“Were you in Chicago for work?” my friend asked.
“No, it was for fun actually. I lead a support group for women with diabetes. The group I work with is a national organization called DiabetesSisters. There are women like me leading groups all around the country. This weekend was an opportunity to get together in one place, support each other, share our experiences and learn from each other while having a great time in a new city.”
My friend, who doesn’t have diabetes or any real connection to diabetes, looked at me and was actually envious. She wanted to know more and was excited to hear about this empowering weekend of women.
I told her that this was my fourth year going to a getaway like this and I had been really looking forward to it. I was excited to see old friends and meet new ones, but I was also a little nervous because I’d been going through some serious diabetes burnout. I shared with her that I was hoping this weekend would serve as an opportunity to better educate myself and give me some more effective tools to help me manage my frustrations so I could be a stronger resource to my sisters in Colorado. Wow, did it ever!
We started the weekend by going around the room and introducing ourselves, being sure to include how many years we had each lived with diabetes. As in previous years, one of the women kept track of how many years all of the women in the room had respectively lived with diabetes. We counted over 600 years. Over 600?!? Can you believe it? I knew that this group of women could definitely help with how I was feeling. Not only that, but I was ready to listen and experience everything the weekend had to offer.
My favorite session was learning about advocacy from Leyla Mansour-Cole from the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition. She made us aware about important issues affecting our lives with diabetes that we could do something about, like non-medical switching. Non-medical switching is where your insurance plan switches your medication based on financial reasons, not reasons decided on by you and your doctor. Leyla also discussed insulin access and pricing, as well as ways to communicate with your HR manager to explain the cost of diabetes and encourage them to negotiate better coverage options for your employer-sponsored plan. These are just a few of the important issues that affect the lives of women with diabetes which we can do something about right now. She also made it very clear how we could get involved. That encouragement came with an essential reminder that we must support ourselves first before we can advocate and help others. She shared an example we have all heard a million times before every flight. Flight attendants always say before you take off, “Be sure to put on your oxygen mask before helping others put on their mask.” This really resonated with me and helped me realize it’s ok to take a break sometimes from all the craziness of life - and of diabetes - to help myself get to a point where I’m at 100% and can help support others.
I left Chicago feeling reenergized, and my friends and family at home could see a difference. I created a plan with my co-leader for the next year to get others more involved in planning and organizing our PODS meetings so that neither of us gets burnt out and we can continue to support our sisters as much as we can. My friend told me that she even felt inspired after hearing my experience to get more involved with the American Cancer Society, a cause near to her heart that she has supported in the past. And just like that, talking about diabetes and the DiabetesSisters Leadership Institute left two women enthused and motivated to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others. Thank you, DSisters!
- Erika Armani is a PODS Leader in Denver, CO and serves as the current PODS Representative to the DiabetesSisters Board of Directors.