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It’s International Women’s Day and I want to it yell from the rooftops and celebrate the incredible women diabetes advocates who continue to lead and chart paths that are pioneering and innovative. But in equal measure, I want to crawl into a cave and return out of it once the performative platitudes are over.

And yet, I can’t go without acknowledging it, because there is literally one day a year when women are centred and even then, we must defend our right to a day that highlights the centuries of systematic inequality that entrenched misogyny has afforded us, and answer the inevitable question: ‘WhY iSn’T thErE an InTerNaTiOnaL Men’S DaY?’ (There is. It’s in November. Put on your own morning tea.)

We’re seeing more and more women talk about how they feel targeted and unsafe in all spaces – on- and off- line. It’s not because this is suddenly ‘a thing’. Rather it’s becoming more acceptable to talk about it and to call it out.

Which is what I do. 

Last year, I wrote about an event I’d facilitated women and diabetes. When I linked to the post on twitter, I was accosted for my take which dared to suggest that misogyny contributes to so many women’s health issues being under researched and rarely discussed.  And then I was told off for not crediting the men who had discovered insulin.

Getting #NotAllMen’d and attempting to centre men on a post about the prejudice women experience in healthcare did drive home my point, but really, it was completely unnecessary. And downright exhausting too.

Also last year, in preparation for a presentation about diabetes and menopause, I asked the DOC if they routinely had discussions with healthcare professionals about menopause and diabetes. I had naively thought that it would start a conversation with women in the community. Instead, I had some bloke have a go at me for not promoting low carb diets and topped it all off with a demand that I don’t talk with my peers about menopause because I have no health professional training. 

Again, exhausting. But also, it’s just what women have come to expect. Being mansplained menopause or told that my own analysis of entrenched misogyny is wrong is simply part and parcel of being a woman who dares speak up. 

Most recently, I’ve been dealing with some pretty damn pathetic anonymous trolling which is hurtful and ludicrous. Someone is so unimpressed with me they have felt the need to repeatedly let me know and inform me it’s why they refuse to support Spare a Rose, and that I need to stop suggesting that it is the only way the diabetes community can help people with diabetes in Ukraine. I’ve checked. I’ve not said that. Not once. So I’m not sure why anyone is going out of the way to deliberately highlight that no one must support the campaign. It’s not lost on me that of the coordinating group of this community initiative, I am both the only woman and the only one being targeted. 

There is more to those messages though. There is also this: ‘You do nothing other than self-promote … and amplify yourself.’ I wonder how many men who share their work, tweet what they’re up to, feel proud of what they have achieved are accused of this. Because it has been a recurring theme throughout my career. That and being called words like strident, and being told that I should be reined in.  

I don’t feel special here. There are many women who have had similar experiences. I could have just ignored those messages, or stewed away quietly. But I have chosen to share them and I do so knowing there is a snowball effect in play.  Undeniably, it’s easier to pop your head above the parapet when you know there are others out there too. When we recognise our own difficult experiences bravely shared by others, we find it easier to bravely step up too.

I know this, because I spend a lot of time reaching out to thank women who have shared their story. And every single time I’ve ventured to share the gendered crap I’ve dealt with, I’ve had dozens of women send me a DM to tell me their experience is similar. Sometimes, we privately share who is the behind our experience, and it is remarkable just how often the same names come up. And it is also remarkable just how often those men claim to be allies. Those same men who can’t help but refer to people like me as angry women. Is it important for them to point out my gender when they’re having a go? Apparently, yes.

I am more than happy to be called an angry woman, a strident woman, an irate feminist. I will wear those labels as badges of honour. Because I know this: If you see and hear woman calling out the crap and respond by calling us angry women, you have played your cards and they show us that you are a misogynist. You are showing how you can’t handle strong women. And you are speaking when you should be listening.

In case you can’t zoom in to read the caption on my tee, it says ‘Don’t be a lady, Be a legend’.

There are some far more celebratory IWD posts on diabetogenic, and I encourage you to read them because the women acknowledged deserve the recognition. 

Read this one.

And this one.

And this one.

Usually, as February comes to a close, there is a flurry of excitement in the diabetes online community as the final tally for the annual #SpareARose campaign is announced.

This year is different. With war breaking out in Ukraine, it didn’t make sense to end the campaign at the exact moment that many in the diabetes community were wondering how to help our brothers and sisters affected by the war.

And so, after a frantic 24 hours of emails, text messages, phone calls and people doing things, #SpareARose for Ukraine was launched.

It’s live. Right now. And you can be part of it. 

The colours may have changed a little, but the campaign remains that same: a donation – not matter how big or small – will help people with diabetes living in challenging situations. All funds are donated directly to Insulin for Life, a charity that has years of experience working providing insulin and diabetes supplies to under-resourced countries and responding to emergencies. This is an emergency. 

Insulin for Life will be earmarking funds donated in March for their efforts supporting people with diabetes affected by the war in Ukraine. They are part of an international consortium, with partners in Ukraine, and they have supplies ready to go if, when and where they are needed. 

You can help by sharing details of how to donate to #SpareARose for Ukraine with your networks. Speak with your workplace to see if they will support the campaign by matching employee donations. You can connect with the campaign online (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and share what we’re posting. Remember to share outside as well as within the DOC to reach as big an audience as possible.

And, of you can, you can donate.

#SpareARose for Ukraine builds on what has always been a community campaign. It was started by diabetes advocates, it continues to be coordinated by diabetes advocates, all on a volunteer basis. It is underpinned by the philosophy ‘BY the community, FOR the community’. Please support any way you can.

Click image to donate

Gosh, it’s been a hot minute since I last did one of these. The whole point of Interweb Jumble posts on Diabetogenic is to highlight anything that has caught my interest in the online diabetes world, write about initiatives I’ve been involved in, and, most importantly, to elevate the great work being done by others living with diabetes. Building folks up and promoting their amazing efforts has been at the heart of what I do, so I’m always happy to share what others are doing.

Grab a coffee, tea or shandy, (Don’t. Don’t grab a shandy), and read on.

Diabetes Chat

YES!! There is a new place to congregate online, in a different format, and with this one, you get to hear people’s voices. (Sorry to everyone who had to endure my 7am Aussie accent last Tuesday!). This is a new initiative that’s been set up by three DOC folks – Tom from the UK, and Chris and Sarah from the US, utilising a new feature on Twitter called Spaces. It’s a terrific way to host an online peer meeting, creating yet another time and place that is BY people with diabetes, FOR people with diabetes. There is a weekly guest who gets put through their paces with terrific questions from the hosts and those listening in, and an open mic chat time as well. 

It’s super impressive to see people from all over the globe participating. It reminds me a little of the DSMA tweetchats which are very welcoming and open to all, regardless of where you live around the world. 

Search #DiabetesChat on Twitter for more.

dStigmatize

The team at diaTribe has once again tapped into one of the important issues, and much spoken about topics in the diabetes community and developed a terrific new website addressing diabetes stigma. It’s called dStigmatize and you can find it here

I’m delighted to see Diabetes Australia’s work on stigma and language highlighted so prominently on the site (disclosure: I work at Diabetes Australia and have been involved in this work), including the videos from last year’s Australian National Diabetes Week campaign, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. 

Seasons of…diagnosis

New research out of Finland asked if more people were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during colder months. You can read the paper here.

And a discussion on Twitter about it here.  

HypoRESOLVE podcast

The HypoRESOLVE comms team created a new podcast to showcase the incredible work of this researchers involved in the project, with a strong emphasis on how people with diabetes are involved in the project. I was delighted to host this podcast and speak with some truly remarkable clinicians and researchers as well as other people with diabetes who are on the projects Patient Advisory Committee. (Disclosure – I am on the HypoRESOLVE PAC. PAC members are now paid an honorarium for our time working on this project, however we were not at the time of recording or working on this podcast.)

Here is the most recent episode (on Spotify). 

Better engagement with PWD = better services

Great paper from a team out of the UK looking at how connecting with the lived experience expertise of people with diabetes, health professionals and diabetes health services can improve service delivery. 

One of the co-authors is one of the GBdoc OG, Laura (@Ninjabetic1 on Twitter), and it’s great to see her name back in the diabetes world, contributing to this important discussion. 

And the DDA podcast…

The Danish Diabetes Academy developed a podcast out of their Winter School that featured Postdocs who had participated in the academy speaking with others in the diabetes world to discuss who academic researchers work to ensure their research reaches and benefits those they are researching. I was so honoured to be invited to be interviewed for their first episode and answered questions about how communication is important when engaging people with diabetes to be part of the research process. You can listen here.  

Language Matters for Portuguese speaking friends with diabetes!

The latest in the Diabetes #LanguageMatters stable is this document out of Brazil. Always terrific to see more and more statements coming out, highlighting the importance of language and communication in diabetes. 

Thinking of starting on an insulin pump?

If so, the awesome Grainne at Blood Sugar Trampoline has you covered with this post. It is truly one of the most measured pieces I’ve read about things to consider if you are on the path to starting an insulin pump. The gushiness and superlatives that many of us resort to when banging on about how much we love our pumps are replaced with sensible, and practical advice and suggestions. If this is where you’re thinking of taking your diabetes management, Grainne’s piece is a must read.

Who doesn’t want to come to ATTD!? 

#dedoc° voices is back and heading to ATTD in April this year, and applications are still open if you would like to be considered as part of the program. Successful applicants will be granted access to the entire ATTD program, giving them an opportunity to share what they see and learn with their networks. Make your submission count – this is a competitive process and success is more likely for those who take the time to provide details of how they will be involved in the program. Details here

(Disclosure: I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role.) 

World Health Organisation

In March, the World Health Organisation, through the Global Diabetes Compact, is hosting a two-day focus group for people with lived experience of diabetes. If you’re interested in getting involved, there is an expression of interest process you can complete here

Also from WHO is this survey which is asking people with diabetes how to improve messaging and communication. You only have until 28 Feb, so get onto it now! (Disclosure: I was a volunteer consultant in the development of this survey) 

Massive kudos to the Global Diabetes Compact team who are doing an absolutely stellar job engaging with the community. Always so terrific to see!

A diabetes sea shanty…

You’re welcome.

(Follow @TypeWonDiabetes on Instagram here.) 

People with diabetes and their involvement in research

An end of year delight was this article that I co-authored making it to publication. The article is about how to better involve people with health conditions in research (which really seems to be something I’ve been very focussed on recently!). 

Spare a Rose – last push

February still has a last few days which means that Spare a Rose isn’t over yet. You can still donate and contribute to this year’s total and support people with diabetes in under-resourced countries through the Insulin for Life program. 

I was interviewed for an article last year and loved the copy they came up with, but it was the heading that got me. ‘Living a Life of Advocacy’ it screamed at me bold text, perfectly popping out from the hot pink background of the photo they’d selected to accompany the article. 

The photo is from a while ago now. It was 2013, and I was on a stage in Paris where I’d been invited to give a keynote at Doctors 2.0 – a digital health conference that brought together people using, developing and constantly thinking about digital health solutions.  I look at that photo and love the action shot of me mid-sentence, one hand holding a microphone, the other waving, because of course. 

But I also know that at the time I was about 10 weeks pregnant and behind the confidence I projected on that stage, I was terrified and anxious. It was a terrifying time as I balanced wanting to be the best advocate I could while also wanting to bunker down back home, wrap myself in cotton wool and do nothing but protect the baby I was growing. 

As I spoke about how digital solutions bring together a diabetes community from across the globe, I didn’t know that a mere four weeks later, while in New York, I would miscarry my much-wanted baby. I didn’t know that I was about to face the most challenging and emotionally traumatic period of my life. I didn’t know that, because all I thought about in that moment as I was on that stage with the hot pink background, was how important being there was – people with diabetes on stages as equals with health professionals, disrupters and industry. It was big!

Living a life of advocacy. All while almost being afraid to breathe because I was worried that every jolt, every movement, and the active way I present was endangering the baby. No one else would have known that was going on. There was one person, and one person only, at the conference who knew I was pregnant, and she was sitting next to me on that stage. I figured that I needed a friend with me if something went wrong. No one else was knew, and no one – no one – knew how afraid I was. 

In a recent podcast interview, I was asked where this advocacy drive came from. Without missing a beat, I answered that it was in my bones. Because it is. My mum, the trade unionist, had me at protests while I was still in a pram. I went to university to study music, but it makes perfect sense to me and those who know me that I’ve wound up doing what I do, being who I am, advocating my way through my days. In my bones. 

But that doesn’t make it easy. It doesn’t stop the burnout from it, or from feeling overwhelmed. And when it’s diabetes that is the focus of those advocacy efforts, while at the same time, I spend so much time focusing on living with diabetes, there’s a weight that seems compounded. It is heavy. 

Last year, almost 12 months ago to the day, someone decided to email me about Spare a Rose, reaching out through my blog and, with nothing better to do, thought they should let me know that no one cares about the campaign, and that I should understand what people think about me (which wasn’t much, apparently). It was shitty, it was unnecessary. It was unnerving. After the third or fourth one of those emails, I decided to share one on Twitter. I had no idea who it had come from, but I figured that whoever it was would see my tweets and understand just how upsetting it all was. 

It did the trick because it was the last time I heard from my anonymous critic. At least, for the 2021 campaign.

Alas, a week into February 2022, old mate was back, this time with a comment on my blog post about Spare a Rose. I’m guessing it’s old mate – I could be wrong, because who knows when people won’t put their names to things, but the sentiment was the same. It has the same hits as last year. It’s cruel and unnecessary and, once again, has completely rattled me. 

It confuses me beyond belief that of all the advocacy issues I’m involved in, it’s the one that literally is saving the lives of other people with diabetes that was the reason someone thought they would take the time to message me. I mean, I get my fair share of criticisms about language, and other topics that are not everyone’s cup of tea. But surely if there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that a campaign that is saving the lives of people with diabetes in under-resourced countries is not controversial. 

Surely. 

It all feels so, so heavy.

I know I’m not alone. I know it is a side effect of advocacy. I look to advocates in the diabetes world and I am in awe of what they do. 

I am in awe of people advocating to healthcare professionals to be more mindful and thoughtful of the way they interact with people with diabetes.

I am in awe of people who work in industry, invading that space, gaining employment and while they are there, building a career that is forged in advocating to create devices, and device adjacent materials to make diabetes better, easier – and those devices more relevant.

I am in awe of people advocating about the injustices of insulin pricing and access, because they want to change the paradigm that means that some people simply cannot access the very drug they need to stay alive.

I am in awe of people who advocate quietly for years, and make big change by doing small things, over and over and over again. 

I am in awe of advocates who have not waited, and instead, built solutions to make their lives easier and less burdensome and then – once they had worked it all out – made it free and available to anyone else who wants to benefit, and then remain there to support them. 

I am in awe of creative people who use art, poetry, drama, comedy, music, as advocacy tools to show people how diabetes impacts everyday life and to change how the world sees those of us living lives of diabetes. 

I am in awe of the work all these advocates do, and I wonder if they’re also feeling that physical weight that comes from their advocacy.

Do they feel that pressure coming from all different directions, weighing them down from above while also feeling as though it is crushing them from the sides? Do they feel overwhelmed? 

I do. And it really, really is heavy.

February 1 and Spare a Rose. The two go hand in hand in my mind. It’s when the diabetes community comes together to support a campaign that gives back in the most fabulous way. For anyone who is new here, or who isn’t sure why the DOC takes on a fetching red hue for the month of February, let me explain. 

#SpareARose is a beautifully simple idea that asks people to forgo one rose in the bouquet to their love on Valentine’s Day, and instead, donate the saving from that one rose to a charity that supports people with diabetes in under-resourced countries. That one rose (about $5/£5/€5) covers the monthly cost of insulin.

Since 2013, the campaign has been known as Spare a Rose, Save a Child, and the charity that has received all donations has been Life for a Child. Over those nine years, the diabetes community – people with diabetes, people affected by diabetes, diabetes organisations and diabetes industry – has raised close to US$400,000, providing months and months of insulin to children in under-resourced countries. Plus, it’s raised the profile of the charity. Back when it started, very few people in the diabetes community knew about Life for a Child. Now, it’s supported financially by many, and recognised by even more. 

For 2022, the campaign is doing something different and broadening its outlook to support people with diabetes diagnosed as adults, or who ‘age out’ of programs that have an upper age limit. Life for a Child supports people up to the age of 26 years. But of course, type 1 diabetes is for life, as is the need for insulin, diabetes supplies and healthcare. 

With this in mind, #SpareARose has changed to Spare a Rose, Save a LIFE to recognise how the campaign will be helping adults with diabetes now, and the new charity partner – Insulin for Life. 

Insulin for Life is a global charity and supports people with diabetes in many of the same countries supported by Spare a Rose. It’s so wonderful to know that these people will continue to receive insulin and other diabetes supplies, even once they hit 26 years of age, and beyond. You can read more about the important work done by Insulin for Life here

Despite these changes, the campaign remains the same. One rose = one month of life. It’s a fabulously simple equation. What also remains the same is that it is a campaign BY the community, FOR the community. Every single person in the Diabetes Online Community can be a part of #SpareARose. We’ve seen tweetchats hosted by people across the world, we’ve seen fun challenges on twitter (remember #SpareAFrown?), we’ve seen videos and vlogs and lots and lots of blog posts. #SpareARose is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Of course, it’s not just financial contributions that make #SpareARose the success it is. It’s also about the community raising its voice to a veritable roar, and elevating the campaign and its charity partner. If you can donate, please do. If you can share, please do. Every time you share, someone might be click on the donate button, or the share button. 

#SpareARose to Save a Life. Is there a more meaningful gift to make in the name of a loved one, a friend, a colleague, or in your own name? I really don’t think so. 

Click to go to SpareARose.org

DISCLOSURE

I’m so honoured that I get to be involved in this campaign by sharing and promoting it as widely as I possibly can. I have spoken about #SpareARose across the globe and written dozens of pieces to raise awareness of this fabulous grassroots campaign, and anyone and everyone can do the same thing. Really, I have no disclosure. I volunteer my time, along with a number of other diabetes advocates from around the world who drive socials to talk up #SpareARose. We also work with diabetes organisations and industry to encourage donations. If you would like to get involved, please reach out. The more the merrier!

Last year, facing the first Christmas in the times of COVID meant that for many people, celebrations were very different to other years. Our huge Italian family gatherings were put on hold because the idea of sharing food around a table, sitting in close proximity, and basically bringing together thirty or so loud Aussie-Italians, all shouting, because we all believe we need to be heard over everyone else, was considered not especially COVID-safe. Instead, we met in parks for catch ups, physically distanced and masked up. 

We also waived gift giving for the year. Instead, I made donations in the names of all my cousins’ kids, and for the Secret Santa gifts we (thankfully) didn’t have to buy. (I remain especially Grinch-like about this particular Christmas activity and you can read all about why here.)

Charities are continuing to do it tough. Not only are fewer people able to donate, but more and more people are relying on their services to get through. 

Insulin for Life is once again running its Secret Santa campaign and what a great way to share some love this festive season! All donations make a difference, but to give you an idea, if you can spare $5, you’ll be providing a week worth of diabetes supplies – insulin, syringes, and glucose strips – to someone with diabetes in an under-resourced country. 

There’s lots of information available on the Insulin for Life website, but this one statement certainly brings home just how dire the situation is for so many of our diabetes brothers and sisters around the globe: For every two people alive with type 1 diabetes, one person has died prematurely due to lack of basic care.

Let me just share that again: For every two people alive with type 1 diabetes, one person has died prematurely due to lack of basic care.

Even though I have been volunteering for years now for different diabetes-related charities that support people with diabetes in under-resourced countries, I haven’t become immune to feeling shock when I see the stark truth written out in such simple terms. 

Every single person can make a difference and improve the situation for people with diabetes in these situations. Donating is not possible for everyone, but there are other ways to help. If you are on social media, you can amplify the cause and share this blog post, or the donation link with a few words explaining how impactful donations can be (use the hashtag #IFLSecretSanta). You can organise a fundraiser at work, school or with friends – doing the legwork to make things like that happen are important and make a huge difference too. You could do a Facebook or Instagram fundraiser. You can pass a hat around at Christmas drinks and ask people to throw in any loose change they have. No amount is too small. Every contribution matters.

I was just chatting with some of the amazing people from the Insulin for Life team, and I was thrilled to hear donations are already coming in from the community. Of course, I’m not surprised. The diabetes community has always been amazing at giving back, as evidenced by the amazing efforts seen over the years with Spare a Rose. 

Insulin for Life’s Secret Santa campaign is just getting started. Last year was the first year, and the community stepped up. And in 2021, even after the absolutely horrendous year so many have had, there are people in the DOC showing up to support the campaign once again. That’s what this is all about. It’s what it’s always about. 

Please click on the image and donate if you can.

Why does everyone want to cure diabetes? I mean, I think it would be GREAT if someone truly managed to cure it PROPERLY. But in lieu of that, everyone with internet access, a Canva account, and their finger on the pulse of the latest superfood (which, when said superfood is a legume it actually is a pulse), is out there busily curing diabetes with whatever snake oil concoction they can come up with. (At this point in time, I am going to take a MASSIVE diversion and say that Snake Oil is a thing and it is sold by a woman named Caroline Calloway who is a scammer and all that is wrong with the idea that we need ‘influencers’ in our life, and I would urge you to NOT pop her name into a Google search right now, lest you want to lose the next five hours of your life, and destroy a few brain cells while you are at it.)

Anyway, where was I? Yes, scam diabetes cures. Scamabetes cures.

Lucky for me, I get at least half a dozen diabetes cures delivered directly to my inbox each week. By lucky, I mean, I wish the fuckers would all leave me alone, but that’s not happening.

On days where I don’t get cures in my inbox, I get invitations to conferences that aren’t real, or asked to write for imaginary medical journals. The positive is that it makes me feel as though I am highly sought after, and people desperately want to hear from me. The negative is that they’re all a con, and that rather than thinking I’m somewhat brilliant, these scammers are hoping that I’m somewhat gullible. 

The scamming is real in the cure diabetes world, and it never ends. Just at the point where you think it’s been rather quiet in the dodgy-cure entrepreneur corner of the globe, there is suddenly a concerted effort to get you to drop some coin on a turmeric and kale chai teatox for the low monthly price of $39.99 plus tax. What have you got to lose?

How the fuck are we meant to navigate our way through it? Twenty-three years in and being a sceptic with a healthy dose of mistrust in strangers approaching me online asking for money and promising me the world has served me well. I start from a position of disbelieving pretty much everything, which has been super useful in the last two years if you think about the rubbish that people (looking at you Clive Palmer) have claimed to be cure-alls. When future Lin-Manuel Miranda writes a musical about the COVID years, there will be a song dedicated to Ivermectin, drinking bleach, and that weird light thing that Pete Evans was trying to sell us for a cool $15K, and a story of vax-crossed lovers where an AZ and Pfizer jabbed couple try to overcome their differences, succeeding only when they are both boosted with Moderna. 

Promises of diabetes cures prey on the vulnerable and the scared. It’s abusive and mean. If diabetes could easily be cured, WE ALL WOULD BE CURED, because I’m yet to meet anyone who wants to live with a lifelong chronic health condition, no matter how much they seem to have their shit together. 

If it were as simple as eating a cucumber (looking at you, whichever Kardashian made that outrageous claim), I’d be living on cucumber granola for breakfast, cucumber sandwiches for lunch and having a liquid dinner of cucumber mojitos, and snacking on cucumber dipped into tzatziki. All. Day. Long. And I bet everyone else with diabetes would be too, because even if we all got sick and tired of cucumbers by day three, it would still be a shedload better than dealing with diabetes. Wouldn’t it? Yes. Yes, it would.

In times where it is so easy to spread misinformation as gospel, people with diabetes are taxed with even more. On top of doing the task of one of our organs, do impressive maths calculations throughout the day, act as a multidisciplinary medical team for ourselves, employ some damn impressive detective techniques, and be the most efficient executive assistance in the known universe (all before lunchtime), we also need to sort through the constant stream of information, picking out the trash, and staying on heightened alert. Even though we would probably really like some of those pseudo-science promises to work…even just a little bit. 

As I was writing this today, my email pinged and there waiting for me was some ‘research’ (a term here used to mean ‘made up stuff’) suggesting that my diabetes could be cured by taking a daily supplement in a convenient, once-a-day tablet. But wait! There’s more. I could take advantage of the cyber-Monday special and get an extra 23% (random number) discount, if I locked in a twelve-month subscription contract. For the record, even with the discount, I’d be out of pocket for this scam product USD$647 per year. Each ‘film-coated’ tablet contains, cinnamomum cassia, garcinia gummi-gutta, chromium hexahydrate, zinc citrate, glutamine, gymnema sylvestre and citrus extract. 

I hit the unsubscribe button, blocked the sender. And instead of ordering that veritable shit salad of ingredients, decided that a better way to ingest citrus extract would be to make some lemon bars, and cinnamon via an apple cake. The rest of the stuff sounds made up and absolutely not likely to make my beta cells start making insulin again. 

And so, I donated some of the USD$647 I just saved my not getting swept up in this scam to Insulin for Life. Because you know what? The stuff IFL is giving to people with diabetes in under-resourced countries is something that really works and is really essential. And absolutely, completely and utterly not a scam.

Click to donate

Over the course of this year, I have been involved in a number of diabetes-related initiatives and events organised by the World Health Organisation. I remember the first email I received inviting me to be involved in an event because I was impressed with the communication about diabetes. There was a clear commitment to centring the lived experience, and it seemed that whoever was coordinating the project had an excellent understanding of the condition. I wasn’t sure if anyone involved was living with diabetes themselves, but I was certain they were working with people with diabetes to help shape the messaging. The most recent event, just last week, was coordinated by someone in the diabetes community – someone I’ve met in person and interacted with online for some time, and someone who is an excellent communicator with an in depth understanding of the global diabetes stage. 

And so, you would think that with all this diabetes intel and track record of great engagement that I would be surprised when the WHO made a spectacular blunder on Twitter yesterday with its efforts for World Diabetes Day. 

Except, I wasn’t surprised. At all. Because I know exactly how it happens. It’s the very definition of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, and it’s all too common when comms teams don’t work with the teams focusing on lived experience. 

September marked twenty years I’ve worked in diabetes organisations in Australia. On top of that, I’ve been involved with the IDF for the last decade, as well as other diabetes organisations and companies around the globe. And in that time, I’ve seen some absolute clangers – clangers of which I first became aware once someone had hit share, and people with diabetes were, quite rightly, baying for blood. I’m not going to mention any, but I can tell you that I am still in therapy for a campaign that involved clowns, sharks, and spiders. Sigh.

It’s a horrible feeling when the community fury starts, and it’s directed at something you feel you should have been ahead of it or stopped it from happening in the first place. 

It’s also horrible to be put in a position of seeing this happen and not knowing what to do about it, or rather feel that whatever you do, it’s going to cause trouble. At the IDF Congress two years ago, sitting on stage in a panel with the newly minted IDF President, I was put in that position. After the President used a stigmatising image in his presentation, I had two options: sit there and say nothing or call it out. Option A would have resulted in people with diabetes not understanding how I could let it go. Option B could have resulted in furious IDF powers that be and me never working with them again. 

Option B was the only thing I could do. I knew that. But I cannot tell you the fear I felt as I spoke out on that stage, or afterwards. I barely slept that night, terrified at what was going to happen. Before the sun was up the following morning, I sent my boss, the CEO of Diabetes Australia, a message asking for an early breakfast meeting, linking him to a tweet with video of what had happened the evening before. In the back of a cab through the still-dark streets of Busan, I was so worried that I was going to be told that I handled it the wrong way and that I shouldn’t have said anything publicly. But that’s not how he responded. 

By that evening, I’d spoken with the IDF President, as had a few others, and together, we planned to pen an article about the how language can stigmatise diabetes. It was published the following year in The Lancet, and you can read it here

Last year, I stuck my head about the parapet when a state-based diabetes organisation in Australia (one for which I worked for 14 years) got things wrong when they were putting together an event with last year’s Australia of the Year (who has, I’m sad to say, been very stigmatising about type 2 diabetes since he stepped onto the diabetes stage). It was uncomfortable for me to write about the disappointment I’d felt seeing the language being used in promotion for the event, but I found myself in the same situation as I’d been at the IDF Congress the year before. I knew I had to say something. Because staying silent isn’t an option, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. 

I look at the way the comms team at Diabetes Australia operates now and the incorporation and focus on lived experience means that we run campaigns like this year’s stigma campaign and last year’s diabetes burnout campaigns. (And yes, I am completely biased because I work at Diabetes Australia, but this integration is something that means our messaging is far more hit than miss.)

Perhaps the thing that organisations need to reflect upon when something like this happens is just how easy it is to avoid doing it again. Despite yesterday’s clumsy efforts, WHO is already a long way there to doing better next time. It really is simple – work with community advocates, because there are always people who are keen and willing to be involved (hand raised!). And identify the people in the organisation who can help shape messaging and get it right. The WHO has those people there already meaning that it can happen straight away. (And for organisations that don’t, employ those people now.)

Over the last two days (or last two middles of the night if you’re perpetually in the wrong part of the world as it seems I am), I participated in the excellent first World Health Organisation Global Diabetes Compact Forum. (You can read the Compact which was launched earlier this year here.)

Once again, the WHO team had brought together stakeholders, including diabetes advocates, from across the world to talk about some critically important challenges facing people living with diabetes. These included access to insulin, research and innovation and prevention, health promotion and health literacy. The Forum was definitely not a ‘sit and be lectured to’ event. It was interactive, with everyone having the opportunity to participate and share their experiences and perspectives. The chat function was open and there was a constant stream of engaging, energetic discussion and sharing. 

The final session was about prevention and in his introduction, James Elliot, who expertly moderated the event, laid the foundation for the discussion. As with the previous sessions, there were no pre-conceived ideas or narrow focus about the topic. 

Prevention isn’t just about prevention of type 2 diabetes. There is a lot of work also going on looking at prevention of type 1 diabetes. And also, once living with diabetes, looking to do what we can to prevent diabetes-related complications.

When I spoke, the first thing I wanted to highlight was the problem I feel with the word prevention, and I revisited previous discussions in which I’ve been involved which highlight the struggle I feel with the word prevention. For too many people it is a word that offers a promise – a promise which guarantees that we can prevent aspects of diabetes that are often well beyond our control. I presented my case for instead focusing on how reducing risk is a far more accurate description of what efforts are truly about, a perspective that I have noticed is being used more and more.

The discussion pivoted to being about complications and associated stigma. Thankfully, this is not the start of the conversation about diabetes-related complications and the way people see them. When I wrote this piece back in 2013, I wrote about the way complications were presented to people with diabetes and how non-modifiable factors such as genetics, are rarely part of the conversation. There seemed to be a very one-dimensional presentation of diabetes-related complications: ‘take care’ of yourself, and you won’t get them. 

With communication around complications starting to be included in the language matters movement, I could see that too many people had been told that over-simplistic tale. 

It all got taken up a very significant notch when there was a concerted effort in the DOC to encourage dialogue about diabetes-related complications in a non-judgemental and safe way. Suddenly, we were seeing the hashtag #TalkAboutComplications accompany people’s stories, or questions others might have. This led to a real shift, as more and more people shared their experiences, with many saying that it was the first time they had seen others being so open about what was often considered a taboo topic. Starting to peel away the shame and secrecy of what can be a scary part of life with diabetes allowed many people to seek support from peers and help from health professionals. 

The legacy of the #TalkAboutComplications idea is that is that there are far more conversations today about diabetes-related complications. There is also a plethora of blog posts, podcasts, journal articles and conference presentations about the topic. I know that there is still significant stigma that we need to chip away at, but actually being able to easily find places online where conversations about complications are normalised and being part of those conversations is contributing to reducing that stigma. 

The session at the Global Diabetes Compact Forum was terrific because it tied together diabetes-related complications and stigma. With the theme of access this World Diabetes Day, perhaps we need to think about what that means when it comes to diabetes-related complications. While we absolutely do need to think about all factors at play when it comes to the development of complications, we also need to acknowledge that access is a factor when it comes to outcomes. Access to the right information, including information about risk reduction, access to insulin, access to glucose monitoring devices, access to complications screening, access to early diagnosis and treatment, access to peer support, access to stigma-free treatment, access to mental health support…all these have the very real potential to influence outcomes. 

Gosh, there’s lots in the #DOC-iverse (#DOC-osphere?) about seeing diabetes, isn’t there? Yes, yes there is. Not sure about you, but I seem to be seeing a lot of bright, shiny, happy people (and a pop star or model or two) talking about diabetes, when usually they are pretty quiet about the whole diabetes thing. Which is fine. No one needs to spend their time advocating all about diabetes every minute of the day. 

But I wonder if any of the marketing boffins who threw together their messages of inspiration bothered to check to see what the International Diabetes Federation are up to for World Diabetes Day on 14 November. Afterall, that’s the showstopper event of the month, isn’t it? Celebrating the birthday of the bloke who I give thanks to every day for keeping me alive.

A bit of history about World Diabetes Day to help understand that it’s not just about privileged folks with diabetes showing off their high-tech gadgets strapped to their impossibly beautiful bodies. (And yes, I know I sound like the Grinch who stole World Diabetes Day, but I think that understanding the foundation of this day is kind of important because that all seems to get swallowed up in PR spin.)

World Diabetes Day means something. In 2006, it became an official United Nations Day thanks to United Nations Resolution 61/225. At the time it was one of only two official UN health days. But even before that, World Diabetes Day had been going on for some time. It was in 1991 that the IDF, together with the World Health Organisation, created World Diabetes Day in response to growing concerns about diabetes. 

Over the last thirty years, World Diabetes Day themes have aimed to be inclusive of people from around the globe, but perhaps there has been a (necessary) focus on how to improve diabetes outcomes for people in under-resourced countries. Maybe that’s why I find it a little galling when it appears that the day is about showing off your latest diabetes kit or shouting to the globe about how diabetes doesn’t stop people reaching their dreams. I love positivity and I’m often accused of being far too Pollyanna for my own good, but having a good look beyond our own privilege is important if we’re trying to get across a global idea of what is going on in the world of diabetes.

This year the theme is ‘Access to care: if not now, when?’. The World Diabetes Day website is full of resources that explain the theme. There are materials you can share to help explain just what access means to different people. 

It all seems to be a little bit of a throwback to community initiatives of the past. The diabetes community has been the creators of some absolutely stellar campaigns – ideas that seem to have been founded in similar frustrations about which I’m smashing on my keyboard today. In 2014 there was a campaign that asked us to ‘Put the World back in WDD’ which was in response to there being a very Western focus on World Diabetes Day. Sometimes it feels that some things never change. The #Insulin4All hashtag that was first used to highlight how people in under-resourced countries struggle to access insulin is now most often linked with insulin pricing in the US.

Access means different things to different people, and the materials the IDF has put together consider this. Even if you live in a well-resourced country, with decent subsidised, tax-payer funded (never free!) healthcare, it’s likely that some part of your diabetes care is still difficult to access. It may not be insulin or diabetes supplies that are your access issue – it could be mental health support or different tech solutions.

Here in Australia, thanks to Medicare, the PBS and the NDSS, we have well-subsidised diabetes care. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly better than I hear from friends in other places around the world. But there definitely are still deficiencies in our care. Mental health care is limited – and almost impossible, it seems, to access. Only 50% of people with type 1 diabetes can access subsidised CGM and Flash GM through the NDSS. People in rural and remote areas of the country have far more difficulty accessing quality, regular diabetes care. The outcomes for Indigenous Australians with diabetes fall far behind. As always, people who are disadvantaged in some way are disproportionately affected, and face more difficulties accessing the care they need.  

How you choose to celebrate (or not) this month and World Diabetes Day is entirely up to you. You may choose to ignore the ‘official’ theme of the day and focus more on other initiatives and once again, all perfectly okay. Just as YDMV, so may your diabetes advocacy. 

But if you are interested in focusing more on access, have a look at the World Diabetes Day website and pledge your support for greater access to diabetes care. Read about the Resolution that was adopted by United Nations Member States that calls for urgent, coordinated global action on diabetes. 

Look, I know. UN Resolutions don’t sound nearly as sexy as a six pack with a CGM plastered to it, but it is pretty cool that the WHO and the UN are talking diabetes. 

And while celebrating the centenary of insulin, learn where insulin is not easy to come by, and why that is. Through volunteer work supporting both Life for a Child and Insulin for Life, I have learnt a lot about the challenges faced by people with diabetes in under-resourced countries. If you can, please consider making a donation this month to either, or both, charities. 

And if looking to the community, it’s wonderful to know that there will be a docday° event on World Diabetes Day that is dedicated to the theme of access. You can learn more about that event here. It’s free to join, and will be live streamed on Facebook – you don’t even need to sign up.

But perhaps a final thought. How great would it be if those with really, massively high followings, (and followings not-only-in-the-diabetes-community), used this time to talk about making a real difference – a difference to people with diabetes who are struggling to access the basic drugs and supplies to actually live with the condition. 

Sure, ‘seeing diabetes’ helps raise awareness, but as ever, I ask how much of that actually cuts through and gets out of the community that is already seeing diabetes every single minute of every single day? 

A poster from the IDF World Diabetes Website. (Click image to be taken to site.)
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