Last weekend, DiabetesSisters hosted its SEVENTH Weekend for Women Conference. I have been fortunate enough to attend 5 of these Conferences (missing only 2010 Raleigh and 2012 San Diego), as attendee, volunteer and staff member. This year, I have returned from Washington, DC, where the Conference was held more motivated than ever.
I don't see the Conference as an attendee anymore; rather, in the planning I think of every aspect an attendee would want to experience: from arrival and check in to the educational and social sessions and even the food we serve. Working at DiabetesSisters, I plan these Conferences and ensure they run smoothly. While the event is going on, I don't have much time to participate in sessions - although this year, I was able to sit in on a few sessions that tugged at me: a session about diabetes misconceptions and another on eating disorders with diabetes.
When planning the conference, I didn't realize the impact these two sessions could have on attendees, although we discussed these two particular sessions in the office and really thought about what we wanted attendees to get out of them. Brandy and I thought about who we wanted to moderate these sessions, and who we wanted to discuss isssues on our panels. Nothing was left to chance and I'm proud that we choose wisely by asking Dr. Rhonda Merwin, Dr. Diana Naranjo and Kerri Sparling to moderate and faciliate our general session on dispelling diabetes myths and misconceptions. All attendees walked out of the session with a better understanding of eachother, with goals on how to come together as a community of women living with diabetes, and how to understand and care for one another, despite the type of diabetes we may live with. The second session, Body Wars, focused on diabetes and eating disorders and again, we brought together a great panel of psychologists and patients to paint a great picture of what it is like to live with diabetes and diabulimia. What has often been a taboo subjec among women with diabetes is now something very common within our society. I learned a lot during that session, mostly from other women sitting in the audience. I learned that diabulimia not only affects us as women with diabetes, but it also affects our husbands, children, mothers. I think creating a forum of trust and nonjudgment allows our Sisters the opportunity to have their own breakthroughs and if needed, find the help and support they need. I'm proud our Conference allowed women the chance to openly share their diabetes successes - AND failures. But not only that, it gave them the chance to find help. On Sunday afternoon, as I was saying goodbye to many of the women, a mother pulled me aside and hugged me tight. She said, "I can't look you in the eye to tell you this because I'll cry and my daughter is sick of me crying. I want to thank you for planning this weekend. My daughter and I are different people because of the support we received this weekend. You saved my daughter's life, I was ready to lose her. Thank you."
That alone made the long days (and nights) and weekends of work worth it. If anyone had told me 21 years ago (when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes) that I would help other women living with diabetes, I would have definitely laughed. At the time, I was only thinking of my own survival - but now, I realize the impact I am making in the lives of other women with diabetes. Where I once looked up to many women living with the disease (and still do), I've now become someone others look up to. Each Conference, I walk away with a new set of skills that help me manage my diabetes better. This year, I realized the impact I have in helping other women walk away with skills to better manage their diabetes. For that, I'm blessed.