First, I am going to introduce myself. My name is Alejandra Marquez. I am from Venezuela but I live in Greensboro, NC. I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 26 years. I have been part of DiabetesSisters since 2011. I am the PODS Leader in Greensboro NC. I participated in the DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women conference in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2017, and the Leadership Institute in 2017 and 2018.
Last weekend, I went to the DiabetesSisters 4th Annual Leadership Institute in Chicago. I don't have words to describe how I felt while I was there and after I came home. I can only say the support from all my diabetes sisters I found since I joined DiabetesSisters 7 years ago is bigger than I could imagine.
Every year I save my weekend for the DiabetesSisters event. My husband supports me going because he knows I need it and I really want to go. He is my diabetes partner who takes care of our son while I attend the Institute and enjoy my weekend. I am thankful to have him.
This was the 4th Annual Leadership Institute, but it was the second time I have participated, and I will do it again and again. Why? I will try to describe what I learned from it and invite you to participate in a DiabetesSisters PODS Meetup in your city – or to start a PODS Meetup yourself. Look for it! Be part of this amazing group!
I arrived to Chicago on Friday around noon. Thanks to Clare Fishman, PODS leader from Boston (MetroWest), whom I met last year. We arrived at the same time and same terminal. We took the train together, and had delicious lunch before went to the hotel. Then we went to registration and saw the DiabetesSisters team. Anna, Sarah, and Karen gave us warm welcome and hugs. It was so incredible see everybody again and meet new ones. I met my roommate Rachel Foster, who is the PODS Leader in Minneapolis/Saint Paul.
We met at 6pm to go the PODS Leader Appreciation Social in a wonderful place, with delicious food. We had fun playing bocce ball too. In Venezuela we call that game "bolas criollas" and Cindy Campaniello (Rochester-Westside) said in Italy they call it "Bocce" and the small ball "Papino". We had a great night. How beautiful is this city!
On Saturday, our agenda was full. I couldn't wake up for morning yoga but I heard it was great session from Sarah Macleod (Boston – South Shore/Braintree). We started at 9am with a welcome and introductions, I was impressed by how long we are living with diabetes, how we appreciate being part of this organization, how INCREDIBLE this support group is for us, and the FRIENDSHIP we are creating every time we came together (and keep in touch through social media, text, call, email etc.). We are here for each other. Yes, I have to highlight it. Also. I met Fabiola Ibarra (PODS Leader from Austin TX), who is from Mexico and of course speaks Spanish!
The 1st presentation was Diabetes Advocacy, with Leyla Mansour-Cole from Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition (DPAC). She was helpful and explained to us how we can advocate for our diabetes, and showed us the DPAC website with many resources we can use to speak out. Of course I ended with a to-do list.
After we had a break, we went to the 2nd presentation about Healthy Eating in Real Life with Diabetes by Kathy Warwick, RD, LD, and CDE. It was a wonderful presentation. I learned we have to research the healthy options and make it part of our day. The 3rd presentation about Living Well with Diabetes in Real Life was also by Kathy. She ended her presentation with meditation. I love it; it was so relaxing and made me think I have to incorporate it to take a break.
We came back to an interesting panel of the Secrets of Successful PODS Leaders & Meetups, where some of our PODS leaders (Daphene Kimball, Erika Armani, Andrea Herndon, Diane Bajalia, and Connie Hanham-Cain) shared their experiences and gave us ideas how we can keep our PODS active. This was AWESOME!
We ended the day with a Hip Hop Fit Class with Gene Hicks. We danced and laughed harder and harder. After that, I hurried up to join 15 sisters decided to go to the Theater to see a preview of Tootsie the Musical. Thanks to Anne Safran Dalin (PODS Leader from Bridgewater, NJ), who suggested it. We had an extraordinary night.
On Sunday, we started with the panel called Let's Hear for the Girls: Rockin' the D a long time. These PODS Leaders have lived with type 1 or type 2 diabetes for decades. Every day is a new beginning, and it is hard to figure out by ourselves. We have to look for support because we never know who can help and inspire.
CEO Remarks from Anna Norton was an emotional speech. She made me cry. She was one of first ladies I met when I joined DiabetesSisters, plus she speaks Spanish, and we immediately connected. She has been so helpful, so kind, and wonderful. She always gives me positive energy.
Her words made me feeling important to this organization and to my DiabetesSisters tribe. We are here to help us each other, and make our life easier and happier. Also, she shared the new initiative to help Hispanic, African American, and South Asian women with diabetes. That is great, because there is a need in our diversity community. I am happy we are going to help them too.
The last session was the PODS Leader recognition. Each of us received the book The Pocket Carbohydrate Counter Guide for Diabetes, just released and written by Shelby Kinnaird, who is a PODS Leader from Richmond, VA. That was so kind, Shelby. Thank you!
We had lunch together, connected with new leaders and took a lot of pictures with our phones and with our wonderful photographer Bob, who has always taken our beautiful DiabetesSisters pictures. Afterward some of us walked to Millennium Park where we saw the bean and the water structure faces. Then we had to stop by Shake Shack for a chocolate shake because we were low, and we took the train to the airport together.
I brought my baggage home full of positive energy, great memories, smiles, how to dance hip-hop, pictures, and friendship. I am thankful to be part of this. I want to say THANK YOU again to the DiabetesSisters team Anna, Sarah, Karen, and our sponsors who make this possible. I cannot ask for more.