I was honored and blessed to attend the DiabetesSisters Leadership Institute and Weekend for Women conference in Alexandria, Virginia last weekend. It was co-hosted by the Unconference as well. There were so many friendships, so much knowledge gained, and appreciation for both organizations who put their heart and soul into making life just a little bit better living with diabetes. After having attended these conferences in the past, I knew it would be well worth the distance I would travel from California, and it was!
I arrived on Thursday late afternoon and was immediately greeted by some familiar faces in the lobby from conferences past, and already felt a sense of connectedness. After checking in, I went down to the lobby for the hotel’s happy hour and was happy to find more familiar faces, both from DiabetesSisters and from the Unconference I attended earlier this year in February. I also met some new friends and already started learning new tips and techniques, as well as shared some of my own. As important and informative as the conference sessions are, the conversations outside the sessions are just as important for me. Having one-on-one and small group conversations about what we go through day-to-day and knowing that the other person totally gets it, is priceless.
Friday morning started the DiabetesSisters Leadership Iinstitute with sessions for PODS (Part of DiabetesSisters) Leaders. Diana Karczmarczyk presented a session on “Best Practices in Group Facilitation.” I really enjoyed her presentation and how she compared our PODS leadership role to a conductor of an orchestra. I also like the idea of the question bucket, where people in the group can ask anonymous questions for the group to answer and discuss.
The Weekend for Women conference officially began Friday afternoon. I attended the DPAC session about diabetes advocacy which was both informative and frustrating to hear about how policy works. This topic was continued in Saturday afternoon’s session in Learning about Patient Advocacy.
Friday evening, we were treated to a wonderful meet and greet reception complete with delicious food and drinks. By this time, most DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women and Unconference attendees had arrived, intermingling and getting to know one another. Then we all gathered in another room for an hour of very entertaining conversations, lots of laughter and audience participation led by Christel Marchand Aprigliano, Karen Graffeo, Gary Scheiner and Cindy Campaniello called “Sex, PODS, and Rock n Roll.”
Saturday is when the real “heart” of the conference began, and it all started out with a great workout before breakfast with Christel Oreum. The conference officially began at 9am with several “track” sessions from which to choose. It was difficult choosing which one to attend because I wanted to hear all of them! The first session I chose was Mindful Eating with Susan Weiner . Next, I chose The Physiology of Exercise with Christel Oreum. We then had an extended break for lunch, so a group of us chose to go for a walk through town, then back to the after-lunch exercise session co-led by both Christel and Rachel Zinman (yoga instructor and author). There was another advocacy session, then a great session with Gary Scheiner on the glycemic index. Saturday night we had another “mixer” with the Unconference attendees, and then some of us went line dancing and karaoke singing in the local bars – fun night!
Unfortunately, I was dealing with a terrible low in the early morning hours Sunday, so between that and being from the West Coast where it was only 4am, I didn’t make it to the 7am exercise session with either Christel or Rachel. I found Melissa Lee’s Technology session the most informative. I’m currently on an Animas pump, and since they’ve closed up shop recently, I have to decide if I want to change pumps before I’m out of warranty. I learned about the DIY system as well, and I’m extremely interested in making that happen, except that it seems like A LOT of work! Ideally, I’d like to wait until Omnipod gets their AP system up and running before switching to anything new because I’m really tired of the tubing on my pump getting caught up in all kinds of embarrassing situations!
The next session I attended was Being the CEO of your Health Care. I already practice this after learning the hard way when first diagnosed, and knowing it’s ok to “fire” your doctors in search of the right one! I’m fortunate that my doctor is also a T1, but he’s not very involved in my decision-making. I usually come to him with research I’ve gathered to advocate for my own health care, whether it is for a new medication or a new device to try.
Sunday ended with a very powerful and uplifting session by Shawn Shepheard, speaker, author and life coach. Shawn believes that you need to ask yourself these two simple questions: “Where are you now?” and “Where do you want to be?” He had us do an exercise called the “Life Wheel” where we assigned areas of our current life wheel with numbers from 1-10 corresponding to money, health, family, etc. And then below, we wrote what we wanted to do in each category to make it a perfect 10. Very thought-provoking.
Saying good-bye was hard, knowing it might be another year or longer before I would see these amazing people again. I sincerely thank all the PODS leaders, the conference attendees, presenters and mostly the big 4 – Anna, Sarah, Christel M and Karen G, for making it all possible and having a positive impact on my T1 life.
Till next time,
Gayle McKenna, PODS Leader, DiabetesSisters of Ventura County/San Fernando Valley, CA