.”

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Noor Alramahi has been living with diabetes since the age of 5 and since she wrote her own bio, I’m going to paste it here in full.  Mostly because she adds “had twins” as this NBD sort of thing when it is SUCH a BD.

“I’m a 28 year old curly brunette who’s in love with Tiramisu and Justin Timberlake. I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 5, since then I have learned to play piano, played varsity soccer, competed in horse jumping, travelled to more than 19 countries, had twins and can’t think of one thing that having diabetes has stopped me from doing. I am married to my best friend and have 2 year old boys. I have been part of  CWD FFL staff for the past 8 years, I also help run their social media platform. Five years ago CWD FFL inspired me to leave my corporate job and join the T1D nonprofit world and focus on helping people. I work as the community manager at Carb DM and am the co-founder of T1D females group in the family planning, pregnancy and post pregnancy phases called Sugar Mommas

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Thanks for sharing your story, Noor!

If you’re interested in seeing how Children with Diabetes can change your life, check out the website and consider coming to a conference.  If you already know how Children with Diabetes can change your life, please consider donating to support the organization.  And if you’d like to share your story about how the support of CWD has influenced your life, please email me at kerri (at) sixuntilme (dot) com.

Guest Post: Peer Support, and Mending a Broken Heart.

Anna Floreen was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six, and she lives in the Boston area with her husband and their adorable puppy dog.  She’s currently working as the Community Outreach Manager for Glu and travels the country speaking at diabetes-related events.  A champion for diabetes camps and peer-to-peer support, Anna works tireless to build up the diabetes community.  Today, she’s sharing part of a very difficult experience that she went through a few weeks ago, involving the end of a pregnancy dream, the power of peer support, and the slow, steady process of rebuilding.

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Friends are great. Girlfriends are that, “What do you need / what are you craving” after a shitty break up who show up with ice cream and your favorite chick flick. But diabetes friends are speechless – not because they don’t say anything, but because they get it. I realize now more than ever, that those friends who have the “unspoken understanding” of diabetes matter the most to me, at least, right now anyway.

My husband and I lost a very much wanted baby girl five weeks ago – exactly at the half way point of my pregnancy. The loss was nothing diabetes-related whatsoever. It was an insanely rare congenital heart defect in which we did nothing to cause. (Trust me, the guilt of diabetes was most certainly number 1 on my brain cells for quite some time).  It wasn’t however, my parents or best friend that I turned to first to share my horrible, no good, very-bad day news with; it was a peer with type 1. She knew I was pregnant before my mom (Sorry mom – I was in Vancouver), and she helped guide me through every “exit explosion” of morning sickness, the crazy low blood sugars, and all the doctor’s appointments.

She was in the next room when we were given our baby’s devastating diagnosis (she’s not a stalker; we share the same OB/GYN and endocrinologist).  It seemed weird not to tell her. She waited in the parking lot after her appointment to make sure I wasn’t alone, checked in with me daily the week following my surgery. I told her, and other type 1’s about this experience first because they get it. They get what it takes to bear a pregnancy with type 1: the endless overnight beeping, juice box wrappers, and constant communication with care-team members, so of course it makes sense. We crave that feeling of belonging, we’re kindredly connected, and I kind of like that.

Weeks later, as I attempt to grasp my new reality, I’m feeling incredibly thankful to have these peers. Although I am no longer pregnant, Kerri is. And I will be that same rock and shoulder and peer to her if she needs it that she has been to me for the last whatever-the-eff months that was a pretty big blob of blur to me. I’ve learned that it takes a lot of work and homework to prepare and endure a pregnancy, but it’s a heck of a lot better when you have super awesome people to follow along with you.

Never underestimate the power of our peers … especially those with reduced pancreatic function. Sometimes we forget how grateful we are for these friendships, so go text a friend, send them a card, or take a moment to think about the positive power of a peer.

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Jumping in to confirm that Anna has been a tremendous support resource for me and my family as we’ve navigated infertility and pregnancy, and the ties that bind here are permanent.  I look forward to the day that our kids hang out together at the beach and compare notes.

Thanks for trusting us with this, Anna.  xo

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