There are times living with diabetes that you can feel like the only person in the entire world who is dealing with the struggles of living with a 24/7, 365 days a year disease. Then there is the online community who you can go to for support at any given time. About anything. Even better are the in person meet ups that often come out of interacting online. Well take that up a notch and you have a whole weekend of time spent with about 100 women who all have diabetes of some type! Now that is rewarding.
I had the honor of attending the Weekend for Women conference held by Diabetes Sisters this past weekend in Raleigh, NC. There is something so touching about being in the presence of close to 100 women from 20 different states, all knowing what you go through living with diabetes. It was a wonderful way to enlighten us about how best to take care of ourselves, reinforce that we are not alone and create a bond that is priceless. I got to spend time with Allison, and got to meet Sysy, Sarah, Melissa, Melissa and so many others.
Friday night we were welcomed into the Sisterhood by Brandy Barnes, the founder of Diabetes Sisters. We broke up into groups and had fun playing games to get to know one another. And it was in fact that. Fun.
There was a variety of speakers during the conference, all of whom were fantastic to listen to. The first keynote speaker was Gloria Loring. She has a son with type 1 diabetes, so although she doesn’t live with the disease herself, she is a very dedicated D mom. She spoke about ways in which we can adapt to life living with diabetes through personal growth and shared some very touching personal stories. She also sang for us which was a real treat with that voice of hers!
The conference offered breakout sessions where you could choose which one you wanted to attend. I attended the Diabetes & Heart Disease discussion. Dr. Thelsa Pulikkotil, chief cardiology fellow at UNC at Chapel Hill, offered some great information about what women with diabetes need to know about their risks for heart disease. I’ll admit that some of it was a bit depressing, hearing those astounding risk statistics, but knowledge is power and from this I will be finding out my individual LDL, HDL and triglyceride numbers from my endo. She added some humor to her presentation which I enjoyed. I also attended the Living with Advanced Duration Diabetes session. This was led by Connie Hanham-Cain, Claire M. Blum and Cindi Goldman-Patin all RN and CDE’s as well as part of the Diabetes Sisterhood. Being in a room full of women who had a combined 500 years living with diabetes was inspirational to say the least! It was again a bit depressing learning about some of the unspoken challenges and complications that can come from having diabetes a long time. But it was also relieving to see so many woman who have some of these complications and are doing okay! We also had a group discussion about Strategies to Improve Glycemic Control led by Elizabeth Politt. She offered some good information about diet that is best for women living with diabetes.
The Celebration of Strength dinner was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. It started with the reception room being decorated in orange. It looked beautiful. (And I was very under dressed!) Riva Greenberg spoke to us about flourishing with diabetes. She shared her own story and we spoke to each other about challenges we had overcome. It was very motivational to hear different stories about the challenges we overcome. Every single woman in attendance was recognized for their time having diabetes and rewarded with their own Orange Will pin. I was part of the Sisters with diabetes for 20-30 years.
We ended the dinner with some singing and dancing. I will listen to Superwoman by Alicia Keys from now on and it will bring me back to that special moment shared by all of us.
Sunday morning started bright and early for the first annual Orange Will Walk. We all came together, including the Mayor of Raleigh, and walked a mile in support of well, ourselves. After the walk Mayor Meeker commended us for our efforts of educating and advocating for women with diabetes. He presented Diabetes Sisters with a plaque and declared May 1st Orange Will Empower Women with Diabetes Day. How awesome is that!
After the walk, we enjoyed a nice breakfast and a discussion about Sex, Relationships and Diabetes, led by Rhonda Merwin PhD and Lisa Honeycutt MA, LPC both from Duke University Medical Center. This was a very personal topic which I think touched many of us. We learned a lot about not only ourselves but about the role our significant others play in the daily routine of our diabetes care.
There was another breakout session and I attended Evolving Technology led by Kelly Close. I’ve met Kelly before and always enjoy listening to her speak. While I honestly didn’t learn too much that I didn’t already know about existing or upcoming technology products, it was great to hear Kelly’s perspective on medication and devices. She shared her own experiences with things like the CGMS and other diabetes medications. I admire what she does with diaTribe. If you haven’t heard of it, I’d highly recommend checking it out.
Our last speaker was Ann Albright, Director of Division of Diabetes Translation Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When I think of people working for the CDC, I automatically think of business-only, serious kind of people. Ann to my pleasant surprise, is not like that at all. Living with diabetes herself, she is passionate about creating better resources for people who have diabetes. She suggested things we can do to improve these resources like getting more involved within our communities and even with our loved ones. She was extremely down to earth, fun and you can feel her love for what she does through her presentation. She ended with her love of the blues, playing Eric Clapton’s Change the World with us all on our feet, snapping, clapping and singing with her. This is another song that I will never hear the same again.
Overall my experience at Weekend for Women was a memorable one. There was so much that I gained from it, that I will take with me forever. Thank you so much Brandy and the rest of the Diabetes Sisters team for organizing such a worthy event. I’m really hoping I can make it again next year!
And a special thank you to my wonderful husband, who came along with me for the trip. He was a great sport roaming the Raleigh neighborhood while I was in sessions. And although he wasn’t with me during the conference itself, it was great to see his face during breaks and to have him by my side at night and during the Orange Will walk on Sunday. It meant more than he will know to have him with me.