The IDF Congress proved once again that the power of peer support should never, ever be underestimated. From spending time with the considerable number of diabetes advocates floating around the conference centre, to hearing about their work, to seeing them present their sessions, to speaking with the enthusiastic IDF Young Leaders, there were constant reminders of just how much we value and need contact with those who know diabetes.

Our peers are not only those whose beta cell production is on strike. It’s also the people who cheer and champion us. While I will always shout about how I need to be around others with diabetes – those who intrinsically ‘get it’ – my tribe also includes people affected by diabetes in other ways. Having friends and colleagues Taryn Black and Jane Speight at the Congress was wonderful because they were able to showcase the amazing work they do that champions people with diabetes. (They may not want to be friends anymore after they see this picture…)

When we asked for topic submissions for IDF2019, peer support rang out strongly as a topic for which there was much interest. This has been consistent with all the IDF Congresses I’ve attended. But we wanted to make sure we were considering it lots of different ways and at different stages of a person with diabetes’ life. What were the benefits for younger people with diabetes through their own eyes? We don’t get to hear from them all that frequently. And what about for older people who have lived with diabetes for many years, or who are newly diagnosed with diabetes? And what about people whose diabetes doesn’t neatly fit into the pigeonholes we so like to use in the diabetes landscape?

And so, the program managed to highlights these different aspects of peer support, showing that there are just as many ways we find a way to connect as there are people with diabetes!

So, here are some snapshots from different folks at the Congress to give you an understanding of just how much peer support was all around!

Lydia Parkhurst spoke about how important it was to have met other young people with diabetes as she moved from adolescent to young adulthood. She said: ‘It’s great having the support from my friends and family, but unless you have diabetes yourself, you never truly know.’

Georgie Peters looked at not only the positive aspects of peer support, but also how it may enable damaging behaviours – in this case, referencing recovery from a diabetes-related eating disorder.

Jane Speight spoke about how peer support may help reduce diabetes distress, and in my N=1 example, I can say that is certainly true.

Bastian Hauck acknowledged the input of peers in the #WeAreNotWaiting movement, explaining how the online support is the best 24 hour customer service hotline imaginable!

Cheryl Steele echoed Bastian’s comments about the DIYAPS online world in her talk that touched on support as she discussed the ages and stages of type 1 diabetes.

At the Ascensia Social Media Summit, in his opening remarks Joe from Ascensia made the point: ‘Peer support is a really important aspect of living with diabetes.’Ascensia’s commitment to this in their regular summits, as well as their online campaigns is brilliant. At this summit, there were 171 years of diabetes lived experience in the room, and a lot of camaraderie. There were a lot of buzz at this event, with people who had only known each other online suddenly becoming IRL friends.

Friend and fabulous diabetes advocate Phylissa Deroze spoke that not all peer support is right for all people. Finding space when living with type 2 diabetes can be challenging.

And peer support researcher and staunch supporter, Ed Fisher amended his well known ‘Four Key Functions of Peer Support’ by adding a fifth: ‘Being there and shared experience’. How wonderful is it that recognition of that ‘we get it’ aspect of peer support is being acknowledged by researchers?!

Off the program, it was impossible to ignore the power of that shared experience. We heard stories that resonated because they mirror our own. And then we heard those that were not anything like ours, but we wanted to learn more and understand just how they impacted our brothers and sisters with diabetes. When I heard Sana from Pakistan explaining the discrimination and stigma associated with diabetes means that women don’t tell their husbands they are living with diabetes, hiding away the day to day tasks required (if doing them at all), her advocacy efforts became even more remarkable. And when one of the young leaders echoed this story, and went on to share how she wore her pump prominently at an extended family gathering, despite warnings from her parents that it wasn’t a good idea, we couldn’t help but applaud. Feminism and diabetes activism is really tough going, and these were just two women being the change and storming the way through for others.

And, then…then there was Manny.

Manny Hernandez gave the award lecture for the Living with Diabetes Stream. When we were choosing who to acknowledge for this award, Manny stood out for his work in the diabetes community.

Manny was asked to choose his own topic for his talk, and came up with ‘The Importance of Community for People with Diabetes’. He couldn’t have chosen a better subject matter! Manny started by sharing his own story, and how it wasn’t until he met others with diabetes that he felt connected to a community. ‘I learned more in one hour with peers than in the previous four years,’ he commented. And then: ‘There are amazing endocrinologists out there but they can’t know what it’s like to live with diabetes, what the nuances of high and low blood sugar feels like, because they don’t live it.

Manny being Manny didn’t just leave it there. He wanted others to have what he had found, and so he created Tu Diabetes, followed by Es Tu Diabetes and The Diabetes Hands Foundation (DHF). For so many people with diabetes, this was a first foray into peer support. I know that it was a hugely valuable source of information and support for me. And it introduced me to people who have become very, very dear friends. (Massive shout out to Melissa Lee who was interim CEO of DHF after Manny left. I can’t even begin to explain how much I appreciate her warmth, wisdom and wit. And friendship.)

Manny’s award lecture was a love letter to and for all of us who have found that support which makes our lives with diabetes easier, better and more hopeful; for finding out tribes, loving them hard.

It’s no wonder that #PeerSupport was one of the most used hashtags at the Congress. It was recognised by speakers in different sessions as a cornerstone of diabetes management, just as important as other aspects involved in our care.

And so, I guess that this blog isn’t anytime soon going to stop or slow down extolling the benefits and value of peer support. Thanks to all those wonderful peers – friends – at #IDF2019 for making the experience such a rich and supportive one.


I was the Chair of the Living with Diabetes Stream at the IDF Congress in Busan. My flights to Busan were covered by Ascensia Global (in order for me to get to Busan in time to co-facilitate their Social Media Summit). Flights home and accommodation were covered by the IDF.