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Last Thursday morning, still wracked (and wrecked) with jet lag from having just returned from ten days in Europe, I boarded a flight to Manila. I would be co-facilitating a workshop for people with diabetes from across the Philippines about how advocacy, community and engagement. If I’m completely honest, I had no idea what was in store for me.

I knew that the PWD who would be attending had all been through a diabetes camps program in the Philippines. They were all young and very eager to step up as advocates. They were the reason the workshop was happening – they realised it was time to elevate the PWD voice in advocacy efforts in their country and they wanted some help in doing just that.

And so, the idea of a workshop was conceived, and the two facilitators were flown in from opposite sides of the planet to pull it all together. Enter me and the Grumpy Pumper (who for once had to travel further than me and was more jet lagged than me).

As the facilitators, we were there to talk about some examples of effective grass roots advocacy, talk about how engagement with other stakeholders is important, and highlight just why the voice of those living with diabetes is critical when it comes to lobbying. We had an vague outline of just how we thought the workshop would run, but we really wanted to ensure that the attendees could shape it the way they wanted, asking relevant questions and walking away with information that would help them.

Once the workshop started, it was very, very quickly apparent that we already had a thriving, dynamic and enthusiastic community in the room. They just weren’t seeing themselves that way. Over the course of the workshop, we saw the ten PWD realise that their own stories and voices are important and have real currency, and they are an unstoppable force when they came together. If ever I needed a reminder of the power of community, I’d have found it there in that room in Manila!

There will be a lot more about the weekend workshop in coming days. I’m still getting my head around it all and am not really sure what to write just yet. It may take me some time. What I do know is that the DOC now has some new voices. Their perspectives will be different to those we often hear about, and that diversity is always good in a community.

So, while I’m getting my words together, get to know these amazing young advocates. They’re on Facebook here; Twitter here; and Instagram here.

 

DISCLOSURES

Novo Nordisk covered costs for the advocacy workshop. Grumps and I were invited to facilitate the workshop as part of our involvement in the Novo Nordisk DEEP Program. Novo covered by flights, accommodation and ground transfers.

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I’m back on deck at work today after a whirlwind ten days in Europe for meetings and a conference. I started in Amsterdam, then flew to Florence and finally flew to Copenhagen (via Pisa). Those ten days were busy, long and interesting. And, perhaps best of all, packed full of others from the diabetes community.

Spending time with others living with or around diabetes is restorative. I know I get jaded at times, and burnout – in all its forms – takes its toll. I’ve been feeling a little advocacy burnout lately, and that has the tendency to make me feel that I need to step away from diabetes for a bit. Plus, I wasn’t sure if I could be bothered with the inevitable onslaught that comes when these sorts of activities happen.

Instead of hiding away (which is what I half wanted to do), I got on a crowded plane to Europe to spend almost two weeks ‘doing’ diabetes advocacy in different forms. By the time I got to Nijmegen – an hour and a half out of Amsterdam – for HypoRESOLVE I was already feeling better. I felt the darkness of burnout slip away as I sat in meetings, speaking up and providing PWD input into the project. And there, alongside me, were others living with diabetes. We leaned into each other, stepped back so another could take their turn, and supported each other to feel comfortable and relaxed. We reminded each other that there was a reason we were there – because people with diabetes must have a seat at the table and that we must be heard. We lived, breathed and ate ‘Nothing about us without us’ throughout that meeting and by the time I boarded a hideously early flight to Florence for the next meeting, I was raring to go – further boosted by a diabetes in the wild encounter.

Two days of meeting in Florence with friends and peers from the diabetes community talking about our experiences in the diabetes community continued to see my mojo return. We spoke about difficult topics, how the community works best and the place everyone has in there. I was reminded that the community ebbs and flows, and that it is not static. Sometimes, that rut that I find myself in means I forget that all communities change and grow and develop. This is actually a positive, because as it shifts, more people come in, some people step away (for good or just a bit), we reconfigure how it fits us, and diabetes makes sense in new ways.

Some much needed downtime meant that I could reconnect with peers and feel myself being completely and utterly filled up in a way that only comes when surrounded by people who get diabetes and this weird diabetes space. We don’t all have diabetes – we represent different corners of the community, but we know diabetes in a way that is particular to those who live close to or with it. Our dinner after the second day of the meeting saw us finally able to breathe and take some time out of diabetes speak, and instead revert to a steady flow of laughs (shrieks, actually).

The next day, a friend from Italy just happened to be in Florence. We met up and I met her family, including her son who has diabetes. As we drank coffee just over the Ponte Vecchio, diabetes was spoken about a bit, but mostly, I got to learn about this young man who is clearly going to take on the world. He is smart, funny, delightful and inquisitive. His questions about Loop were intelligent – far more so than anything I would have thought to ask before I started using the tech! I hugged his mum as we said good bye, noting that she had just introduced someone else to our tribe.

By the time I arrived in Copenhagen (at 2.30am thanks to high winds in Florence, a bus ride to Pisa to take a diverted flight and some first-rate Italian disorganisation), I was exhausted, but at the same time felt more enthusiastic about the diabetes space than I had in some time. The next morning when I arrived at the conference venue, I was ready for a packed day of speakers, and to do my own presentation in the afternoon. I looked around and saw that there were a number of people living with and around diabetes that I knew, as well as a whole lot of new faces in there. The event was for HCPs, but as always, those of us with a truly personal connection to diabetes searched each other out. I met members of a support group known as ‘Diabetes Dads’ who meet regularly to speak about their kids with diabetes. They were there to support their friend who was speaking about his Looping son.

At lunch, I sat at a table with two PWD I knew. Two other people joined us and we quickly found out they too have type 1 diabetes. The conversation flowed – we understood each other, and our shorthand of diabetes speak easily fitted into our stories. We nodded as we heard stories that sounded familiar, even though they were being told by someone from another country who, until we sat down with our overflowing lunch plates, we had never met before. One of the women at the table had asked during an earlier session about how to wear the devices required for Loop, and I pulled out my RileyLink and showed it to her. She held it and weighed it in her hands. She’d wanted to know how to wear it with a fitted dress and I was able to show just how easily I could tuck away everything, even with the straight dress I was wearing for the day.

We may have all been there because of an interest or curiosity in DIY diabetes, but there is far more than that to draw us together. Just like as at the earlier meetings. As always, diabetes brings us together, but it’s far more that keeps us that way.

By the time I boarded the Dreamliner at Heathrow, all traces of burnout, and questions about how to manage in the sometimes tricky maze of diabetes community had completely subsided and were replaced with the reminder that when we find out tribe and surround ourselves with them, the burnout is replaced by feeling supported. And that’s how and why we show up. We do what we do, we show up, we speak up and we try to get stuff done. Ten days of that and I feel so much better. Which is good. Because as it turns out, those ten days are just the start …

DISCLOSURES

My flights to Amsterdam and accommodation while in the Netherlands was covered by HypoRESOLVE. I am on the Patient Advisory Committee for this project. My flight to Florence and two nights’ accommodation were covered by Lilly. I was in Florence for a DOCLab Advisory Meeting. My accommodation in, and flight home from Copenhagen was covered by the Danish Diabetes Academy. The Academy invited me to speak at their Diabetes DIY Movement conference.

This post marks one thousand posts here on Diabetogenic*. That’s a lot of senseless rambling, ragey-moments, times celebrating and despairing about diabetes, and links to brilliant ideas and post… or to things that have either amused, frustrated, delighted or annoyed me.

A thousand posts in and diabetes is still a constant in my life (damn it). And I remain not good at diabetes…and I have many of those thousand posts to prove it.

There are clearly some recurring themes that I write about. I say that I am a one trick pony, but perhaps that’s not completely true. I seem to have a few tricks up my sleeve, really. And now I’m confused, because ponies don’t usually have sleeves and my metaphors are very, very mixed.

Here are the things that seem to have taken up a lot of writing time and words over these thousand posts…


Peer support

Most of the time, I am pretty positive about living with diabetes. Let me be clear: that doesn’t mean I love it, or even like it. But I feel that generally, I know where it belongs in my life and it seems to fit in that place as well and happily (begrudgingly) as it can.

I know that one of the reasons that I feel this way is people in the diabetes world I am lucky enough to call friends and peers. Online friends, in real life friends and those who cross both boundaries are a critical part of my living-well-with-diabetes strategy. Knowing that there are only a very few places around the world where I couldn’t find someone from this community to have a coffee/tea/prosecco/mojito with gives me an incredible sense of comfort. (And reassurance in case of diabetes emergency…)

I say that my peers with diabetes help me make sense of my own diabetes and that’s true. Knowing people who understand innately what it is like to share a body with diabetes means that I never feel alone. Diabetes is so isolating at times – even for those of us surrounded by great people who support and encourage us. As much as I need those people and am grateful for them, it is others living with diabetes that help me realise that I am never, ever alone in dealing with the ‘diabetes things’.

The diabetes online community is made up of lots of people and not all have diabetes. We each bring our own experience and perspective to it. I’ve learnt so much from those living arounddiabetes and how they incorporate it into life, because it comes with its own set of challenges and victories. That is why the community is so valuable – its diversity and range of experiences and perspectives.

I regularly talk about the value of community and diabetes peers and finding our tribe. It can take time to settle into just who and what that looks like, and it changes because there are always new people around. But it is so worth it. My tribe? I love them so hard.

Nothing about us without us

I am not the tattooing type but if I was, I think that I would have this phrase inked on my body somewhere (or maybe I’d be really pretentious, and have it written in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis, according to Google translate.) It remains a frustration of mine that this isn’t the starting point for pretty much anything and everything to do with diabetes care. The fact that we still need to fight for a seat at the table – or a ticket to a diabetes conference – is, quite simply, not good enough. Having others speak for us, on our behalf thinking they know what we need, is offensive.  It should never be the case that non-PWD voices speak for us or over us. Ever. Our stories are powerful, but they are ours and we should have the platform to tell them in our own way; in our own voice.  Tokenism is rife and sometimes, that frustrates me even more than when we are completely excluded. The delusion of inclusion is, I think, worse.  Whilst there may have been some strides made to true co-design and inclusion, we have not come far enough and until we get this write, I’ll have a lot of content fodder for this blog.

Food

I like food. I write about it a lot. And I want to be Nigella. That’s really all I have to say about it right now…

Waffles in Brussels. Both were excellent.

More than numbers

Apparently, stating the obvious is still necessary in diabetes. We are more than numbers; our A1c does not define us; our worth is not wrapped up in our glucose levels. We have been saying these things for years…decades…and yet there are still times that this is what we are reduced to.

New treatments, devices, drugs, education programs are measured in reduction of A1c. Perhaps this is because it can be measured, but talk about only getting part of the story. I can’t help but think that if PWD were part of establishing research protocols, there may be far more than numbers to assess the success of a treatment or therapy. (See also: nothing about us without us…)

Women’s health

In recent years I’ve written about the issues specific to women, health, sex and diabetes a number of times because there is so little out there about it. And it seems it resonated with a number of women who wrote to tell me (and the HCP who saw me in the fresh produce section at my local Woolies and yelled how she loved my idea of giving lube in diabetes event bags).

Anyway…talking about the stuff that may not be the easiest is important. It’s the only way we get remove stigma and encourage people to share their stories. Which helps others. That’s why I have openly written and spoken about miscarriages and infertility. And eating disorders. (I know – not an exclusively women’s health issue.) There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about these topics. Other than we don’t speak about them enough.

Learning from and supporting others

The Interweb Jumbles I write are my favourite (and cheat’s) way of pulling together all the things I’ve seen that have interested me and leaving them in future place for (my) future reference. Plus, I love sharing what others in the diabetes community and world are doing.

I have always benefited from the generosity of others in this community who have shared my work and I pay that back whenever and wherever I can. Supporting each other is critical.

There’s so much going on in the diabetes world all the time and I highlight the things that resonate because I think that if they mean something to me, they may mean something to someone else, too.

Science. Science. Science

From pseudo-science rubbish, to ridiculous made-up diabetes cures to anti-vax delusions. How much writing material have they provided!

I live in hope that one day – and may that day be soon – we won’t still have to read about these charlatans trying to convince us that all that ails us can be cured with fairy dust and positive thought, or that vaccines are evil and cause diabetes, or that ‘wellness warriors’ are the true experts and professionals when it comes to diabetes.

While a lot of what I write is spent mocking these fools, there is an underlying seriousness to it all. Who can forget little Aiden Fenton who died after his parents stopped giving him insulin, instead leaving him to be treated by a ‘slap therapist’?

Anyone who is sprouting any treatment that is not based in science when it comes to diabetes or perpetuating anti-vax rubbish is as barbaric as the man who was charged with Aiden’s death.

The whole person

Diabetes happens because of something not working properly with our pancreas. But it affects every single part of us – something that astoundingly still seems to surprise some people.

Considering our mental health and emotional wellbeing is critical when assessing just how diabetes impacts on our every day. For some, diabetes seeps into every single part of us and for others, we keep it at bay and manage around us. For most of us, there is an ebb and flow of just how that works.

And while we’re talking about the whole person, diabetes-related complications may be specific to a particular body part, but those body parts remain connected to the rest of us.

For so long, we get metaphorically chopped up with as only bits of us get attention and focus. But nothing in diabetes is ever in isolation. That’s just not how it works.

And finally, language

The trick this (however-many-trick) pony is most known for is #LangaugeMatters and you know what, I’m happy to wear that. I really am. If I was to stop this blog today (thought about it…1,000 has a nice rounding off feel to it), and never spoke about diabetes ever again (oh, if only), I would not be disappointed if this was what people thought of when they thought of me and this blog.

Language matters. It does and I refuse to, for a moment, believe that it doesn’t. I am certainly not the only person playing in this space and I am so grateful to have a tribe of language matters peers and colleagues can rise above the small details to understand just why this issue does really matter.

___________

Thanks to everyone who has read one or more of these thousand posts. Thanks especially to the people who keep coming back. I can’t promise that there are going to be a thousand more posts. And I can’t promise that I will learn any new tricks other than the ones that I seem to have on repeat at times. These issues remain important to me and perhaps to you too.

* At EASD, my mate Bastian Hauck gave me a head’s up that I was getting close to publishing the 1,000 post on this blog. I’d not have had a clue otherwise. Thanks, Bastian!

These days, it’s impossible to be at a diabetes conference and not have at least one conversation somewhere about language. Sometimes there are sessions dedicated to the topic on the program, but that wasn’t the case at ATTD a couple of weeks ago – a conference solely devoted to advancements in diabetes technology and treatments.

But despite there not being a session about language, it was still a hot topic. My eagle eye was trained when walking through the exhibition centre for examples where diabetes is misrepresented or the language used stigmatises people living with the condition. And in sessions, I immediately heard terms that suggested that we are misbehaving because the results of treatments aren’t living up to their promise. (A new one: I heard the statement ‘People with diabetes on <therapy> were not performing as expected’ which now makes me think that we are being trained, watched and judged by pageant mums/moms.)

At the Ascensia Diabetes Social Media Summit (more on that another day), there was a discussion about language and diabetes-related complications. This event was a follow on from the one we had at the Australia Diabetes Social Media Summit, and took the initial conversations and expanded it with a new group of PWDs.

Once again, as the discussion unfolded, it was clear to see that the PWD in the room all had experiences where the language they were faced with had impacted negatively and positively. One person commented that early on in their diagnosis, a health professional had addressed diabetes-related complications by saying ‘If you are diagnosed with a diabetes-related complication it will not have been your fault.’ What an empowering way to begin the discussion about complications, care and risk reduction!

I’ve been talking about language for a number of years. Some may call me a one trick pony and, honestly, that’s fine. My appetite for the subject matter has not diminished one bit despite more than a decade of speaking and writing about why language is so important and holds such power.

Language is not a one dimensional issue. Additionally it does not necessarily have a ‘right way’ to do it – especially when looking at it from the perspective of the person living with diabetes. The work I have been involved in has never been about policing the words used by people with diabetes, but rather how words used by others affect us.

It’s why the piece Grumps and I wrote for BMJ  was important – it targeted healthcare professionals, explaining to them why the words and language used around diabetes-related complications needs to not make us feel hopeless. Because that is what can happen and when we feel that way, it is all too easy for diabetes to seem just too big and too hard and too much.

I have frequently written about how diabetes can become so overwhelming, that it can leave us unable to attend to even the most basic and mundane of diabetes management tasks. I myself have been paralysed by the detail and demands of this health condition. I understand that there are times when a conversation about language is not possible, because, quite frankly, there is a lot more to deal with. I know that there have been moments when even though I can hear judgement and blame in the words being directed at me, all I want to do is find a way out of what feels like a hole. I’ve heard others say that they have felt harshly treated by HCPs, but simply didn’t have the capacity to try to deal with that because there were other things higher up on the list.

And I am sure that there are people who simply wouldn’t even know where to begin if the words and language being directed at them were disempowering and negative.

But that is exactly why language matters. It is for the people in those situations – for me when I was in that situation – that we need to get the way we communicate about diabetes right.

I am so sick of people trying to delegitimise the language discussion, or, even worse, reduce it to something that is insignificant. It frustrates me when the discussion returns again and again and again to the diabetic/PWD debate. As I said at the Ascenisa event at ATTD when we were discussing the annoying way some try to redirect meaningful discussion back to this single issue: ‘You can call me Blossom for all I care, language is about far more than this.’

And I think that while it is critical that we acknowledge that sometimes the language issue isn’t going to be a priority for some (by choice or otherwise), it seems unfair – and a little counter-intuitive – to diminish its importance, or criticise those of us trying to keep it on the agenda and actually do something about it.

(Click for original tweet)

DISLCOSURE

I attended the ATTD conference in Berlin. My (economy) airfare and part of my accommodation was covered by DOCLab (I attended an advisory group meeting for DOCLab), and other nights’ accommodation was covered by Roche Global (I attended the Roche Blogger MeetUp). While my travel and accommodation costs have been covered, my words remain all my own and I have not been asked by DOCLab or Roche Global to write about my attendance at their events or any other aspect of the conference. 

I am en route back home from a flying visit to Copenhagen. I was invited by Novo Nordisk to moderate the first ever DEEPtalk event. (Please read my disclosures at the end of this post.)

I will write all about the event in detail, but in the meantime, here’s a video of the livestream, where you can see and hear nine fantastic speakers share how they manage diabetes specific challenges are found food and mealtimes. And see and hear me bumbling my way through.

DISCLOSURE

The DEEPtalk event was hosted by Novo Nordisk and was held at one of their facilities in Copenhagen. I was invited by the Global Patient Relations Team to moderate the event. Novo covered costs for my (premium economy) flights (I used my own frequent flyer miles to upgrade flights) and two nights’ accommodation as well as transfers and meals while I was in Copenhagen. There is no expectation from the Global Patient Relations Team (or Novo Nordisk more broadly) that I will write about the event or other activities held while I was in Copenhagen and what I do write is mine. All mine. 

The other week, as I sat on the stage as part of a panel session at the HIMSS conference in Brisbane, a term kept getting thrown around that had me squirming in my seat. It was not said with any malice – in fact I believe it was being used under the perhaps misguided idea that it is represents positive and empowering language. But as I sat there and the term was being used, almost with abandon, I knew that we were going to have to have a chat about it. As per exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Activated patient? No. Just no.

When the moment was right, I took a breath. I’d been asked to comment on the current My Health Record situation, and whether I thought it was something that would benefit people living with chronic health conditions. ‘Before I answer the question, can we just consider the term ‘activated patient’ and how it is being used here today – and often in other contexts too. I’ve heard from people on the stage and in the audience use the term ‘activated patients’. I’m really not a fan of this term. In fact, I think it is really quite problematic.’

Activation is something that is done to something. Think Pete Evans and his activated nuts. Or yeast when making bread or cinnamon buns. Or my pink debit card that came in the mail with a sticker across the front telling me how to activate it. Pete Evans’ almonds were just passive little nuts before he decided to activate them. And before the warm water was added to the yeast, it was just powder sitting in a sachet. My pink card was simply a piece of plastic before I called a number, pressed a few other numbers once the automated message was played and agreed to a heap of terms and conditions, making the card able to work.

Those inanimate objects had something done to them to become activated – it didn’t happen on their own. Beforehand, they were passive.

I was not ‘activated’ to become a participant in my own healthcare. I was not given permission to lead the agenda of how I want to engage. I chose the people I would see; the health service I would use; the devices I wear strapped to me. I have never been a passive participant in my healthcare – or any other aspect of my life, for that matter. I have always been active. Of course there are times that I struggle with motivation and may be less active and pro-active, but getting out of those times was never an exercise in activation by others.

The idea that people become activated because they are given the opportunity reeks of the typical paternalistic attitudes that are still rife in healthcare.

Look, we can have a long discussion about the ‘consumerisation’ of healthcare, and how that is what is to blame for terms such as this. It is business lingo and while many think it probably refers to people being in charge of their health, it actually suggests the opposite.

Words that suggest something is being ‘done’ to a person utilising the health system are not empowering. They are not putting the person at the centre. They don’t indicate that the person is driving their care.

The term ‘activated patients’ provides a narrow interpretation about how a person is in charge of their healthcare, because it always is used to highlight people who are loud advocates for themselves, walking into every appointment with a list the length of their arm of things to discuss, therapies they want to use. But not everyone wants to do healthcare that way. Just because someone prefers – and chooses – to have a healthcare professional drive the direction of their care does not necessarily mean they are not ‘activated’.

Also – consider this: if a person can become an ‘activated patient’, that means there must also avenues for them to become a ‘deactivated patient’. That’s certainly not being person-centred. In fact, suggesting that we become something only because we have been given the right to be that way is the opposite of person-centred.

It’s Melbourne Cup Day today and I’m bound for Brisbane for the HIMSS Asia Pacific conference. I’m speaking in the consumer partnership track, which allows me to get on one of my high horses (Cup reference #1) to speak about the importance of including health ‘consumers’ in…well, in everything.

Right out of the gates (Cup reference #2) I will be speaking about how a health conference that doesn’t allow for people living with that health condition to attend is already not partnering properly.

I want to look at the word ‘partnership’, which I actually think is a bit of a misnomer most of the time in healthcare. There remains such an imbalance of power and representation in most cases of the development and delivery of services, activities and resources, yet partnership suggests that everyone is equal. I can’t count the number of times I have been ‘the’ consumer representative in a roomful of healthcare professionals, researchers, administrators, industry reps and policy makers. They will all be there in droves, and there I am a lone voice.

If I’m being honest, I think that the idea of partnership needs to be questioned, because that suggests that everyone’s voice should be equal. Perhaps it’s a little radical to think this way, but quite frankly, I don’t think everyone’s voice should be equal. I think the most amplified voices – yes voices – should be those of the end user – the consumer.

My talk is also going to highlight tokenism in consumer partnerships and engagement. The idea that ‘any consumer will do’ is rife. How do I know that?

Well, I get contacted every week asking me to be a consumer rep on something or other. Most times I say no and recommend someone better suited. Such as the time (just a few weeks ago) I was invited to sit on a committee looking at programs to support men with type 2 diabetes diagnosed in their 50s, living with erectile dysfunction? When I pointed out that finding a few men with type 2 diabetes diagnosed in their 50s would actually make sense, I was told that I would do a fine job representing them. Yeah – no I wouldn’t. Because I know nothing about being a man, being in my 50s, having type 2 diabetes, or erectile dysfunction. How’s that for a quadrella? (Cup reference #3)

But the one issue I want to focus on – because I think it actually is a super easy concept to grasp – is the issue of influence, or rather the consumer’s ‘power to influence’. This is a biggie because for me, it is the cornerstone of engagement, and it is actually quite easy to measure. We can have whatever framework in place – the policies, the procedures, the advisory boards and the teams dedicated to putting the consumer first – but if those consumers do not have the power to influence what is going on, they are being excluded from having any real power and we then we need to question if there is true partnership.

I keep coming back to this – I spoke about it at the co-design session at the Australasian Diabetes Congress this year. I have also written about it a lot here. And I talk about it a lot when I am speaking with organisations and industry about whether their so called engagement program is truly going to matter.

I’m not trying to oversimplify this – I understand there are a lot of factors to consider, and sometimes there is legislation and governance to work through. But governance can be restructured. As can legislation.

But maybe I am. Maybe I am trying to make it easy because too often there is fear and uncertainty about how to engage, and this leads to either things being done poorly. Or not at all. And to be honest, I’m not sure which one is worse.

I’m still playing catch up on the goings on at EASD. It was such a busy conference – in general and for me personally – that my head is still lost in a lot of what happened and what I saw. It’s somewhat frustrating for me because diabetes conferences are seen as an opportunity for so many meetings of different groups and projects I’m involved in, and that means I don’t get to anywhere near the number of sessions I would like to. When I can, I make sure I live tweet my way through (that’s how I take notes to do write ups later), but this conference was so busy that there was very limited time for that.

But I still did get to see a lot thanks to the satellite events I was invited to and asked to speak at. Plus, this year at EASD, I was involved in something new that was super exciting.

DZD meets #DEDOC was a novel session combining young researchers and (not necessarily young) people with diabetes to give different perspectives on a variety of current research programs. The event was presented by Deutsches Zentrum für Diabetesforschung.

(My  very limited German (i.e. I sang in St Matthew’s Passionat University – badly – and was in the orchestra for a German-language version of Threepenny Opera, or rather, Die Dreigroschenoper) is apparently good enough to translate that as the Diabetes Centre for Diabetes Research – so, I guess I’m almost bi-lingual now.)

Bastian Hauck hosted the event and was involved in the project to nominate PWD to speak at the event, and encourage other PWD who were at EASD to come along and listen. This was Bastian doing what he does best – facilitate discussion and encourage engagement by different stakeholders. He always manages to ask questions that get people thinking in different ways and did a stellar job again in this event.

The session was not designed as an excuse for PWD to be critical of the research and researchers, or to find fault in what they were doing. It was not to query the merits of the research either. It was to give the researchers an opportunity to speak about their work (in a rapid fire, five minute pitch), and for PWD to engage in that discussion, asking questions and explaining the relevance of the research to actually living with diabetes. While the project may not have actually come directly from PWD, it was a true collaboration where researchers spoke of what drives them, and we shared what we hope from science.

So, what research was on show?

Firstly, we had Dr Stefan Kabisch speaking about research which compared dietary prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes with two different interventions: one low carb and one low fat. Cathy van de Mortelewas the PWD involved in this segment of the session,  and we couldn’t help but have a little giggle that she had been selected. Those who know Cathy know she is anincredible baker and cook. Her creations are magical and if I lived in Belgium, I would be at her place for dinner three nights a week. But low carb and low fat? Not so much! However, she did give a really useful perspective on the need to remember that different eating plans need to be sustainable and what works for one person may not work for another.

Secondly, Dr Carolin Danielspoke about her research in type 1 diabetes prevention vaccines. Dr Katarina Braune stepped in as the PWD (she is also a researcher and endo) to give her comments on the research. It was interesting hearing Katarina, because she comes from the perspective of a scientist as well as a PWD, so her considerations were different to other PWD who spoke. Her questions and comments incorporated the scientific as much as the ‘real life’, and I loved the way she was able to so succinctly and eloquently translate it all so it made sense to someone like me without a scientific bone in my body!

And finally, Dr Julia Szendrödispoke about diabetes-related complications. While the research was specifically about the mechanisms in the development of complications, as well as looking at potential interventions, I was invited to be the PWD in this discussion to lend my language focus. I highlighted how conversations about diabetes-related complications need to be without judgement and stigma, and that at all times, remember that although a single body part may be in question when speaking about a specific complication, it is attached to a person with a whole body and mind that must also be considered.

To be honest, I felt that my comments were almost redundant because Julia did such a beautiful job in her five minute explanation of her work of ensuring that there was no blaming or shaming. I thanked her for this because the language in pretty much every other discussion of complications I had seen that week was not all that palatable!

I love the idea of including PWD to shape diabetes research. And I loved the discussion at EASD. It was an excellent example of how to include PWD in discussions – even highly scientific discussions. And just how easily it can be done!

This event was the first one, but hopefully the organisers have seen the value of conversation-based sessions including different stakeholders. It would be great for events such as this to attract even more attendees – researchers, HCPs and PWD – although a huge thanks to the German PWD contingent who was there, flying the advocate flag and supporting us – and to see them on the main program of the conference.

DISCLOSURE

I was invited to provide my perspective at the DZD meets #DEDOC presented by Deutsches Zentrum für Diabetesforschung. I did not receive any payment to speak at the session. Thanks to Bastian Hauck from DEDOC (the German Diabetes Online Community) for involving me!

Roche Diabetes Care (Global) covered my (economy) travel and accommodation costs to attend their #DiabetesMeetup Blogger event at #EASD2018 and present at their media event the day before EASD. Roche Diabetes Care also assisted with providing me press registration to attend all areas of the EASD meeting.

I’ve been working in diabetes organisations for over seventeen years now. When I look back over that time, there are some issues that have been consistent ‘hot topics’.

One of those issues is diabetes in schools.

I have been involved in a number of projects addressing diabetes in schools, starting with the beautiful documentary-like video ‘Diabetes Basics’, and the adaptation of the excellent Diabetes UK schools packs for families of children with diabetes and their schools, firstly in Victoria, and then the subsequent national roll out of this resource. It is called Mastering Diabetes and it still is used today.

It is easy to understand why diabetes and schools is such an important issue. Ensuring that children with diabetes feel safe at school, are able to manage their diabetes in the way that works for them, and are able to fully participate in all school activities is critically important. There is obviously – and necessarily – a lot of emotion tied up in the matter.

But what I have come to know is that, by and large, everyone involved – parents, teachers and school staff – want children and teens with diabetes to be safe in schools and participate in all school and extra-curricular activities just as any other student would. There just seems to be a lot of confusion about rights and responsibilities, which is often the case when there are a number of stakeholders involved.

So, it was great when, just last month, the Federal Government announced six million dollars in funding for a new program to make it easier for teachers to support school children with diabetes, and give parents some peace of mind, knowing that their children will be safe at school.

It will be the first time that Australia has a nationally consistent training program delivered to teachers and school staff at every school with students with type 1 diabetes. The program will cover, (amongst other things), safe administration of insulin, hypo management, and reducing diabetes-related stigma.

This is good news. Great news!

The program is still in development stage and a key part of putting it together is making sure that all involved have a chance to provide input. One of the things I have heard repeatedly over the years from parents is that they feel that they are often left out of conversations about how to best support their child at school.

Parents: now is your chance!

There are workshops being held across the country for parents of primary and secondary aged children. There is also an online consultation for parents here.

Teachers and school staff are also part of this development phase and there are separate workshops being held for this group as well. And there is also an online consultation for for teachers and school staff here.

Now is the time to have your say.

Disappointingly, numbers for workshops has been extraordinarily low – some sessions have had to be cancelled due to low numbers. Considering the constant criticisms I have heard in the past about parents being excluded from discussions about diabetes and schools programs, I’m a little flabbergasted that this is the case.

At the risk of sounding slightly bossy and harrying, I am urging parents of school aged children to please get involved and help shape this important program. You need to show up. You need to register and attend the workshops. And you need to complete the online consultation.

All the details are here. Share them amongst your networks. Encourage parents and teachers of kids with diabetes to have their say. Everyone – everyone!– wants kids with diabetes to feel safe and supported in schools. Help make that happen.

The Diabetes in Schools program is being funded by the Federal Government and will be delivered through the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS). The program is supported by the key national diabetes health professional and consumer organisations in Australia: Diabetes Australia, the Australian Diabetes Educators Association, the Australian Diabetes Society , the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group and JDRF Australia.  

I work for Diabetes Australia. I have not been asked to write about this program, however as I am always banging the drum about consumer consultation, it more than makes sense that I am encouraging – and pleading – relevant stakeholders to take the opportunity to be a part of the program consultation.

Earlier this week, Professors Jane Speight (ACBRD) and Frans Pouwer (Southern Denmark University) published a blog post on the ACBRD site, with their wrap up of EASD, specifically, the lack of psychosocial sessions at the conference. In the piece, Jane and Frans quite rightly say:

‘Psychology is not an optional extra. If diabetes care is the seat of a three-legged stool, then it is supported by three legs: psychology/education, treatment/technology and complications screening. It seems ironic that so much funding, resource and effort is put into strengthening and promoting the treatment/technology and complications ‘legs’, while the psychology/education ‘leg’ remains short and weak.’

EASD is the largest diabetes meeting on the calendar this year. It draws a truly international audience, with healthcare professionals and researchers from all disciplines. It is possible to speak with endocrinologists, diabetes educators, allied health professionals, general practitioners, psychologists, and researchers from all spheres of the diabetes care spectrum.

And yet, it is undeniable that the conference has a true clinical focus, almost forgetting that diabetes does not only impact specific parts of the body (so, so much about the ‘diabetic foot’!) but the whole person (absolutely not enough on the ‘diabetic mind’!).

I am not for a moment saying that the scientific and clinical elements of diabetes should be removed from a diabetes conference, or that they are not important. But I am saying that by demonstrating ONLY this aspect of diabetes, the picture presented is very, very incomplete.

I have written before that this is a frustration of mine at EASD, along with the continued lack of ‘patient representation’ on the conference program. It astounds me that there are no advocates on the official program, giving the ‘lived experience’ standpoint to what is being discussed. With hours and hours of sessions focusing on complications, how valuable it would be to have a PWD who is living with complications standing up there to give a little perspective to all the science. And a psychologist to speak about how complications affect far more than the part of the body that has become…well, complicated.

I urge the organisers and program committee to step up, and find a way to fill in the gaps and start to present a far fuller and more complete picture of diabetes.

While this would involve including more focus on the behavioural side of diabetes with the relevant professionals on the program, it must also mean including PWD into the program – in a meaningful way. If it is too much of a leap to include PWD alongside HCPs in the scientific program, introduce a Living with Diabetes Stream as the IDF has done in their last four World Congresses. It can be done. It can be done well. (And I say that with full disclosure that I am leading the stream at the 2019 Congress and was deputy lead for the 2017 Congress, and spoke at the 2015 Congress in the LWD stream.)

The thing is, it would actually be very, very simple to include PWD in the EASD program because we are already there. This year in Berlin marked the seventh EASD conference I have been fortunate to attend. I have always gone because of satellite events designed specifically for PWD. Initially, these were run by Johnson & Johnson, and more recently Roche, who has taken the ‘patient engagement’ to a new level, running events with up to seventy bloggers. That’s seventy people who have a story to share about their own diabetes experiences.

And I know that many of those seventy people would want to talk about all aspects of living with diabetes, including the psychosocial impacts.

As a leading annual diabetes meeting, EASD could be better. It ticks a lot of boxes. But it could, quite easily, tick a whole lot more by being far more wholistic in its approach. Focus more on the behavioural side of diabetes. And have PWD front and centre where we belong. After all, we’re the ones all this information and research is meant to be benefitting.

DISCLOSURE

Roche Diabetes Care (Global) covered my (economy) travel and accommodation costs to attend their #DiabetesMeetup Blogger event at #EASD2018 and present at their media event the day before EASD. Roche Diabetes Care also assisted with providing me press registration to attend all areas of the EASD meeting. As always, my agreement to attend their blogger day and participate in their media event does not include any commitment from me, or expectation from them, to write about the company, the events or their products. 

With Jane Speight at EASD in Berlin.

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