I never went to diabetes camp. Being diagnosed in high school, I was a little too old to attend as a camper and, therefore, didn’t have the opportunity to experience this classic diabetes rite of passages others may remember fondly. Though I am grateful to have had a solid fifteen years without T1D, never having my Halloween or birthday party fun negatively impacted by blood sugar checks and insulin injections, it does slightly disappoint me that I missed out on the opportunity to connect with other diabetic children at a younger age. The feeling of camaraderie and understanding described by others who participated in diabetes camps is something that I’ve always hoped to find despite being an adult. For so long, I yearned to be in the same physical vicinity of a big group people who also had diabetes.
A few years ago, I learned of the DiabetesSisters, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and empowering women living with all types of diabetes. At the time, they were still organizing and holding their Weekend for Women conferences, bringing together women from all over for a few days of speakers, activities, and opportunities for interaction with others. These weekend conference events were part of the initial DiabetesSisters appeal for me. However, it turned out the logistics of travel and time off from work never allowed me to attend. It’s certainly a program that I’d love to see them revisit in the future when the time is right again.
I quickly learned that the DiabetesSisters also runs something called PODS Meetups. PODS stands for Part of DiabetesSisters. These meetings, which are led by volunteers of varying ages and types of diabetes, are held once a month in cities all across the country. Additionally, there is also the monthly virtual PODS Meetup which is held online for those who cannot attend in person. Providing the opportunity for women with all types of diabetes to gather, these peer-to-peer style support groups are impacting their communities positively and are helping women forge bonds and friendships in real life.
In the fall of 2013, I was contacted by Anna Norton, the current CEO of the DiabetesSisters. At the time, she was in charge of the PODS program and had reached out to me because I had expressed interest online in attending a meetup. Back then, there were no meetups in the Boston area, so Anna and I spoke about the possibility of me starting one in my community. I happily agreed to take on the role as PODS leader. The first Boston/South Shore area PODS Meetup was held in February of 2014 and we are still going strong to this day. We meet once a month, typically the third Wednesday, in Braintree, MA. I am hoping to hold an additional monthly meeting, starting in July, within the city of Boston. I often am in touch with women who would love to attend but would have a hard time getting to the Braintree location on a weeknight. I can’t wait to help plant the seeds for a new PODS Meetup group within the city and bring together even more women living with diabetes.
Through my involvement as a leader of a DiabetesSisters PODS Meetup, I was given the opportunity to attend the Leadership Conference held to help strengthen the skills and knowledge of the women who run these meetings. Last April, a few dozen PODS leaders traveled to North Carolina to meet each other and listen, learn, and contribute thoughts on the mission we are all so passionately involved in. Gathering with these ladies who not only also had diabetes, but were also PODS leaders themselves, meant more to me than I could describe in words.
It is there that I first thought to myself, “So THIS is what people are talking about when they mention how it feels to be at diabetes camp.” as we all tested, injected, and bolused together throughout the course of the weekend. Hearing beeps and alarms from various diabetes technologies that I knew were not my own was just as oddly comforting as I had been told it would be. Sharing stories and exchanging tales of diabetes experiences, we all found ourselves in a place of peace and understanding. It was one of those experiences where you really have a true physical feeling of what it means to be alive. These women, my sisters who were sharing a similar yet personally unique journey, were also fellow pioneers of advocacy and empowerment. I’ve never felt so accepted, understood, and instantly loved in my entire life.
Being the youngest of the PODS leaders, it was inspiring for me to meet other leaders of all ages and backgrounds. I greedily absorbed any words of wisdom, encouragement, and advice like a sponge. I had so much to learn and just too little time to spend with them all. Meeting Brandy Barnes, founder of the DiabetesSisters, was certainly a highlight and I had been longing to meet Anna, who I had spoken to only through calls and emails, for so long. I can’t believe how fortunate I was to be in the presence of so many people doing such great things for women living with diabetes. I left there with an amplified, enhanced version of the “runner’s high” like feeling I experience when leaving my own PODS meetups. I felt recharged and ready to go take on another part of the diabetes world.
I only wish I could devote more time, energy, and resources to the DiabetesSisters and the diabetes community in general. It pains me to drive to a job each day that has nothing to do with the diabetes world or community. In the recent months, I’ve really tried to gain a sense of where I am right now and where I would like to go. I’m finding a greater purpose in something that once brought me such pain and I’m enjoying observing the effects and benefits of putting positive energy into the universe.
For more information about the DiabetesSisters, the PODS Meetup program, and how you can get involved, please visit their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to help support the DiabetesSisters and their mission, please consider a donation. Thank you!