I know I am not the only person with type 1 diabetes, yet it often feels like it. But I certainly did not feel alone with my diabetes the weekend of October 13 – 15 when I attended the DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women in Alexandria, VA, the weekend of OCtober 13, 2017. There were at least 150 women young and old, with all types of diabetes. Years with diabetes ranged from recently diagnosed women to women who have had diabetes for 50 or more years like me.
This was my first time attending a DiabetesSisters event or any function for people with diabetes since I went to diabetes camp when I was a teenager, back when it was all about injections and urine testing.
The extremely well-organized weekend was welcoming and so full of energy, excitement, and laughter, that an outsider would never guess it was a conference of people who are generally considered “sick”. The supportive atmosphere encompassed every topical session and activity I attended. I found it pleasantly challenging to scribble down the huge amount of valuable information and ideas that were presented. I thought I knew a lot because I keep up with diabetes research and news, but was surprised at how much I didn’t know and was grateful the opportunity to learn – it was worth the writer’s cramp. Fortunately, Diabetes Sisters made the slides shows and Power Points available so we can review the sessions we attended as well as read up on sessions we did not get to attend.
I started to review separately each individual session I attended, but realized I cannot do so completely enough to do them justice and still be concise. What they all had in common were facilitators who:
· were experts in their disciplines as well as being dynamic speakers
· presented information and perspectives on topics current and relevant to diabetes and persons with diabetes
· provided an abundance of resources such as organizations with contacts, websites, handouts, book recommendations, product information, and more
· strongly engaged participants by peaking interest while effectively lowering barriers to asking questions and bringing up personal concerns
The only two problems were 1) some sessions were not scheduled for enough time. Facilitators had to speed-talk to cover the whole topic and some sessions ended late because we, the participants wanted more and held them hostage (in a nice way), and 2) certain session topics and speakers were so much in demand that meeting rooms could not comfortably hold the number of people who wanted to attend; it was standing room only. But, these are the kinds of “needs improvement” areas that arise in an outstanding conference.
Even the fun cocktail hours that were scheduled on Friday and Saturday evenings were more than just pleasant as intended. They also resulted in new insights. I joined a table of five other women with diabetes to chat over drinks and diabetes-friendly hors d'oeuvre. We talked regular “girl-talk” about things like fashion, husbands, partners, friends, raising children, work, and healthcare politics. But most of our discussion had a diabetes twist. I learned how other women feel about clothing fashions that accommodate pumps. I found out about other women’s successes and challenges in family relationships including the kinds of support they get or lack thereof, with managing their diabetes. I discovered what my new friends do for a living and how their work environments do and/or don’t accommodate their diabetes needs. I heard various perspectives on the U.S. healthcare system and how it compares to the Irish healthcare system (one of our group came from Ireland) and how these systems impact our treatment choices and expenses.
I resolved to reach out to other diabetics in my community because these informal gatherings reminded me how much we learn from each other, and how important it is for people with diabetes to stay connected to one another. The same informal exchange of information and connectiveness was alive in all aspects of the conference including between sessions, at snack and meal times, on the elevators, in the restrooms, etc. The tone set by the conference organizers, staff and facilitators enabled open-minded and open-hearted interactions.
Speaking of snacks and meals, the food was above average and it was delightful to have more than one healthy option to choose from. The Embassy Suites Hotel was very amenable and beautiful with eight floors of rooms surrounding an open sunlit atrium. My hotel room was on the 7th floor and I enjoyed watching myself ascend and descend in the glass elevators while looking out into the atrium. It was much more fun than watching my blood sugars ascend and descend.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to attend the seventh DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women, and the scholarship that DiabetesSisters gawarded me. If you think my review is sugar coated (ha ha) because of that, you would be incorrect. The conference organizers paired me with another scholarship awardee as a roommate, Grainne, who was a joy to get to know. She came all the way from Ireland just for the conference and although her scholarship covered her registration, room and board, her travel was on her own dime (or whatever they call dimes in Ireland). There were also participants from Canada, the UK, Australia, and other countries, as well as from all over the U.S. Women with diabetes came from far and wide to attend this conference either because they loved the previous conferences, or because of its great reputation.
The Weekend for Women helped me grow in many ways and on many levels. My diabetes management, my knowledge, my motivation, my self-acceptance, and my relationships all took a step forward. When my husband asked what I liked most about the conference, all I could say was, “Everything and everyone.”
Submitted by Jan Mosso