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The last time I was in Stockholm was seven years ago for the 2015 EASD Conference. This year, as I walked to the conference centre from the train, everything about the venue flooded back. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought. Except this time was different.

I wrote this about #EASD2015:

‘There is much mention of the ‘patient perspective’ and on Monday there was an entire symposium dedicated to it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an actual ‘patient’ on the panel, which surely is weird...But despite the limited presence of PWD in the official programme, there are a lot of satellite events and activities taking place.’

One of those satellite activities was the first ever #docday°. It was in a musty, overheated, overcrowded back room of a co-working cafe, and it brought together a rabble of diabetes advocates from around the world who had somehow made their way to EASD. I think most of us were there with Roche or Johnson and Johnson for one of their blogger events.

But #docday° was different. This one was completely about and by people with diabetes, showcasing community and peer support. People shared their advocacy efforts and what they were doing in their own networks to support people with diabetes, and shared ideas about how others could do the same. Despite being all about diabetes, we were not welcome as a group at the biggest diabetes conference in Europe.

Fast forward seven years to this week, and the same spirit from the first #docday° event was visible. But this time, it was on stage as part of the scientific program at the conference. The #dedoc° Symposium was on the first day of EASD and it set a tone of inclusion and collaboration, making a very clear point that people with diabetes have a rightful place here, at professional conferences.

Adding to the #dedoc° symposium were the #dedoc° voices – diabetes advocates from across the world – participating fully in the conference. This is the largest scholarship program in the world for diabetes advocates and they made sure they were seen and heard! Everywhere! You only needed to walk the corridors of the conference to see the voices collaborating, not only with each other, but with health professionals, researchers and industry. Social media coverage of the EASD is dominated by the constant stream of ‘reporting back’. And almost evert single health professional I spoke with at the conference knew about #dedoc° and supported our very clear mission of #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs. How amazing is that?!

#dedoc° is all about inclusion. That’s why we can, hand on heart, say that we welcome advocates from around the world to become a #dedoc° voice. But it’s more than that. Our events are open to everyone, including our symposia at diabetes conferences. At EASD, our session was the only one that was live streamed to everyone and anyone via our socials channels. No one needed a costly registration to get inside the Stockholsmassan or another way in. Everyone could see Andrea Limbourg speak about some incredible work from advocates in Indonesia, France and Ireland, and Jeff Hitchcock explain how Children with Diabetes managed to keep supporting families of kids with diabetes throughout COVID, and Tom Dean share details of the brilliant #DiabetesChat and how he has embraced the idea of providing a truly welcoming platform for diabetes friends from around the world to gather on Twitter Spaces for a weekly chat. And Bastian Hauck tell the story of that overheated room for the first #docday° and how what happened on that afternoon planted a seed for a global movement of people with diabetes. #dedoc° provides a platform to elevate others. It’s a privilege to be part of it. 

If you missed the #dedoc° symposium at EASD, here it is!

Disclosure

My travel and accommodation were covered by #dedoc°, where I am employed as Head of Advocacy. Thanks to EASD for the press pass.

I recently was invited to run a workshop for health advocates (not just diabetes) who are affiliated with health and community organisations either as employees or volunteers. I was asked to primarily focus on safety in advocacy communities – both online and in person. All participants were women. This was interesting to me because the workshop was open to anyone who was a health advocate – not just women. I could see why, after a few short minutes in, it was women who were keen to come together for this topic and talk about it in a safe space, with other women. 

I was delighted to be involved for a couple of reasons: 1. It’s important and 2. I know that when I run a workshop properly, I walk away learning a lot. And this was a topic I wanted to learn about. I set about developing a very vague program that would leave a lot of time for experience sharing and co-developing ideas that could be used by everyone in the room. I had a few discussion starters and things that I think have worked for me, so they formed the basis of the workshop, but most of the suggestions came from the day and with permission, I’m sharing some of the ideas here. 

Before I do that, though, I want to highlight the overarching message was that health communities and groups are really important and really valuable. I know I frequently talk about not needing to love everyone in the diabetes community, and how critical it is to find the people you want to be around, who are supportive, who build you up, who you build up and who make you feel safe. That squad becomes sacred. Everyone else spoke of the same thing. One woman mentioned that it had taken her years to find the right people in her health community before truly understanding how peer support can be so beneficial. Many mentioned that it took time to work out exactly what they were looking for – was it friendship, solidarity, advocacy mates, opportunities to grow professionally? There are as many reasons to ‘do’ peer support as peer support models!

But even knowing that, it came as no surprise that every single one of the dozen or so women participating in the workshop had examples of where they had felt unsafe, vulnerable, targeted, or exposed in their own health communities. As stories were shared, there were frequent looks of recognition and heads nodding. Many said it was the first time they had ever spoken about these experiences. And others took time to warm up, asking several times if anyone would know what they had said – worried that they may be identified. This reminded me a little of the Ascensia Women’s Diabetes Social Media Summit I facilitated last year. I’d probably done close to a dozen of those before and each one involved a lot of social media outreach while the event was taking place. But this event was different. This one, was not quite as open. As facilitator, it’s my job to read a room, and the reading I got was that there were a group of women who wanted to share in private. And so, we did. As happened again at this recent workshop. 

None of the ideas I’m sharing will identify anyone, and this post has been reviewed by the people who attended. Safety of the women is my primary concern. So, here are some ideas that may or may not be of use to folks out there:

  1. You are not alone. Feeling unsafe in a community group can feel isolating, especially if there are cliques and groups that seem to form alliances. But there will be others you can turn to – often outside the group. I know I have turned to people outside the diabetes world at times to learn about how they have managed certain circumstances. It’s fascinating just how transferable things can be and how universal others are!
  2. There are reasons that functions such as block and mute are available on all social media platforms. But go one further. By blocking certain accounts, you may still see people you would prefer to distance yourself from. Mute their name, their account handle and, if they are associated with any specific words, terms or hashtags, mute those too. (So, want to not see my stuff? Block #LanguageMatters and mentions of coffee, stripes, bookstores, baking and red lipstick.) 
  3. Keep records. Even of things that seem irrelevant. I have an online folder where I collate anything that has ever made me feel unsafe or helpless. It’s shared with others, so they know what’s going on. 
  4. Talk to your workplace or associated organisation. This was one of the points that I wanted to raise. As all participants were either employed by, or volunteers for, health organisations, they have access to several services to support them if they feel unsafe. Perhaps they can use the organisation’s EAP which can be a terrifically helpful resource. It’s also important that those records you keep are seen elsewhere and there is a timeline of when things happen, and they are reported in real time. I do this a lot, mostly because it helps to talk to someone. Sometimes it’s done proactively. Other times, it’s after something happens. For example, the first time I spoke about DIYAPS and a slew of HCPs made formal complaints about me daring to talk about something so dangerously off label. Or the time a diabetes educator wrote to my employer after I called them out for tone policing me. There have been the multiple times people in the low carb community have become aggressive and threatening. Or just weird. There have been times when I’ve spoken with the CEO or other senior managers about situations and as well as being great sources of advice and comfort, it also means that they have an idea of how things started and are going. Oh, and it means there are few surprises!
  5. Walk away – for a bit or a lot. No one is obliged to continue to be involved in advocacy spaces or being part of a community if it is not working or if it is feeling unsafe. 
  6. Go incognito. My name and face have always been associated with the advocacy work I do because that is what I have chosen. But there are times that I wish I’d come up with a nifty pseudonym (Blossom?) and a cute meerkat picture. I know that probably wouldn’t have been possible considering the number of quite public facing things I do means there’s limited anonymity. But there are lots of super effective advocates who are anonymous when doing any online work, and that is absolutely an option. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to do any media or presentations. It just means not linking the public stuff to your socials. A couple of women at the workshop do that, and I somewhat embarrassingly squealed when I realised that they were amazing anonymous campaigners I’ve learnt so much from over the years!
  7. Learn the anatomy of gaslighting. It’s an artform, but it’s a predictable one. And expect to be gaslit if anyone ever takes objection to what you do – especially if the source of that objection is from a group that is used to not being challenged. Don’t believe me? I present exhibit a: #AllLivesMatter and exhibit b: #NotAllMen. The term gaslighting was coined to refer to misogynistic abuse and manipulation and it often presents that way these days. Learn how it works and you’ll be astonished at how frequently it is used to disempower women.
  8. Be prepared for your work to be challenged; to be told you’re not good enough; to be told that you are not worthy; to be told that your work is irrelevant and insignificant; to be criticised for your successes and to be diminished. The first time that happened to me, I was crushed. Now, it’s only mildly soul-destroying. (This isn’t to say that people can’t disagree with your work. Of course, they can, and they will. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s when your work is dismissed and disparaged, and you are personally targeted that it can be especially challenging.) 
  9. Cry. This was my suggestion. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really helps. I think it just comes from the idea of giving myself permission to not have to be confident all the time and to admit when I am feeling especially vulnerable. When there were weird emails coming to me about fundraising activities, I spent a lot of time bawling. 
  10. Be public about how you are feeling and your experiences. This is a tough one, because it can add being vulnerable onto an already vulnerable situation. But if you are able to assess if it is going to help you get through it, go ahead. 
  11. Ignore it. That sounds naïve considering some of the points I’ve shared, but we all agreed that in some instances, this does work and is the best way forward (albeit with keeping notes). 

It is undeniably true that women face a lot of rubbish online and a lot of that is from men. Women who dare to be strident, vocal and stand up and are confident often get it more. We see it everywhere. But I will add that as a straight, white cis woman, I know that the lousy behaviour I’ve experienced is nothing compared to women of colour and people from the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m so grateful to people from those groups who are bravely sharing the horrible attacks they receive and absolutely feel that doing what I can to support them, listen to them and believe them is essential.  

The women in the workshop are so committed in their advocacy efforts. It seems unfair that they have had periods where they’ve felt unsafe or targeted. I know how hard it is. Maybe the tips in this post might help others and if they do, great! And if you are reading this and prickling because you object to what you’re seeing, please remember that these experiences are from women who have had a tough time. That doesn’t in any way delegitimise what you have experienced. But I hope that everyone does understand and accept that in living with the patriarchy and with internalised misogyny pretty much part and parcel of everyday life, women do face an unfair share of rubbish, including in advocacy communities. 

One of my favourite memes on social media is the response to people who tell the world they’re taking a break from or leaving social media groups or platforms: ‘This is not an airport. There is no need to announce departures.’ (Aussie airports at the moment are full of cancelled flights, so departure announcements seem to be few and far between, but I digress.)

And so, I didn’t announce that I was taking a little break from the online world. It wasn’t really planned. But it has coincided with a couple of weeks break from work and it’s been nice to step away a little and just be. Plus, it’s given me a lot of time to write and write and write and smash deadlines for some of the freelance work I never seem to have enough time to get done. (My submission emails inevitably start with ‘I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this to you…’) But here on Diabetogenic, I’m the editor, so delays are only holding me up and it would be weird to apologise to myself for repeatedly missing deadlines, especially when I don’t even have deadlines (mostly because I don’t set them because I know I’d never meet them) and there I go digressing again and is it any wonder I get nothing done?!

Having said that, I’ve received dozens of emails from people asking when to expect a new post, so to everyone who has messaged or wondered: ‘I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this to you…’.

But here I am back again, with a heap of great things I’ve seen recently and I want to share them here in a bit of an interweb jumble!

I’m writing

Yes, I know it’s weird to share my own writing on my own blog, but whatever! Plus,, there is nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion. I’m back writing for diaTribe and absolutely delighted to have had these two pieces published recently.

This one is about how it’s important to tell stories of people with diabetes who choose to not run marathons or climb mountains in amongst stories of those who do. 

And this one is about a new type 1 diabetes screening program for Australian children. I write about the reservations I had about having my daughter screened when she was little, but how things might be very different with research like this. The response to this article has been lovely and a lot of parents with diabetes have reached out to say that they have had similar concerns and feelings to those I articulate in the post. 

Advocacy through art

I’m a huge fan of Jenna Cantamessa’s artwork, and this beautiful image and accompanying post is one of the reasons why! Click on the artwork to be taken to the TypeOneVibes Instagram account to read Jenna’s words.

Stripped Supply

I’m always happy to promote smart women doing smart things and so let me introduce you to Ashley from Stripped Safely. Here we are at the recent Australian Diabetes Congress.

When Ashley’s boyfriend was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she realised there was a gap in the market when it comes to mail ordering NDSS supplies. Remember the old days when we used to be able to easily place an order online and have our pump lines or BGL strips delivered straight to our front door? Well, Ashley is making that happen again. It’s a subscription service and is super easy to use. Details about how to use Stripped Supply here.

Gong

You bet I’m proud to share this! Diabetes Australia’s Heads Up on Diabetes campaign recently received an award from the Australian Patients Association. The campaign was recognised as the Best Patients’ Campaign and how wonderful that shining a spotlight on diabetes and mental in such a powerful way has been awarded. 

I’ll just say that while it is truly amazing to be acknowledged in this way, the real measure for me of the success of a campaign is how the diabetes community responds and it was clear from year one of this three-year campaign that people with diabetes from across the world absolutely loved it, as evidenced by the number of times the campaign videos were shared online. Oh, and there’s something quite incredible about sitting in a conference room and seeing our work played back to us by someone from outside the organisation. Yeah – that’s happened a number of times! 

The Human Trial

So much buzz in the diabetes world at the moment about the incredible documentary out of the US, The Human Trial. Until 9 September, you can stream the film for free by going to this link. You will be prompted to make a donation if you can. All funds raised go to diabetes research.

More about this documentary soon.

Advocacy through poetry 1

At the recent Australian Diabetes Congress, I had the honour and pleasure of chairing a session with an brilliant array of diabetes advocates from Australia and across the world. One of the speakers was Ash Byrne who began her presentation with an incredibly powerful poem and then went on to speak about the mental health burdens of diabetes. You can see Ash readying her poem, Invisible, at this Facebook link.

Advocacy through poetry 2

Aussie diabetes advocate and #dedoc° voice, Leon Tribe shared this poem on Twitter earlier this week which beautifully explains the power of language and communication between people with diabetes and our healthcare professionals. (You may need to click on the image to read the poem more easily.)

Stigma – diabetes and beyond

I have a new thing, and I didn’t want to talk about it. In part, because of stigma. Mostly, because of stigma.’ 

This is the start of a powerful post from Dana Lewis where she shares how the stigma that comes with diabetes has influenced how she feels about being diagnosed with another autoimmune disease. Read it here.

TEDx does diabetes advocacy

I’ve been a long-time fan of Grainne Flynn’s advocacy work and have shared her posts here before. Recently, she did a TED Talk about grassroots advocacy. It is all shades of brilliant and an absolute joy to watch. So… watch!

#dedoc° is busy! 

There is a lot going on in the world of #dedoc°! Here’s just a taste of upcoming events that everyone can get involved in. Plus, the #dedoc° voices program will be kicking off again later this month at EASD with a cohort of new voices and alumni on the ground in Stockholm as well as following along virtually. 

I’m so excited to be part of the #dedoc° symposium at EASD! Delivering a community led and focused symposium as part of the scientific program at a professional is a Big.Deal. We’re continuing to live and breathe #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs in the most impressive ways!

Disclosures

As always, I am thrilled to share things that I’ve found interesting, but disclosures are important. I’ve not been asked to share anything you see here, but figure if I find something interesting (or feel like doing same shameless self-promotion) you might too. I also figure that being transparent is important as is reminding you to consider my bias when sharing things.

  1. I am a paid contributor to diaTribe
  2. I am the Head of Communities & International Affairs at Diabetes Australia
  3. I am the Global Head of Advocacy at #dedoc°

On the day I was diagnosed with diabetes I was given a blood glucose meter. It was a nondescript cream colour, came in a dark blue padded bag and took 20 seconds to count down before giving me a reading, as was norm back in 1998. I can’t tell you much more about it. 

In 2001, I got my first insulin pump: a Medtronic 507C. I think it was black. That’s pretty much all I remember about it. 

Sometime in 2004, I upgraded to a Deltec Cozmo pump as soon as it was launched in Australia. It was a beauty – a charcoal grey, wonderfully organic design that felt sublime to hold. It was smart and cute, with a heap of features my first pump didn’t have. I loved the bolus wizard, and credit it a lot with the incredibly tight glucose management I maintained while pregnant with my daughter. That was the pump that was in the operating room with me when she was first handed to me, and it was nestled down my bra for the two years I breastfed her. She would hold onto the pump tubing in her tiny baby paws while she nestled into me for a feed. I was heartbroken when Deltec went out of business because I knew I’d need to change pump brands when the warranty was up. My old Cozmo is in a box in my diabetes supplies cupboard, too precious to throw away. To this day I think of that pump fondly and get all excited when someone else mentions how they used one, reminiscing about their love for it. 

Since then, there have been a couple more pumps and countless blood and continuous glucose meters. I have limited memories of any of them. Oh, except for maybe the pink MDT paradigm I rebooted when I started DIY looping and still use today. But my fondness for that particular device is mostly because it’s pink. There was the iBGStar – a fun little gimmick because it attached directly to the charging point at the bottom of an iPhone. Remember? It was around for all of about 15 minutes because the next gen iPhone used different chargers and iBGStars were relegated to the DTech museum.

Really, there has only been one piece of kit that stands there next to that Deltec Cozmo. And it’s this (slightly blurred) baby you see on my arm. My Fenix. 

I have been using this same transmitter pretty much continuously since June 2018. It’s a rechargeable Dexcom G5 and has worked like a dream. Other than a few months where I was gifted some Dexcom G6 products, I’ve exclusively had this Fenix attached to my arm. It has worked like a dream and has saved me a fortune. How much? 

The retail cost for Dexcom transmitters here in Australia is $540 (now available fully subsidised on the NDSS for people with type 1 diabetes). For the last four years, I’ve forked out exactly zero dollars. Had I been purchasing a new transmitter every 3 months, I would have paid $8,640. That’s a lot more than zero dollars. In fact, it’s about the price of a second-hand 2012 Fiat 500.

Where did I get this remarkable piece of kit? From a bloke called Simon who lives in rural Victoria and has been an absolute marvel in the way he has been providing affordable CGM kit for people with diabetes not just in Australia, but around the world, so they can use what they need at an affordable price. He re-batteries transmitters and forwards them on; answers questions about loopable pumps so that people can reap the rewards of DIYAPS. He is at the end of the phone or Facebook messenger to answer questions. He has also found a way to extend the use of G6 transmitters, with the Anubis.

My Fenix is one of the simplest, least fussy DTech devices I’ve used. It works the same way as any Dexcom transmitter, except that after about three months, instead of being thrown in the bin, it gets plugged into the wall for an hour to recharge. Simon created a super simple reset tool to override the factory-set cut-off timer built into Dexcom transmitters, so the ‘Transmitter expiring’ warning was just a reminder to reset it next senor change. 

I’ve done this for over four years. 

At diabetes conferences, after spying the slightly odd-looking device on my upper-arm, Dexcom reps have stopped me as I’ve been rushing by to ask about it. Most want to know if it’s ‘one of those rechargeable ones’ – they all knew about the mythical Fenix! – and were always interested to know just how it worked. I had dinner one night with a senior engineer from Dexcom who asked me dozens of questions and was delighted to hear about it. I only had one question: I wanted to know that if a bloke in Victoria’s High Country could make this happen and make this life saving tech cheaper for people with diabetes, why couldn’t a multi-million-dollar tech company do the same? I didn’t get an answer to my question. 

My Fenix is retiring because I’ve worked my way through my G5 sensor tash. Even though Dexcom G6 was launched into the Australian market over 12 months ago, I have happily continued to use the earlier generation with sensors either purchased or gifted from friends overseas who have been forced to upgrade. I haven’t minded that the sensors have been out of date (sometimes by years!) because it was never an issue. Plus, it meant that I could continue to use my Fenix. 

The ingenuity and generosity of people in the diabetes community will never stop to amaze me. I reckon Simon could charge a fortune for his inventions, but he doesn’t. He covers his own costs, (but only sometimes; he donates a lot to people who can’t afford to pay). He is another example of a remarkable person in our remarkable community trying to make diabetes a little less burdensome. And my Fenix has meant four years of that. 

When I talk about the diabetes kit I wear each and every day, I am at great pains to point out just how important it is that it does a lot more than just simply work. It needs to be simple, accurate, and not cause more stress. Skin in the game is literal and figurative when I stand up and speak about this, including how we literally and figuratively get attached to the devices that we love. I’d keep using my Fenix forever if that was the only CGM technology available to me because not once did it cause me any stress. It just made my life simpler; it reduced my diabetes burden, saved me money, and helped me hate diabetes a tiny bit less. My Fenix rose for the last time a couple of weeks ago, and now retired, lying in the same box as my Cozmo – reminders of how great DTech can be.

Psst…forgotten something?

If you’re in the northern hemisphere right now, you’re possibly all caught up in the sunshine, splashing around at the beach or spending time off work just taking time out. If you’re from the southern hemisphere, you’re either smart and have taken a holiday to Europe because EVERYONE.IS.IN.EUROPE.RIGHT.NOW, or under fifteen quilts in front of a roaring fire, counting down the days until it gets warmer. Sadly, I’m in the latter group.

I get it. Things slip by either way. 

But! You only have a few days left to make sure you don’t miss out on applying for a #dedoc° voices scholarship. Wherever you are, a scholarship means you have something to look forward to in a couple of months’ time and the absolute thrill of either virtually or in-person attending a global diabetes conference or two. That’s right – TWO! EASD (European diabetes conference) and ISPAD (paediatric diabetes conference) are the next international conferences on the diabetes conference calendar. Both will be hybrid, with the in-person locations being Stockholm and Abu Dhabi respectively. 

We’re well over two years into the #dedoc° voices program now, and the awesome thing about it is that it’s not just about the few days of the conference where you get to learn from incredible researchers and clinicians, while waving the lived experience flag and being surrounded by others with diabetes. I mean, that is all pretty great. But being a #dedoc° voice goes way beyond that!  Once you receive a scholarship you are part of a network of remarkable diabetes advocates from across the world, and this network is the most supportive, encouraging, brilliant group of people, always ready to help. Every single week, I see people reaching out for support and advice and the responses are swift and many. I’ve not seen a single example of anything other than support, and have watched advocates truly flourish as they have worked with others, developed mentoring relationships and been supported to do brilliant things. 

Unless you’re part of the program, you wouldn’t know this. And here’s the deal: anyone can become part of it. The #dedoc° voices program is open to people from across the world and everyone is in with an equal chance. You just need to spend some time completing an application. It is a competitive process, and places are limited. The people who get accepted are the ones who have taken some time with their application and really been able to demonstrate just how they are going to #PayItForward to their diabetes community if successful. No one is a shoe in; having a high follower count on socials means nothing if your application is sub-par. We take people who are new to the diabetes advocacy space, and are looking for a hand carving out their space, as well as seasoned advocates who are keen to work with others and become part of a global network, outside their own country.

So, get on it! Click on the image below, fill in the form and join us! You get to work on your advocacy while giving back to the community, all while wearing the #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs badge. How amazing is that?!

More on #diabetogenic about the #dedoc° voices program:

#dedoc° voices helping people with diabetes get into professional conferences

How #dedoc° voices supported people with diabetes in Ukraine

More on why to apply to join the #dedoc voices program

Disclosure

I have been an advisor for a number of years, and am now working with them as Head of Advocacy. 

One day during one of our lockdowns (honestly, can’t remember which one), I was taking a government mandated walk to fulfil another government mandate – supporting local businesses when possible. Living where we do means there were always a variety of cafes to visit to fulfil this mandate.

I was with Aaron and possibly one of the pups and we were walking along our street, happy to be outside the confines of our house, masked to the max and looking forward to some inane conversation with a barista as our coffees were being prepared. Small pleasures made for big excitement during those long and seemingly never-ending lockdown days. 

There was a woman walking towards us, so we exaggeratedly smiled with our eyes and murmured hello, because that’s what everyone did when only eyes were visible, and we were all desperate for human interactions. 

‘Are you Renza?’ she asked me. Surprised, I said yes. (I was also impressed she knew who I was considering I was wearing a mask.) 

Look, I am hopeless at the best of times when it comes to recognising people. In fact, I have the double hopelessness of forgetting names AND faces. But turns out, in this case, it wasn’t my absentmindedness to blame. We’d never met before; she recognised me from here. She had stumbled across Diabetogenic when she was newly diagnosed and doing the unthinkable and Googling diabetes. 

She said some very lovely and kind things, and said she was really glad she’d found the blog because it helped her feel less alone. And then, after we had a little chat about diabetes and diabetes things, we each continued our hour out of the house. Once again, a lovely little demonstration of the value of shared lived experience – interactions which will delight me forever.

It never gets old. 

There are countless examples of this sort of support in the diabetes community. Just a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, there was a gorgeous discussion as a back and forward chat happened organically. It started with a tweet about how it’s okay to feel that we don’t need to be diabetes superheroes, and ended up with a group of women tweeting about body image, and appreciating what our bodies were able to do, even as they bear (and we wear) the blemishes and scars of diabetes. 

The conversation focused on truths of diabetes, with each person in the exchange sharing something about their own reality. These are the snapshots and glimpses of diabetes that are often missing for the glossy marketing materials, social media influencer posts and ‘you can reach the stars’ articles in diabetes magazines. 

At one point, the only way I could respond to the familiar tales that were being tweeted from women across the world with such generosity, was ‘I am with my people.’

Despite decades of people with diabetes explaining the value of peer support, and ever-growing research showing how important it is, it’s still up to newly diagnosed people to stumble across others with diabetes thanks to a simple Google search. I don’t know that peer support can be ‘prescribed’, but surely there must be a better way to make sure that people – whatever stage of their diabetes life – at least know that there is a global community out there of people who will ease their isolation and whose stories will help give their own shape and understanding. 

But I guess until then, we hope that Google, or whatever other search engine someone uses, will point to blog posts, vlogs, online communities, Twitter chats and other virtual gatherings. Because who knows just where those cyber connections and chance encounters will lead. 

Throughout ATTD I got to repeatedly tell an origin story that led us to this year’s #dedoc° symposium. I’ve told the story here before, but I’m going to again for anyone new, or anyone who is after a refresher.

It’s 2015 and EASD in Stockholm. A group of people with diabetes are crowded together in the overheated backroom of a cafe in the centre of the city. Organising and leading this catch up is Bastian Hauck who, just a few years earlier, brought people from the german-based diabetes community together online (in tweet chats) and for in person events. His idea here was that anyone with diabetes, or connected to the conference, from anywhere in the world, could pop in and share what they were up to that was benefitting their corner of the diabetes world. I’ll add that this was a slightly turbulent time in some parts of the DOC in Europe. Local online communities were feeling the effects of some bitter rifts. #docday° wasn’t about that, and it wasn’t about where you were from either. It was about providing a platform for people with diabetes to network and share and give and get support.

And that’s exactly what happened. Honestly, I can’t remember all that much of what was spoken about. I do remember diabetes advocate from Sweden, Josephine, unabashedly stripping down to her underwear to show off the latest AnnaPS designs – a range of clothing created especially to comfortably and conveniently house diabetes devices. It won’t come as a surprise to many people that I spoke about language and communication, and the work Diabetes Australia was doing in this space and how it was the diabetes community that was helping spread the word.

I also remember the cardamom buns speckled with sugar pearls, but this is not relevant to the story, and purely serving as a reminder to find a recipe and make some.

So there we were, far away from the actual conference (because most of the advocates who were there didn’t have registration badges to get in), and very separate from where the HCPs were talking about … well … talking about us.

Twelve months later EASD moved to Munich. This time, Bastian had managed to negotiate with the event organisers for a room at the conference centre. Most of the advocates who were there for other satellite events had secured registrations badges, and could easily access all spaces. Now, instead of needing to schlep across town to meet, we had a dedicated space for a couple of hours. It also means that HCPs could pop into the event in between sessions. And a few did!

This has been the model for #docday° at EASD and, more recently, ATTD as well. The meetups were held at the conference centre and each time the number of HCPs would grow. It worked! Until, of course COVID threw a spanner in all the diabetes conference works. And so, we moved online to virtual gatherings which turned out to be quite amazing as it opened up the floor to a lot of advocates who ordinarily might not be able to access the meetings in Europe.

And that brings us to this year. The first large international diabetes conference was back on – after a couple of reschedules and location changes. And with it would, of course, be the global #dedoc° community, but this time, rather than a satellite or adjacent session, it would be part of the scientific program. There on the website was the first ever #dedoc° symposium. This was (is!) HUGE! It marks a real change in how and where people with diabetes, our stories and our position is considered at what has in the past been the domain of health professionals and researchers.

When you live by the motto ‘Nothing about us without us’ this is a very comfortable place to be. Bastian and the #dedoc° team and supporters had moved the needle, and shown that people with diabetes can be incorporated into these conferences with ease. The program for the session was determined by what have been key discussions in the diabetes community for some time: access, stigma and DIY technologies. And guess what? Those very topics were also mentioned by HCPs in other sessions.

There have been well over a dozen #docday° events now. There has been conversation after conversation after conversation about how to better include people with diabetes in these sorts of events in a meaningful way. There has been community working together to make it happen. And here we are.

For the record, the room was full to overflowing. And the vast majority of the people there were not people with diabetes. Healthcare professionals and researchers made the conscious decision to walk into Hall 118 at 3pm on Wednesday 27 April to hear from the diabetes community; to learn from the diabetes community.

If you missed it, here it is! The other amazing thing about this Symposium was that, unlike all other sessions, it wasn’t only open to people who had registered for ATTD. It was live streamed across #dedoc° socials and is available now for anyone to watch on demand. So, watch now! It was such an honour to be asked to moderate this session and to be able to present the three incredibly speakers from the diabetes community. Right where they – where we – belong.

DISCLOSURE

My flights and accommodation have been covered by #dedoc°, where I have been an advisor for a number of years, and am now working with them as Head of Advocacy. 

Thanks to ATTD for providing me with a press pass to attend the conference.

I’ve always thought that being pushed out of my comfort zone is a good thing. There’s something to be said about feeling uncomfortable and being stretched outside the boundaries of familiarity. 

And so, with that in mind, I jumped on a plane and flew to Barcelona for ATTD. If you read my last post, you’ll know it was nowhere near as easy and flippant as that last sentence sounds. 

A lot of the stresses I had before I left ended up amounting to nothing. There were no endless queues at the airport, or crowds who didn’t understand keeping 1.5 metres apart. Almost everyone was wearing a mask. Security was even more of a breeze than usual (apparently laptops and other devices don’t need to be removed from carry-on luggage anymore), and, requesting a pat down rather than walking through the full body scanner was met with a nod and a smile.

Everyone wore masks boarding the plane and most seemed to leave them on throughout the flight. This isn’t something to treat lightly. The first flight alone was almost 15 hours long! My mask was removed only while drinking and eating, staying on snugly while I slept. 

While there were no formal requirements for a supervised COVID test to enter Spain or return to Australia, my daily tests did cause 15 mins of countdown anxiety. One evening, someone messaged me to tell me that she had tested positive. We’d had a breakfast meeting the previous morning. I calmed my initial response (which was to freak out and burst into tears) by remembering that we’d all been masked up apart from the minutes we were eating.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I had been cautioned of convoluted arrival procedures and extra queues to check health and vaccination status. Before leaving, I’d had warnings and reminders from the airline and friends already there to make sure I’d completed my online Spain Travel Pass because the QR code would be needed. Except, it wasn’t. Passport control took under than 90 seconds. And my code wouldn’t scan for the woman checking my pass. ‘Where are you from,’ she asked me. When I said Australia, she laughed and told me just to go get my bag. (Clearly, she wasn’t up to date with our COVID numbers…)

Luckily, the people I spent most of my time with were all on the same page as me when it came to masking. We were not the norm. Most people were not masked up. I realised that when I walked into a hotel restaurant to meet someone a couple of hours after I arrived, and again as I walked into the conference centre on the Wednesday afternoon. As I stood on the stage to welcome everyone to the #dedoc° symposium, I was grateful to be greeted by a sea of masks with fewer than ten people in the packed crowd choosing to not wear one. And a couple of them searched in their bags for one after I and first speaker, Dana Lewis, thanked people for masking up. 

I have to say it did surprise me to see so few healthcare professionals wearing masks, and eagerly reaching out to hug or shake hands when we met. I actually was okay with giving people I know a hug, but we always asked first. I adopted a weird kind of hopping around to avoid people I don’t know too well as they approached, instead extending my elbow. 

I went into last week with a very clear idea of how I was going to, at all costs, avoid people. I’ve held tightly onto health measures (masking, distance, lots of hand washing, meeting people outdoors) since the pandemic began, and there was no way I was going to be partying like it was Feb 2020 just because I was back in Spain. 

But there was a moment that I did throw a little caution to the wind. The evening I arrived, after my first meeting, I got in the elevator to the rooftop of the hotel where I was staying. It was the same place all the #dedoc° voices were, and they were having an informal meet up on the roof. I walked out, and a few of them – the ones I know well – screamed and charged at me. And instead of freezing and freaking out, I teared up and was happy to just be enveloped by them all. I was wearing a mask and, in that moment, that as enough. 

Since I have returned home, I’ve been asked dozens of times what it’s like travelling and being at a conference again and how I coped. The answer isn’t straight forward. 

Travelling again was terrifying. I didn’t enjoy being in transit at all. I struggled with there being so many people around me. And I was uncomfortable with the unpredictability of the whole situation. But I focused on the bits I could control and did my best to just deal with it. 

Being at a face-to-face diabetes conference was in equal measure exhilarating and difficult. Being able to have in real life conversations with people about their advocacy and how they have been going is different to messaging or Zooming – it just is. Bumping into people in conference centre hallways starts conversations that absolutely wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And it’s those conversations that often lead to collaborations and new projects. I predicted in my last post that the muscle memory of a real-life conference would return without much effort, and I was right. 

The equation for me is this: the good outweighed the bad. The moments of joy and delight dwarfed the moments of terror. The feeling of being part of something – that truly global diabetes community of truly incredible diabetes advocates and healthcare professionals and researchers – returned with a fierceness I wasn’t expecting. I felt at home and where I belonged, and the moments of anxiety – sometimes almost paralysing – were overcome by knowing that. And the peer support was immense. I didn’t realise just how much I needed that contact again.

I’m not going to be rushing back to the same conference and travel schedule I had built in 2019 – it’s not sustainable in so many ways. And there is a lot of risk assessment going on. I won’t be at ADA this year, but EASD is on the cards. Carefully chosen meetings with clear goals and plans are worthwhile.

The world is definitely a different place. But within those differences is the comfort of knowing that the diabetes world – the diabetes advocacy community – has absolutely not stopped doing what it does best. As I stood in corridors speaking with people and plotting and planning, or took the stage to chair a session, or caught up with people after hours on rooftops, I realised that it’s going to take a lot more than a global pandemic to stop the passion and dedication and determination of those who have one thing in mind and one thing in common: improving lives of people with diabetes.

DISCLOSURE

My flights and accommodation have been covered by #dedoc°, where I have been an advisor for a number of years, and am no working with them as Head of Advocacy. 

Thanks to ATTD for providing me with a press pass to attend the conference.

As if to prove the point of yesterday’s post, I’ve received dozens of lovely messages from people about how supportive they’ve found others with diabetes, and how building each other up is a cornerstone of the work they are involved in.  

And as someone said to me today when I told them how many people had reached out: ‘I’m not surprised …’

Neither am I. That community support is on show everywhere you look right now. And no more so than with community efforts to support our diabetes brothers and sisters affected by the war in Ukraine. 

Click to donate

#SpareaRose for Ukraine has now been running for about two and a half weeks. Over $115,000 has been raised in community donations, plus another $80,000 or so in corporate matching. Just a reminder: this is a community initiative. There are four people doing a few things behind the scenes, but really, it’s the community that drives this campaign each and every year – BY the community, FOR the community. 

The Dedoc voices community, a group of people with diabetes, has been instrumental in sharing details of #SpareARose for Ukraine once it had been launched. They have also been sharing other extraordinary efforts they’ve been involved in, and here are just some of them. 

Meet: Dawn

Dedoc voice from Northern Ireland, and diabetes advocate extraordinaire, Dawn has been working with a group of people in NI, collecting support and supplies from the community to be packaged up and sent on to people with diabetes affected by the war.  

We have been given disposable and reusable pens, more than 5000 units of insulin in cartridges and vials, glucometers, test strips, glucagon, hypo treats, pen needles, pump supplies for Medtronic and AccuChek pumps, and lancets galore. 

We’ve also had a donation of disposable pens from women with GDM who have had their babies. The support and generosity has been truly phenomenal. Two of us took the items we had to a diabuddy for collection by Ukrainian Doctors. These Doctors have also been given an ambulance to take into Poland and were also guaranteed transport for supplies by RyanAir into Poland more details about the medical team can be found here 

If you would like to help, there is a go fund me page which you can access by clicking here.

(I can only imagine the supply of lancets are for a joke?)

Meet: Weronika

You may know Weronika better as Blue Sugar Cube on Insta and Twitter and seen her gorgeous artwork. She is a dedoc voice and an advocate from Poland, living in Belgium. 

Weronika shared with me what she has been doing in what can only be described as a community AND family effort!

Together with Polish Diabetes Association, I organized a collection of diabetes supplies in Belgium for Ukrainian PWD.

Of course, the diabetes community didn’t disappoint, and many people instantly wanted to help. It took only 5 days to fill two huge boxes of glucose meters, test strips, insulin pens and needles, insulin pump equipment, sensors, and hypo snacks!

My dear husband helped me sort and pack everything. We already sent the two boxes to Poland via a driver who was so noble to take them to Poland for free.

All diabetes articles will be delivered to the Headquarters of the Polish Diabetes Association in Warsaw (with the help of my in-laws) from where they will be distributed as needed.

Packages are still arriving, and we are organizing the next shipment soon…

Meet: Caro

Caro has been a dedoc voice at a number of conferences now, and is a terrific advocate for technology use for people with diabetes. Here is what she has been doing in Germany.

At our looper meet up with PWD from around the city of Cologne, we collected supplies for people in Ukraine. As we have a Russian member who has Ukrainian friends, the motivation to support was even bigger. These personal contacts and their reports about the situation in Ukraine make us sad and stunned. 

Another member of our group had connections to an organisation from Düsseldorf – they get trucks to Ukraine (even equipped with a fridge and able to cool insulin and other medical equipment).

Third way we support the Ukraine was to send insulin to the country via the organisation ‘Insulin zum Leben’ (the German Insulin for Life affiliate) which we are supporting already for many years. 

At this meet up we collected all stuff we knew that could be needed, sorted it, labelled and packed it. Insulin, test trips, cannulas, USB charger, Hypo snacks, dressing materials, painkiller etc. We all know, supporting via the official organisations is the best way to support – and we do that.

Meet: Ineska

As well as being involved in dedoc voices, Ineska from Croatia is an IDF YLD and part of the Type1EU community. Together with the Zagreb Diabetes Association she has alerted Croatian Red Cross, Ukraine embassy in Zagreb and pharmacies across Croatia to reach out of people from Ukraine who had come into Croatia, so they can be provided with help. 

Ineska shared some examples of the help that’s been requested:

Firstly, we got a call from Croatian policeman who was going to pick some kids and mothers on a border of Ukraine. He told us that he got a request from the Red for diabetes equipment of any kind, but specially insulin. We collected supplies within 3 hours with our diabuddies!

Then yesterday we got a call from Croatian Red Cross that they have a girl with diabetes, and she needs pump materials.

Also, we got a call from pharmacy that someone from Ukraine is asking to buy diabetes equipment, also for pump, but they can’t give it to them, because they need to have a prescription. 

So, at the end we got so many calls, and this is only in ‘small’ country of Croatia. We are so glad, that with this one step we could help so much.

There are others in the dedoc voices chat that are sharing their stories of community efforts they are involved in. Leon from Australia is providing frequent updates from Medicines Sans Frontieres and sharing relevant links to different aid groups. Others are asking for contacts in different countries to pass on urgent messages. As always, the group is coming together to support each other with the aim of helping others with diabetes who are facing impossible challenges right now. 

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the community supports and looks out for each other. Spare a Rose is a great example of that. For ten years, people from all corners of the diabetes community have made it their own. It’s not about supporting the volunteers behind the scenes. It’s about doing a huge thing and supporting others with diabetes. Together. Because that’s what a community does. 

You can still apply for to join the #dedoc° voices program at the upcoming ATTD conference. But be quick as applications close on 20 March. Click on the image below to be taken to the application form.

Disclaimer

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

Sometimes it takes me a couple of days after a big diabetes meeting or event to work out my main takeaways. I think about it and throw things around, reliving certain aspects, considering what was discussed, carefully thinking about all possible interpretations to make sure that I am clear about what people were saying

I didn’t need time after last week’s World Health Organisation Focus Group on Advancing the Lived Experience of People Living with Diabetes because the takeaways were there straight away, loud and clear. 

There were three things for me:

  1. The acknowledgement about the importance of language and communication. I wrote about that the other day
  2. Barriers to access include far more than affordability. Affordability is absolutely a cornerstone of being able to get the best care, take the right meds and use the right technology, but there are a lot of other obstacles and blocks that impact on outcomes. More on this another time. 
  3. But, for me, THE biggest take away was the support that was overflowing from most people in attendance, and they way they were looking out for each other, looking to each other, and looking for ways to remain connected to support the astonishing work being done in the community – from grassroots initiatives, right through to involvement in political campaigns at the highest organisation level.  

I have been so lucky to be the recipient of that sort of support from other people with diabetes over the years. Whether it’s invitations to be involved in their projects, or having an EOI flyer flicked my way, or being recommended for something, the love and generosity of others with diabetes has certainly opened up a lot of advocacy opportunities. I have tried to pay it back, and, (to use a #dedoc° voices motto), #PayItForward as well. A benefit of working for a diabetes organisation has meant that I have been able to co-design and develop programs to involve others. Initiatives like the #DAPeopleVoice and countless speaking occasions, and nominating people for initiatives such as the IDF YLD have opened the door for others with diabetes to step through and find a platform for their own advocacy. 

One of the things that I learnt early on is that there is a lot of stuff to go around. If people want to get involved, there are always ways in. Chelcie Rice’s ‘If they don’t have a chair for you, bring your own’ words ring in my ears a lot when I think about making sure PWD have a seat at the table, and I’ve extended that to ‘And make sure you bring a chair for someone else, or give yours up for them’. Increasingly, I’ve done more of the latter.   

Also early on I learnt to ignore the people who did nothing more than complain about who gets invited where, instead understanding my own value and reason for being involved, while also making sure to find a way to bring along those who genuinely were interested in being included and were willing to work to make it happen. (The incredible responses to this tweet show how people got a break in diabetes advocacy and what it’s taken to keep going.)

Supporting others is as easy as sharing someone’s blog or social media posts, linking to them here in my own writing or to their Twitter handle when I mention them, celebrating their work to others and applauding their wins. 

Attitudes of support were demonstrated in spades last week. I had direct messages from dozens of attendees, some reaching out for the first time, that were just so damn encouraging and kind. 

At the same time, I was frantically messaging others to ask about their work and if there was anything I could do to promote it. I sent the #dedoc° voices application link to a number of people who were at their first advocacy meet, and hoped to do more. 

One of the nicest messages I received was from someone I’ve known for years on Twitter, but never actually been at the same event or involved in the same project. We exchanged some lovely messages, acknowledging how terrific it was to finally find ourselves in the same Zoom room, and a hope that it would continue. 

The overwhelming openness, kindness and consideration of others was disarming. There wasn’t a sense of competition or resentment for anyone doing other things. There was appreciation and respect of others’ efforts. And that led to meetings being set up, collaborations taking shape, and a list of exciting new things to check out and share. 

Look, if this seems all a little utopian, maybe it is, and maybe I sound annoyingly Pollyanna-ish. I’m sure that there were some folks there who walked away with a very different vibe. And that’s fine. Not everything floats everyone’s boat. Perhaps not everyone connected with others the same way I did. Perhaps they weren’t as comfortable reaching out to others to offer their support, or maybe they didn’t see or hear anything they thought worth supporting. As always, diabetes experiences – whether in a clinic appointment or an advocacy event – will be different for different people. 

For me, I started from a place of wanting to be there and wanting to connect with others. When I think about it, there is an element of selfishness in my advocacy work, as it’s allowed me to always find a way to connect with others with diabetes, to learn from them, to work together, to jointly elevate our place in the diabetes healthcare space. It’s served me well. And it’s given me the change to receive and give support to others, too. It’s a good place to start. And it’s a good thing to keep doing.

This. On a tee-shirt, please.

DISCLOSURE

I was invited by the WHO Global Diabetes Compact team to be part of the facilitators at the Focus Group on Advancing the Lived Experience of People Living with Diabetes. I happily volunteered my time. 

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