It’s been several years since I’ve been able to consider myself a full-time student, however, when I saw the opportunity to attend a conference designed for young adults ages 18-30, I couldn’t pass up the chance to participate. I’d like to extend my overwhelming gratitude to both the DiabetesSisters and Dexcom One Step Ahead Foundation for the generosity that allowed me to travel to Florida for the 2017 Students with Diabetes Conference over Memorial Day Weekend. Being one of the recipients of the Brandy Barnes Leadership scholarship was an absolute honor and I took great pride in representing the DiabetesSisters and sharing with others the mission of this wonderful Sisterhood.
Students with Diabetes is one of the organizations beneath the Diabetes Empowerment Foundation (an organization founded and led by former Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson) umbrella. Their mission is to “empower people living with diabetes to live positive, productive, limitless lives”. It’s easy to understand why the young adult/student population is so close to Nicole’s heart, as she was diagnosed with Type 1 when she was 19 years old. I cannot thank her enough for creating the opportunity that allowed me to interact with so many wonderful young people living with T1D.
Arriving in Florida, I was most excited to meet and spend time with my roommate, Sarah Vedomske, especially since the first time I ever saw her name was on one of the DiabetesSisters blogs! She had briefly been a Type 1 contributor, which led me to becoming a fan of her personal blog page, Coffee & Insulin. Like me, Sarah is a bit older than the typical student attending the conference. Both in our mid-twenties, we shared the feeling of being one of those “in-between”, bridging the gap between the typical SWD attendee, and those who were either there as members of the industry, or those who were organizing and running the events.
A highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to hear Kyle Cochran, of American Ninja Warrior fame, speak openly and honestly. His talk about finding strength and pushing yourself, even during the tough times, really resonated with me and it was easy to tell that his message of inspiration and hope was radiating across the entire room. That young man certainly knows how to hold the attention of a crowd! Being a strong advocate for bringing awareness to the power of peer support, I found the chance to either hear from or interact directly with other young T1’s to be what I enjoyed and appreciated most.
I felt especially empowered during the eating disorder and depression break out session. I believe there was a bit of disconnect between the presentation of the medical professional and the receptiveness of the audience. In that moment, during a session that certainly elicits a lot of emotion and deserves to be approached with great sensitivity, I found the desire and confidence within myself to speak up and share my thoughts. This realization that I was more than just a member of the audience, but also a vital and important resource (especially in that particular scenario) transpired from the identity I’ve shaped over the years. My passion for advocacy and awareness has grown immensely and I attribute much of my abilities as a leader to my experiences with the DiabetesSisters.
The Students with Diabetes conference is definitely geared towards the younger end of the age spectrum but that did not stop me from having a wonderful time. It was the raw and real human connections that I took away as gifts from the weekend. Reflectively, I wonder to myself how in a matter of only a few short years, I went from someone who would never have attended anything diabetes related, to someone who felt like a powerful peer leader within a young adults with diabetes population. I realize that it’s all about taking that first step towards getting involved. For me, that was becoming a DiabetesSisters PODS leader. For others, that first step may be signing up to attend a conference like Students with Diabetes. Whatever path you choose to follow, it’s all about finding the inner strength to take control of your life, and push on towards tomorrow. Discovering avenues that could lead you to some of the best friendships and connections you could have ever hoped for is the silver lining to having diabetes. I encourage anyone living with diabetes to seek out these opportunities because you never know what treasures you will find!