When your family is on a tight budget and you decide to spend several hundred dollars to attend a conference…it better be worth it right?
Well, I think the National Diabetes Sisters Conference is. I’ve got three main reasons why:
1. Meeting diabetics who have lived well for decades with this disease is some of the best hope one can get and meeting others like ourselves is a great comfort.
2. A weekend away from family, work, and responsibilities allows time for one to focus on their health and their thoughts about it.
3. To be educated, to be informed, to be stripped of ignorance is in a word, power.
When you put this all together, you have what I experienced this weekend. A feeling of renewed hope and time enough to really assess the information given to me. As a result, I came back home with a much better vision of what having diabetes 16 years means to me.
Over the years I’ve learned more and more about how well one can live with diabetes. Yet, over the years I’ve also heard a lot of scary stories. Fear is powerful and overwhelming and during the past 16 years fear has often taken over me as I would half jokingly come to the conclusion that perhaps having a quick auto accident at the age of 40 or 50 would be best for me. At this conference I personally spoke with women who have lived with diabetes for over 30, 40, and 50 years! I had heard it was possible but I didn’t hear it enough for it to feel real. Well, these ladies are not only real, they are amazing. They are healthy, fit, intelligent, passionate, and they have a lively sense of humor. Someone literally had to tell me to lift my jaw off the floor. This was for me, one of the major highlights of the weekend.
Being away from my twins for the first time was at first a bit heart-wrenching. I got over it as soon as I realized I wouldn’t be changing diapers for a few days. The funny thing is, because my almost two year olds have been with me all their life, I constantly felt that they were in the next room or somehow with me. They are at an age where they can easily get hurt and so my attention is very much focused on them during the day. This means that housework, blogging, and my own needs are sometimes neglected. There were things I had time to think about this weekend without being distracted and it was really helpful.
One of the scariest things is learning about diabetes complications. I was in a room with about 30 women when there was a presentation done about advanced duration diabetes. I was the only one with tears streaming down my cheeks. I don’t know if others wanted to cry and could hold it in but I couldn’t. I cried for two reasons. Part of me realized that as hard as my diabetes is to deal with now, I can expect more challenges down the road. It is extremely likely that as every decade passes, something will arise from having diabetes that will be a difficult consequence of having it so many years. This is an overwhelming thought. I also cried, however, because I realized that well managed diabetes reduces the risk of complications by a whole heck of a lot. I have well managed diabetes. I haven’t always and probably won’t always but at least for now, I’m hanging in there, lowering my risks for complications one day at a time.
There was a presentation by a cardiologist that I really enjoyed about women and heart disease. Apparently we are at a much higher risk than men and in our modern age, as the population dies less frequently from heart disease, women with diabetes are dying more frequently from it. This is very different from men with diabetes and I was amazed to find out the cardiologist didn’t have any ideas as to why women are so much more vulnerable. As worrisome as this is, I take comfort in knowing that by keeping my A1c down, my cholesterol down, and my blood pressure down, my heart disease risk lowers dramatically. And so does yours. Knowing this is power because it means that every day we have proof in our minds that making healthy and consistent lifestyle choices are well worth the effort.
I got to sit while eating my meals (something I rarely do).
As a member of the conference and I rode the elevator down Sunday morning, we were so kindly flashed by some insane naked man who showed up outside the doors when they opened and then ran away. I gasped and covered my eyes and the the lady next to me laughed and said, “Well at least he was young-it could have been worse.”
We heard a talk by Gloria Loring who was fabulous. She was confident and sassy and her message to us was not only inspiring, it was useful. She advocates for us to breath deeply, to “play the love” instead of the fear, and to turn negative self talk into positive self talk-something I’ve found extremely helpful in the past few years. In case you’re wondering, she doesn’t have diabetes but has a son who was diagnosed type 1 at age four.
My primary motivation to go to this conference was to hear Riva Greenberg speak and I was not let down. I find her message very motivating to me in particular because not only does she advocate for persons with diabetes to live well, she takes it a step further. She says we should strive to “flourish with diabetes”. To live a great life with this disease not in spite of it, but because of it. To me this message is an extremely important one. Why not make our diabetes a motivator to serve us to our advantage instead of just getting by with it? She attended the entire conference and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people magically gravitate to one person. I understood why when I found myself doing the same. She is very non-judgmental, warm, respectful, graceful, funny, and just plain awesome.
Ann Albright finished up the day on Sunday and really impressed me, too. With all kinds of palpable energy she told us to remember this quote: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. At first, this might take people aback. When you think about it though she has a point. She said that if we don’t advocate for our rights as people with diabetes, then who will? If we don’t set a great example of what living with diabetes is like, then who will? And it’s so true. If we don’t work to change things for the better, we’re just part of the population of people complaining about how bad some things are. If we all do something about it, we’ll have less to complain about.
I want to share a few tidbits with you all about things I learned or observed:
-The women with type 1 who had it for many years at this conference often shunned processed food. I hate to admit it but I sort of watched them as they ate to see what their choices were and I saw a lot of vegetables and chicken, olive oil and vinegar for salads, fresh fruit and eggs for breakfast, instead of pancakes and syrup and rolls, for example. I couldn’t help but notice and think that I will continue with whole, unprocessed foods as the bulk of my diet. It works for me for a reason and it seems to be working for others.
-Brandy Barnes, the woman who started Diabetes Sisters was great. She is definitely passionate and devoted to the cause of women and diabetes. In other words, she is the real deal and I think that she was definitely on to something when she decided to focus on the unique aspects of women living with diabetes. Her dream of a “sisterhood” is a wonderful concept when you consider the natural bond women tend to have.
-Many of us missed having men at the conference which is a natural sentiment. However, how do you openly and comfortably talk sex, pregnancy, and menopause with men in the room? Perhaps a little bit more difficult. So I really appreciated this set up. Someone had the idea of gathering the husbands and boyfriends next time so they could talk to each other about their experiences of living with diabetic wives and girlfriends. Boy, would I love to be a fly on that wall.
-My blood sugars don’t normally go over 200 and during this diabetes conference weekend they stayed between 200-300 as I ate small servings of salad, chicken, eggs, and green beans. Ugh, go figure!
-I am not a “girl’s girl” type and I am uncomfortable in crowds and I still loved this conference. If you think you would or wouldn’t enjoy this I would still highly recommend it. You deserve to take a little time to learn about your diabetes, spend some time thinking about it and focusing on it, and talking to others who actually get it.
-There were many other speakers who gave fantastic talks and provided helpful diabetes related information. Almost all talked about our thoughts influencing our diabetes management in some way. (There must be something to that!)
Last but not least I did not get lost, although the GPS did annoy me with a constant song called “recalculating, recalculating, recalculating” How ever did I make it there and back? ;)