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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. 

This morning on ABC Melbourne’s Conversation Hour, the topic was how people are using the internet to self-diagnose mental health conditions using TikTok. Apparently, HCPs are seeing more people claiming to have undiagnosed mental health conditions based on videos they’ve seen on the app. 

The question being posed in the discussion was this: Are Dr Google and TikTok helping raise awareness of mental health conditions or misleading millions of viewers?

Oh’, I thought. ‘We’re having this conversation. AGAIN’, as the hosts were engaged in a bit of pearl clutching and assumption-making. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the suspicion and cynicism I was hearing. Sure. It might be a different health condition and a different social media platform, but haven’t we been doing this for years? For DECADES?

Yes. Yes, we have. 

The gist of the discussion today was questioning just how safe and sensible it is for people to use TikTok videos as a basis of self-diagnosing ADHD and other mental health conditions. The people in these videos are sharing their experiences and their symptoms, and others are recognising what they see. As a result, increasing numbers of people are heading off to their GP or a psychologist in the belief they have ADHD. Are these videos a good thing? Or is it misleading and dangerous? 

There were stories of lived experience – people sharing how they had seen something on social media and used that as the springboard to find answers to health questions they have. And others explaining how difficult it had been to get help in the first place, often after having been dismissed for years. 

Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even if someone does self-diagnose – correctly or incorrectly – they still need to see a healthcare professional to find the right treatment and care. That’s certainly the case when it comes to diabetes. So much of what I have learnt about different treatments or devices has come directly from the community, but in almost all cases, I then need to see a HCP to actually access that new therapy. I can’t write myself a prescription if I want to try a new insulin. In most cases, new tech also needs a HCP sign off, especially if you want to access subsidy programs. 

I’ve come to learn that a good healthcare professional is one who considers Dr Google a colleague rather than a threat. Those who grimace and dismiss someone who walks into their office with the announcement ‘I’ve been googling’ is really just admitting that they believe they are still the oracle of all information; information to be disseminated when they decide it’s time and in the way they believe is right for the individual. 

We have moved on from that. 

And surely we have moved on from the idea that social media is evil and highly distrustful. I’ve been writing and speaking about this for over ten years. In fact, in 2013, I wrote this in a post‘The diabetes social media world does not need to be scary and regarded with suspicion. The role of HCPs is not under threat because PWD are using social media – that’s not what it’s for. It is just the 2.0 version of peer support.’

I so wished that the discussion I listened to this morning had started with a different framing. Instead of highlighting how social media in healthcare could be problematic, they could have emphasised just how empowering and positive it can be for people to recognise themselves on social media. How seeing those stories and hearing those experiences normalise what we see in ourselves, and how they can help us find the right words for what it is that we have been thinking and direction for what to do next. 

It’s not social media and online health discussions that are going to make HCPs redundant. Rather, it’s their refusal to understand just how important and useful these sorts of communications and communities can be. In a post in2016 I referred to it all as a ‘modern day kitchen table’. Sure that kitchen table now looks like a TikTok video, a Twitter discussion or an Instagram reel. But learning from others living similar lives isn’t new. And neither is searching for answers using something like Dr Google. It’s sustaining. And for so many, essential.

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.

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. 

There are days that my job is just THE best and yesterday was one of them. And the novelty cheque I was handed wasn’t even the best of it. I met with an incredible bloke who had undertaken two years of fundraising, summitting mountains and running marathons. He met with me to handover his donation to Diabetes Australia.

His astonishing efforts had all been for his nine-year old daughter who has been living with type 1 diabetes for the last four years. This darling girl got a day off school so she could be part of the cheque handover. She jumped around excitedly with lots to say about school, diabetes and being nine – an absolute gem, all bundled up in a tutu with sequins.

And then she noticed the sensor on my arm. She froze and her eyes grew wide. ‘Do you have diabetes too?’ she almost whispered at me. When I said yes, her excitement went from level 11 to level one hundred million! ‘I HAVE ONE OF THOSE ON MY STOMACH!’ she yelled and lifted her top so she could show me.

I complimented her on the patch around her sensor and then we spoke about which patches we think look best around our Dexcoms. We both agreed that pink is the best. Obviously.

She told me that she learnt how to do her own injections when she went a diabetes camp a couple of years ago and how she even does her own sensor changes now too. 

We shared what we love and don’t love about diabetes (jellybeans featured strongly on her ‘love’ list) and talked about how great it is when you get to know other people with diabetes. She told me about her friend with diabetes at school. I told her about my neighbour with diabetes and all my diabetes mates. 

When we were saying goodbye, I told her that if she wants to chat again, she should ask her mum or dad to reach out so we can organise a time for a Zoom call, and we could all catch up. Because sometimes, all you need is someone else with diabetes to chat to, and, as it turns out, an almost 40-year age difference isn’t a barrier to feeling that unique connection to someone else with diabetes and understanding the endless and colossal value of peer support.

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 talk about peer support being life-changing and life-saving. I say those words frequently when asked to speak and write about why peer support is so important to me, and what I hear about the value of peer support from others in the diabetes community. 

But does it get more life changing than this?

Today, I’m writing about Jason and Irina, a couple of people I’m lucky to call friends. 

They met during the weekly OzDOC tweetchats back in October 2016.  Those weekly, rapid-fire hours of diabetes chatter fostered many great friendships. And this particular friendship, formed in between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on a Tuesday evening, led to Jason moving states to be with Irina. 

They really did start with a tweet!

This is one of those magical stories where diabetes may be the thing that brought people together, but the connection is so, so much more than that. I’ve been lucky enough to catch up with Jason and Irina a few times in person over the (pre-COVID) years. I remember after the first time I met them, I walked away thinking what a magical couple they are – so right for each other. 

It really wasn’t a surprise when I found out that they were engaged. Jason kept me updated with their wedding plans and I was so honoured that my family was invited to share their special day.

And then COVID happened.

There’s no need to talk about how the pandemic threw everything it could at this couple to try to disrupt their wedding. I lost count of the number of times their big day was rescheduled, Omicron being the most recent attempt to try to stop it. 

But, as it turns out, Jason and Irina’s yearning to get married was way, way stronger than even the most virulent strain (so far) of COVID. A couple of weeks ago, Jason messaged to say that they were going ahead, with a smaller celebration. 

And so, on Sunday of last week, the happy couple got married in what Jason described as a fairy tale. 

So much love to the two of you. I can’t take any credit at all for this gorgeous union – all credit for that goes to these two lovebirds. But I can say that it started with a tweet in an OzDOC tweetchat. And that is pretty damn amazing!

Viva gli sposi!

The gorgeous couple

The very first time I ever saw or heard anyone speaking of an insulin pump was about 14 months after I was diagnosed. It was National Diabetes Week in July 1999, and I attended an event organised by Reality Check, and supported by Diabetes Vic. Reality Check was a support group of young adults with type 1 diabetes. I don’t remember much from the program at the event, but I do remember a woman called Cheryl Steele. Cheryl was living with type 1 diabetes, and she was sharing her story of using an insulin pump and how it had completely revolutionised her type 1 diabetes management. Three moments from Cheryl’s talk stood out for me: the first was that she was able to be more flexible with what she was eating, the second was that a pump gave her more flexibility with being able to sleep in. And the third was that she loved her pump so much that she threatened to cut the arms off anyone who tried to take it away from her. 

The first time I heard about CGM was years before we had the devices here in Australia. I read about them in online blogs and in support groups led by PWD in the US. I read stories about how this technology was changing the way the managed their diabetes in ways I could only imagine. I heard about Libre for the first time a number of years later when I met Claudio Pelizzeni at EASD, and he shared his experience of using the device as he travelled the world (without taking planes).     

The first time I heard about DIYAPS was at an informal lunch thrown by Medtronic (I think) in 2015 (I think) in Boston (I think). I’m sketchy about the details, but I do remember with great clarity that at the other end of the table was a woman called Dana Lewis who I had seen online and read about, and knew to be amazing, but not yet met in person. She was talking about…well, to be honest, at the time I had no idea what she was talking about. All I could see and understand was that she was doing something that sounded like science fiction. She had a number of devices linked together and there was something totally magical happening.

The first time I heard about Loop (the DIYAPS I went on to use) was on a rainy New York night in January 2017 at a pub in the financial district. I was having a drink with a friend and just as he was taking the first mouthful of his stout he said, ‘Hang on, I need to bolus’, and he pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed some buttons. ‘What the what?’ I asked and he proceeded to explain Loop, how it worked, how he’d woken at between 80 and 100 (4 & 5) every single morning for the three months he’d been using it, and how he was sleeping better than he ever had.

When it comes to technology, it has always been up to me to first raise discussions about different devices or options. After seeing Cheryl talking about her pump, I asked my endocrinologist about getting one and his opening line (and closing line, as it turned out) was ‘They kill people; I’ll never allow one of my patients to use one’. That was the last time I saw him, and I went on the hunt to find an endocrinologist who would support my choice. I started on CGM because I enrolled myself in a trial. I was given my first Libre at a blogger event. I cobbled together my DIYAPS after sourcing what I needed. As brilliant as my HCP team is, they have not been especially proactive about suggesting, or even introducing the idea of, different diabetes technologies. It’s been learning through others with diabetes that has set me on that road. 

When I talk about what peer support means to me, it goes beyond moral support and shared experience. It has been the driving force behind much of the way I choose to manage my diabetes. It has been the impetus for investigating if something new might be right for me. It has paved the way for me to start conversations with healthcare professionals to make access happen. 

Peer support is absolutely essential for the mutual understanding and the tips and tricks for making day-to-day diabetes easier. And I’ve always said that hearing others’ stories help make sense of my own. But it is about much, much more. I’ve detailed the ‘first times’ when it comes to tech, but there have been so many more moments – moments that have helped make that tech work for me in ways I’d not thought, and certainly not had discussed with me by HCPs. 

When I speak with newly diagnosed PWD I ask if they know others. I gently suggest that it may be a good thing to think about – not necessarily straight away, but certainly at some point. I can never repay the debt of gratitude I have for people who steered me in the direction to the tools that make my diabetes life that little bit easier, but I can do all I can to give back and try to do that every day.

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. 

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