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Last night, my gorgeous friend Andrea tweeted how she had seen someone wearing a CGM on the streets of Paris. When she rolled up her sleeve to show him her matching device, he turned and walked away. ‘Guess you can’t be best friends with every T1D’, she wrote. ‘Diabetes in the Wild’ stories have been DOC discussion fodder for decades – including wonderful stories of friendships being started by a chance encounter, and less wonderful stories such as Andrea’s most recent encounter. I was reminded of the many, many times pure happenstance of random diabetes connection has happened to me.

There was the time I was waiting for coffee and another person in line noticed my Dexcom alarm wailing, and the banter we fell into was so comfortable – as if we’d known each other forever! 

And that time that someone working the till at a burger flashed her CGM at me after seeing mine on my arm and we chatted about being diagnosed as young adults and the challenges that poses. 

Standing in line, queuing for gelato, is as good as any place to meet a fellow traveller and talk about diabetes, right? That’s what happened here.

And this time where I spotted a pump on the waistband of a young woman with diabetes, and started chatting with her and her mother. The mum did that thing that parents of kids with diabetes sometimes do – looking for a glimpse into her child’s future. She saw that in my child, who was eagerly listening to the exchange. But I walked away from that discussion with more than I could have given – I remember feeling so connected to the diabetes world in that moment, which I needed so much at the time.

I bet that the woman in the loos at Madison Square Garden wasn’t expecting the person who walked in at the exact moment she was giving herself an insulin injection to be another woman with diabetes. But yeah, that happened

I’ll never forget this time that I was milliseconds from abusing a man catcalling me out his car window, until I realised he was yelling out at to show me not only our matching CGMs, but also the matching Rockadex tape around it. My reaction then was ridiculous squealing and jumping up and down!

Airports have been a fruitful place to ‘spot diabetes’, such as the time my phone case started a discussion with a woman whose daughter has diabetes, except we didn’t really talk about diabetes. And the time another mum of a kid with diabetes was the security officer I was directed to at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. She was super relaxed about all my diabetes kit, casting her eyes over it casually while telling me about her teenage son with diabetes. 

The follow up to this time – where I introduced myself to the young mum at the next time who I overheard speaking about Libre, and saying how she was confused about how it worked and how to access it – but not really being all that sure about it, is that she contacted me to let me know that she’d spoken with their HCP about it, had trialled it and was now using it full time. She told me that managing diabetes with toddler twins was a nightmare, and this made things just a little easier. 

Sometimes, seeing a stranger with diabetes doesn’t start a conversation. It can just an acknowledgment, like this time at a jazz club in Melbourne.  And this time on a flight where we talked about the Rolling Stones, but didn’t ‘out ourselves’ as pancreatically challenged, even though we knew … 

But perhaps my favourite ‘Diabetes in the Wild’ story is one that, although I was involved, I didn’t write about. Kerri Sparling wrote about it on her blog, Six Until Me. Kerri was in Melbourne to speak at an event I was organising, and one morning, we met at a café near my work. We sat outside drinking our coffees, chatting away at a million miles an hour, as we do, when we noticed a woman at the next table watching us carefully. We said hi, and she said that she couldn’t help listening to us after she heard us mention diabetes. She told is her little girl – who was sitting beside her, and was covered in babycino – had recently been diagnosed. I will never forget the look on the mother’s face as two complete strangers chatted with her about our lives with diabetes, desperately wanting her to know that there were people out there she could connect with. I also remember walking away, hoping that she would be okay.

Five years later, I found out she was okay – after another chance encounter. I was contacting people to do a story for Diabetes Australia and messaged a woman I didn’t know to see if she, along with her primary aged school daughter would be open to answering some questions. Turns out, this was the woman from Kerri’s and my café encounter. She told me how that random, in the wild conversation made her feel so encouraged. She said that chance meeting was the first time she’d met anyone else with diabetes. And that hearing us talk, and learning about our lives had given her hope at a time when she was feeling just so overwhelmed. 

I know that not everyone wants to be accosted by strangers to talk about their health, and of course, I fully respect that. I also know there are times that I find it a little confronting to be asked about the devices attached to my body. But I also know that not once when I’ve approached someone, or once when someone has approached me has there been anything other than a warm exchange. I so often hear from others that those moments of accidental peer support have only been positive, and perhaps had they not, we’d all stop doing it. It’s a calculated risk trying to start a conversation with a stranger, and I do tread very lightly. But I think back to so many people in the wild stories – the ones I’ve been involved in, and ones shared by others – and I think about what people say they got out of them and how, in some cases they were life changing. A feeling of being connected. The delight in seeing someone wearing matching kit. The relief of seeing that we are so alone. The sharing of silly stories, and funny anecdotes. And in the case of that mum with a newly diagnosed little kid, hope.

Devices on arms make spotting diabetes in the wild a little easier. This beautiful design is from Jenna at @TypeOneVibes. Click to go to her Instagram page.

Today’s post is dedicated to Andrea whose tweet kicked off this conversation in the DOC last yesterday. Thanks for reminding me about all these wonderful chance meetings, my friend.

Last night, all tucked up in my study at home, I participated in my eleventh (I think?) #docday° event. (A refresher: #docday° is a place for diabetes advocates from the diabetes community to come together, meet, mingle and share the work they are doing. The first #docday° was in a tiny, overheated backroom of a cafe in Stockholm that served outstanding cardamom buns. It coincided with EASD that year. After that, the events were moved to rooms at the conference centre where the diabetes meeting is being held, and an invitation is open to anyone and everyone attending, including HCPs, researchers and industry reps. I’ll link to previous pieces I’ve written about #docday° events past at the endow today’s post.)

The first #docday° for 2020 heralded in a new phase. It was at ATTD in Madrid, #dedoc° voices had been launched and that meant that there were even more PWD at the conference, attending #docday° and sharing their diabetes advocacy stories. All #dedoc° voices scholarships had been awarded to advocates from Europe because the budget wasn’t huge, and didn’t extend to flying in and accommodating people from other continents.

And then, the world changed, and flying and accommodating people at diabetes conferences didn’t matter anymore. And that meant that we could open up the scholarship program to people outside of Europe, and provide people from other parts of the world with registration to attend the EASD and ISPAD conferences. It means that mine wasn’t the only Aussie accent heard at #docday°. And it meant that people from further afield found their way to a seat at the table. These advocates – like the others I’d heard before them – were remarkable and doing remarkable things. I think perhaps the thing that has linked everyone who has been involved – wherever they are from – is their determination and desire to make things happen. It’s a common thread – that hard work and not expecting anyone to hand us opportunities that stands out.

A few years ago there was a discussion during a tweetchat about diabetes and advocacy, in particular about getting involved in advocacy efforts. In response to one of the questions posed – something do with how to get more people involved in advocacy – someone said something along the lines of ‘If someone gave me an opportunity to be an advocate, I’d take it.’ I remember being absolutely flabbergasted by that tweet, because, in my experience, that’s not how advocacy works. When I think of all the people who are visible in the diabetes advocacy space (and probably many that are not all that visible) no one was ‘given an opportunity to be an advocate’. It reminded me of the very first bloggers summit I went to at EASD in Berlin in 2012. As is usually the case when there are a group of PWD at an event together, there were questions online, asking why those people were there. Someone pointed out that it was a group of bloggers – people with diabetes who write and share their experiences about diabetes – and someone who was rather annoyed at not being invited said ‘Well, I’d like to have been invited. I don’t have a blog or write or anything, but I’d still like to be invited.’ Even then, relatively new to this all, I remember thinking ‘That’s. Not. How. This. Works’.

While no one is handing out ‘opportunities to be an advocate’, #dedoc° voices is helping in other ways. The program is open to everyone, and takes care of many of the barriers that make attending difficult. No one needs an invitation, or to be involved in a diabetes organisation, or work with industry, or to be invited. Every single person who is part of the diabetes community is welcome to apply. And if you are successful, you are given an opportunity to speak at #docday°. Actually, EVERYONE is welcome to speak at #docday°! Again, it’s just a matter of contacting the team and letting them know you are doing some great work that benefits your community.

At last night’s #docday°, I was (as I always am) in awe at what people are achieving and what they are doing. Tino from Zimbabwe is one of the most amazing advocates I’ve ever come to see, working alongside his local diabetes organisation to improve access to education in his country and beyond. Nupur, Snehal and Rohan from Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation in India are running a NFP, raising diabetes awareness with just one example of their work being a hotline they’ve set up to provide psychosocial support for PWD. And Sadia from Meethi Zindagi spoke about all the work the organisation is doing, with a special focus on the health needs of women with diabetes. We heard from Ines who built and grew a program that supports kids with diabetes to participates in sports, and Delphine who started and runs a club specialising in supporting runners and walkers with diabetes. Both women are from France and their talks last night made me put my runners today and beat the pavement around my neighbourhood! Still in France, Leonor and Nina spoke about one of the more recent additions to the #LanguageMatters movement with their new position statement.

There were others, but instead of reading about them here, why don’t you watch them. The video from the whole event is available for you to watch. I know you’ll be inspired. And I hope that if you have something you want to share you’ll think about joining in next time!

More about #docday°

docday° at EASD 2016

docday° at EASD 2017

docday° at EASD 2018

#docday° at EASD 2019

Disclosure

I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role. 

I applied for and received a press pass to attend ATTD 2021. Thanks to the Tadej Battelino and the ATTD team for making this possible to press accredited folks.

There have been a number of times here on this blog and in other online platforms that I have been critical about the low carb community. Actually, let me be more specific. I have been critical of the response from certain corners of that community, particularly the corners that are free with their fat shaming, and accusing people with diabetes who choose not to eat low carb as not caring about their health, and attacking others for daring to suggest that there could possibly be more than one way to eat. This has come from a long list of incidents I’ve either seen or have been involved in, such as the time I was fat shamed for saying that intermittent fasting is great for some, but not for everyone, and the time that people in the LC community got angry at the idea of saving the lives of children with diabetes from developing countries

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised really at what happened earlier this week just before I published a post on diabetes and menopause. As I often do, I look to the community for others’ experiences. And so, I tweeted (and shared on Facebook) this:

The responses were many and great. One aspect of the generosity of the DOC is the willingness and openness to share not only experiences, but to offer tips and tricks for what has worked for them. I’ve always found that so amazing, especially when addressing issues that are considered a little taboo. Menopause is one of those issues. But even so, there were so many replies from people who have either gone through menopause, or started to think about it. 

And then, out of the blue, came a reply from a nutritionist. A nutritionist I have never encountered before. I don’t follow him on Twitter, I have no idea who he is. Which is all fine. My Twitter is public and if I ask a question everyone is free to offer their input. Here is his reply:

I replied that I am not a healthcare professional. And then came this:

Followed by this from me:

(I’m not going to share anymore of the tweets in what turned out to be a rather long back and forward thread, but if you click on any of the tweets above you will be able to find the whole mess.)

He kept going, demanding to know why I am critical of low carb diets and health professionals who promote them (which he apparently had deduced from reading through my Twitter feed). I’m not. Which is what I repeatedly tweeted to him in responses to his continued demands that I explain my stance on diets and diabetes, and, as a healthcare professional, I must stop giving ‘personality-driven healthcare advice’. I reminded him that, a) I am not a HCP (which I had already stated), and, b) I share my experiences, not give advice. He helpfully suggested that my blog posts read that way. 

I had asked about menopause. I asked people with diabetes who had either been through menopause, were going through it now, or thinking about going through it. I asked whether it had been a topic of conversation with their HCPs. 

This bloke – who doesn’t have diabetes and has never experienced menopause – had nothing to offer, other than attacking me for my choices. And my choice is that I believe in choice. 

It’s not okay for a healthcare professional to enter into a discussion with a person with diabetes seeking peer support, and telling them what it is that they do and don’t do in that community. I am so over this sort of paternalism in healthcare. I’m over HCPs bullying their way into our community and trying to shape it into what they want. 

I’d also add that a man hijacking a conversation started by a woman about menopause is pretty shitty behaviour. I’m also over misogyny and the way male healthcare professionals centre themselves in discussions that are not about them. It happens all the time. It happened on Monday.

A tweet about menopause. And not even about food and menopause! It sounds somewhat ridiculous really. I don’t look for this sort of reaction, and I certainly have never baited anyone from the LC community. I don’t post photos of high carb meals accompanied by a ‘dare you to say something’ comment. (But I should say, that even if people are doing that, there is still no valid reason to criticise what another person is eating** or criticise the way they choose to eat.)

I understand that there will always be difficult people in any community. Unfortunately, it is people like this who are often the most seen from the LC community. And it’s why I am critical. But be clear – I am not critical for the advice they are giving, or the eating plan they are following. I am critical of, and will continue to call out, this sort of behaviour. 

**Okay, I know that I said that there is no valid reason to criticise what another person is eating. But I am adding a caveat to that because I do (and probably will continue to) criticise anyone who wants to drink flavoured coffee. Or instant coffee. Or coffee from a bag. I fully acknowledge and accept my status as a Melbourne coffee snob and will not be entering into any discussions that caramel, pumpkin spice or unicorn flavourings are okay. They are not. Don’t @ me.

I went to my first international diabetes conference back in 2011. It was the IDF World Diabetes Congress in Dubai. In a slightly convoluted way in, I was there as a guest of the City of Melbourne. The next Congress was to be held in my home city, so the tourism arm of our local government attended the conference, talking up all that Melbourne has to offer. I was invited to go and spruik the city I love so much, encourage people to make the (very) long haul trip Down Under… and hand out little clip-on koalas while standing next to giant koalas.

After attending and getting a taste for what was on offer at one of these large-scale conferences, I realised that I wanted to be able to be involved in others moving forward. Undoubtedly, it was great professional development for me – as someone working in advocacy in a diabetes organisation – but it was also a great way to network and meet others in the advocacy space, learn about what they were doing, and work out how we could collaborate. I can’t begin to think of all the terrific projects that started in the corridors, running between sessions! And most importantly, I realised that having PWD at diabetes conferences meant that what was on show was being shared with our peers in a way that made sense. 

The struggle, of course, was getting to these conferences. Australia is a long way from anywhere and with that comes expensive travel costs. The organisations I have worked for cover maybe a max of one event per year as part of my professional development, so the rest of the time it was up to me to find a way in. Good thing I know how to hustle! In fact, that’s the way that most other PWD who attend these meetings get there. 

My disclosure statements at the end of posts detail the support I’ve received. Sometimes I’m an invited speaker so that makes covering costs easy. In recent years, research projects I’m involved with, or ad boards I’m a member of, often run meetings alongside international conferences, so my travel and some accommodation are covered. I was informed early on by other advocates that there are often satellite events run by device and pharma companies, and I became very good at begging asking for an invitation, and then following that with more begging asking for help to cover accommodation and travel costs. I know that it doesn’t come easy for lots of people to ask for money, especially when most of the time the answer is going to be no, but I’ve developed tough skin in 20 years of advocacy, and can take rejection. It just propels me to the next ask! (For the record, HCPs also do this hustle to help cover their costs. It’s not just advocates!) Another thing that has helped is my growing conviction about how critical it is – and non-negotiable – that people with diabetes are at these meetings. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs may have started as a whisper, but now it’s a roar that comes with an expectation that we must be there, and we must be supported to get there!

Pretty much every single time I have travelled overseas to one of these meetings, I am out of pocket. Some of the costs are always borne by me. I am fortunate to be able to cover those costs, but I am fully aware that it is one of the many reasons that advocates don’t pursue attending. 

I get that there are myriad reasons that getting to these meetings is difficult. It can seem that there is no way in; there are costs to cover; time needs to be taken from work; it means leaving family; getting registration can be difficult for non-healthcare professionals. And for many, they simply have no idea how to actually make the first move to attend. It can seem daunting. I know that it can seem that it’s always the same people at these events, and I think that’s partly because once people have found out the process of getting in, they keep doing it, because they realise it’s not as daunting as they first thought! 

And so, that’s why initiatives like #dedoc° voices are so magic. It is an opportunity for all PWD to apply for a scholarship which will offer an access-all-areas pass to professional diabetes meetings. Want more details about this great program from advocacy group #dedoc°? Try here and here. The pilot for this was at ATTD in Madrid, just before the world turned upside down. It was a brilliant showcase of just how an open application process works, breaking down barriers that prevent people from attending. 

While the #dedoc° voices at ATTD in Madrid offered travel and accommodation costs, as well as registration to the conference, the other two times the initiative ran (ISPAD and EASD) were virtual events, so only registration was covered. 

And that brings us to 2021, and the first global diabetes conference for the year, ATTD, which kicks off next month. Applications for #dedoc° voices is open to PWD from all around the world now, but closes on Friday. It’s been a super short timeframe for this event, but it won’t take you too long to apply. You’ll find all the details right here

Run don’t walk, and apply now, for your change to not only get to ATTD, but also to meet diabetes advocates from across the globe. It’s your way in. What are you waiting for?

Disclosure

I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role. 

Today I’m talking menopause, because for fuck’s sake, why don’t we do that more? 

Actually, I know why. It’s because it’s considered an exclusively ‘women’s issue’ and has been the butt of jokes from male comedians and talk show hosts, and really, who gives a fuck anyway? 

This post is likely to continue being sweary, because as I’ve tried to find information on diabetes and menopause it seems that the road is similar to pretty much any other issue about diabetes and women’s health. Sure, there’s quite a bit out there about pregnancy – and you bet I take some credit for that because back in 2001 when I started working in diabetes organisations the very idea of lived experience-led information about diabetes and pregnancy was not typical at all, but we wrote a resource and it is still (in a very updated format) still available) – but it’s up there with trying to find details about women with diabetes and  sexual function and sexual health. 

I am literally counting down the days until Dr Jen Gunter’s new book, The Menopause Manifesto, makes its way to our bookshelves, because I know it is going to be an absolute wealth of no-bullshit, evidence-based, straight-talking information. Her previous book, The Vagina Bible, (known in our house as ‘The Vible’) delivered that in spades as it busted myths, is easy to read and matter of fact, and suggested just where Gwyneth Paltrow might like to shove her $300 jade eggs (spoiler: not up her, or anyone else’s vagina). I was so pleased that when she mentioned diabetes a few times in her book, the information was spot on. In fact, I think that her explanation as to why women with diabetes may experience yeast infections more commonly was one of the clearest I’ve ever read. 

Now, Jen Gunter has turned her full attention to the issue of menopause. This great piece is an excerpt from the book (due out at the end of the month and available for pre-order now), and the part that stood out for me was the bit where she said that often, menopause gets blamed for everything any time a ‘woman of a certain age’ has symptoms they take to their HCP. 

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? I guess I’ll have to add ‘Sometimes it’s not menopause’ to my lexicon, right there alongside ‘Sometimes it’s not diabetes’. How easy, and convenient, it is to simply dismiss someone’s concerns simply because there is something easy (and perhaps obvious) to blame it on.

Of course, with diabetes and menopause, there is the bit I have learnt where some of the symptoms of aspects of menopause look very much like the symptoms of aspects of diabetes. Looking into patenting a game called Hypo or Hot Flush in the coming years. I think it might be popular with PWD of a certain age. The winner gets a cold compress and a jar of jellybeans. 

Here’s the thing. I’m not actually menopausal. I don’t even know that I’m necessarily peri-menopausal yet. But in the same way that I wanted to know all there was about diabetes and pregnancy before I was ready to get pregnant, I’m trying to prepare myself as much as possible for the somewhat mythical period of menopause. Forewarned is forearmed or whatever that saying is. The problem with that is that there is so little info out there that arming myself is proving a little difficult. And it appears that I am not alone in my thinking.

In much the same way as speaking about sexual health when I’ve found myself in a room with a few of my female diabetes friends (and wine), it seems that once we hit our mid-40s we start wanting to talk about menopause as well, searching out any titbits of information that may just help us know what we need to get ready for. We’re desperate for tips and tricks and a glimpse into what we have in store. And it seems that very few of us is having these conversations with our healthcare professionals. 

Lucky for me, my endo has spoken with me about it a little – after I’ve asked. She tells me that the mean age of the start of menopause is 47 years, which is smack bang my age, so I’m expecting to have some firsthand experience soon. And when it comes to sharing that experience, I am already committed to writing about it in a way that moves from the focus on loss that seems pervasive in most of what I’ve read about it – the loss of fertility, the loss of libido, the loss of vitality. #LanguageMatters in menopause too, and the idea that we are writing off those going through it when it’s possible they still have half their life ahead of them sounds a little grim. 

So, my question is, what do people with diabetes need to advance discussions around this? What do we want to know? And when and how to we want that information? Is it a matter of just starting to talk about it more in public forums? Do we routinely start asking our HCPs for information so that slowly (because everything in healthcare takes time) it is on their radar? Do we need more research? (Yes, the answer to that is a resounding yes.) Do we need a snappy hashtag? Is that hashtag #HypoOrHotFlush? (No, I think not.)

If you’d like to join the conversation, please respond to this tweet. Or to this post. Or send me a message privately. And I’ll follow up with another post in a few weeks. 

Looking for more?

Great post here by DOC legend, Anne Cooper.

Sarah Gatward has written a terrific series of her experiences of menopause on her blog here.

I want to acknowledge that not only women experience menopause. Thanks to this brilliant website, Queer/LGBTQIA+ Menopause, that I kept referencing today, which provides fantastic advice for how to speak about menopause to capture the experience of people who are not cisgender and/or not heterosexual.

Last night, I had the honour of speaking at the World Health Organisation Informal Consultation on Diabetes, which is currently taking place as a virtual event. It’s a three night/three day (depending on where you are in the world) event that has brought together people living with diabetes from all corners of the world. 

This was a widely advertised event, and anyone could apply. The expression of interest call out was all over Twitter, Facebook and diabetes community groups. Unlike some other initiatives and programs, PWD didn’t need to be nominated by a diabetes organisation or HCP to be part of it. You just needed to fill out the application form (which didn’t take too long), and submit. Clearly a lot of people with diabetes saw it and thought it was something they wanted to be involved in! I’m not sure of the overall numbers, but there is certainly terrific representation from a number of communities. 

On my Zoom screen I could see a combination of familiar faces, faces of people I know of but have never met or engaged with, and a whole lot of new faces. Hearing their stories, and reading the discussions that are filling up the chat box are enlightening. And reassuring. Because once again I was struck by how strong, vulnerable, admirable and strong-willed others treading the diabetes path can be. There are striking similarities and glaring differences. But common threads that run through the narratives we heard And mostly? There is support and gratitude to be there and to bear witness to others sharing their stories, ask questions and learn. Not a single snipy comment or passive aggressive remark – not because we all agree or are a homogenous group. But rather because we respect and value and admire the people who have the courage to stand up and be present. 

I was invited to speak in a session about diabetes advocacy. The session’s title was ‘Strategic communication in global diabetes advocacy’, and it included Christel Marchand Arpigliano from Beyond Type 1 and Lauren Carters-White, a research fellow from the University of Edinburgh. Christel spoke about how when we tell our diabetes stories, we are translating the language PWD use – language that makes sense to us – into words that reach a broader audience. 

Lauren used some terrific examples from around the world to show the impact data and evidence can have in advocacy efforts. 

And I rounded out the session by talking about how when we bring the two together, we win the hearts and minds of the people we are trying to influence – decision makers, legislators, policy makers, educators, healthcare professionals and researchers. Because when we have the emotional pull of how diabetes impacts on daily life, combined with the evidence to show what that means, we can’t be ignored! I highlighted how working with healthcare professionals and researchers to further our messages means that our lived experience can’t be dismissed. 

I also spoke about how the power of stories is magnified when there are many voices and many different narratives. I have rarely, if ever, heard someone share their diabetes with the pronouncement that they speak for all with diabetes, or that their story is THE story. But they are all experts in their own lived experience and that certainly should be celebrated. And its power should not be underestimated. 

I think the thing I have felt most strongly in that Zoom room is the camaraderie and solidarity – again, not because we are all on the same page and all want the same things. But rather, everyone truly supporting each other and bringing others into the conversation has been an overarching quality of the meeting. No one dominates; no one is more important than anyone else; no one claims to be THE advocate. We are all advocates working together, and supporting each other for a bigger cause. 

Of course, we want, and expect, to see action come from the three days of meetings and workshops, and I have confidence that will happen. But in the meantime, to have such large group of dynamic people come together whose only agenda is community and to build each other up, rather than tear each other down, reminds me that THIS is what diabetes advocates can do and what the community is mostly about. Those snippy voices who try to minimise people who are truly trying to improve outcomes for people with diabetes aren’t present. Because what a waste of time that would be!

I may have spoken about, and given tips about how to win others’ hearts and minds in my talk, but it’s my own heart and my own mind that have been won over by my peers in this event.

(You can follow along the discussion by using the hashtag: #WHOPLWDs)

Disclosures

None. I am not being paid to attend this event, and have not received payment, honoraria or in kind donations for my presentation, and am attending in my own time. I might need a nap later today though, because the 11pm-3.30am time for Aussies on the east coast is tough going!

Every year on International Women’s Day, I write a post about the incredible women in the diabetes world doing remarkable things for the community. I’m going to link to some of them at the end of today’s post because they highlight some truly brilliant women making a difference in the lives of so many, and their stories should be told, and contributions shared. 

But today’s post isn’t about that. Today’s post is more about the way that women in diabetes often get treated. I should point out that a lot of what I’m writing about isn’t unique to diabetes. It’s seen time and time again in healthcare, and in health communities. But my space is the diabetes world, and that’s what I write about, so here goes. 

So-called ‘women’s issues’ continue to be under-represented in research. Those issues and concerns are dismissed and ignored, and women are simply told to ‘deal with it’. Sexual function can be as relevant for women as it is for men with diabetes, and yet, do a search using the words ‘sexual dysfunction and diabetes’ and you’ll need to scroll a long way into the 32,000,000 results before women are mentioned. 

I have sat on panels and been spoken over, and sat in audiences as I’ve watched women be spoken about and over. Last year, I spoke in a session at an international conference and then was the only PWD in the panel discussion at the end of the presentations and the chair (a male HCP) answered all questions directed at me. 

Conference organising committees continue to be majority male, and award lectures seem to be more frequently given by men – and white men at that.

I sat in an online conference last year and was astonished to see that the woman whose contribution to one of the most significant advancements in diabetes tech in recent years was minimised. Thankfully a number of women in the audience corrected the misconception, and then had to deal with having mansplainers tell us all the ways in which we were wrong. (Spoiler: we were not wrong.)

I have heard so many mothers (and sometimes fathers too, but usually mothers) of kids with diabetes tell stories of being dismissed when they took their kid to the GP with symptoms of diabetes. They were told that they were imagining things, and there was no need to investigate further.   

Remember the furore we saw when the IDF dared to focus women for WDD a few years ago? So many fragile egos were hurt because the challenges unique to women were centred in this ONE campaign.  

I’ve been called a girl in meetings (still, at 47 years old), and seen the same happen to other women – women who are professional, qualified, experienced and absolute leaders in their fields.

And then there are the words used to speak to and about when, because of course, I’m going to talk about language. 

I asked about this on my Facebook page the other day and these were some of the words and phrases that women who had called out shitty behaviour from men were called:

Angry. Aggressive. Hysterical. Dramatic. Attention-seeking. Pushy. Loud. Hormonal. Over-sensitive. Too much. Shrill. Strident. Opinionated

We’re told to calm down, moderate our words, and when we dare call out crap, we are gaslit and belittled, and told that we need to chill out.

How often do you see the same language used to describe men when they are calling out crap? It’s more likely they will be identified as brave, assertive, progressive …

In our own diabetes online community, it is fascinating to see how often this happens when women share experiences or lousy experiences, or simply have an opposing view. I have never believed that everyone needs to get along, but look at how comments, subtweets, even direct messages work and you will see the gendered language that is used to scorn and dismiss women. The label of the ‘angry woman’ is alive and well when a woman stands up. For extra credit, the ‘angry old woman’ tag adds some ageism to the sexism.

These words are used to minimise, dismiss and silence our voices. And it works. The number of women I know who have stepped away from support communities because of the way they have been spoken to or about is significant.

I usually like to use this day as a chance to celebrate women, because we deserve to be celebrated. Our contributions to the diabetes world are significant. The diabetes community has been fashioned by amazing women doing amazing things. 

But it has also been shaped by women being silenced, reduced and curtailed. And that also needs to be recognised.

Previous International Women’s Day posts:

2020 – Strident women

2019 – Interweb jumble – the IWD edit

2018 – The women

2017 – Hear me roar

2016 – The F word

Each February since 2013, the global Diabetes Online Community has supported the charity Life for a Child through the Spare a Rose, Save a Child campaign. For anyone new to the DOC, or to this blog, Spare a Rose is a super simple campaign with its climax on Valentine’s Day. The idea is for people to send 11 rather than 12 roses to their loved one, and donate the money saved from that one rose to Spare a Rose. That one rose will provide a child with diabetes in an under resourced country insulin for a month. One rose equals one month. Easy!

No one owns Spare a Rose. It was created by a group of diabetes advocates from the US diabetes community and quickly spread to other countries. It is the definition of ‘by people with diabetes, for people with diabetes’ and is a beautiful and perfect illustration about what the DOC can be about when egos, arguments and debates are put aside. There have always been champions who have done an outstanding job sharing the campaign to their networks, but every single person in the DOC is part of the Spare a Rose community. Most people just go about contributing quietly, not needing to shout to the world how much they have donated, because that’s not really in the spirit of the campaign. Every single dollar, euro or pound donated is important and makes a difference.

But here is something worth shouting about: In the eight years the campaign has run, a grand total of USD$261,733 has been raised. Put in Spare a Rose terms, that’s 52,347 roses, which means that a whole year’s worth of insulin has been provided to almost 4,400 children and young people with diabetes in under-resourced countries. I still get goosebumps just thinking about that!

The most amazing thing about Spare a Rose is that it has been picked up in some really wonderful and creative ways. As well as blogs and posts across pretty much evert social media platform imaginable, there have been tweet chats, podcasts and vlogs dedicated to raising awareness and raising funds for the campaign. Talented artists in the DOC have created beautiful artwork and designs to promote the campaign. There have workplace giving campaigns. These efforts have come from every corner of the community, and have resulted in some truly astonishing fundraising totals – especially over the last couple of years.

Spare a Rose 2021 might be a little different. The effects of COVID-19 means that a lot of people who have donated in previous years may not be in a position to do so this year, which is completely understandable. ATTD has been postponed to June which means Spare a Rose can’t piggyback off this year’s conference. The last few years it’s been great to use the focus of a major diabetes conference – and its audience of a huge number of diabetes advocates – to whip up a frenzy of interest and excitement about the campaign, and to introduce it to a whole heap of PWD who may otherwise not have heard about it. We’ve been unashamedly opportunistic by running cheeky adjunct campaigns like Spare a Frown, that raised over $10,000 in just a few days. And we’ve absolutely taken advantage of being right in the face of diabetes device and pharma companies, and asked them to contribute. Which they willingly have.

And so, there may be fewer opportunities to get people to reach into their pockets to donate.

But also, we all know that diabetes doesn’t stop just because there is a global pandemic. And we know that it is people already disproportionately affected by diabetes who are doing it even tougher in times of COVID-19.

Today is the big kick off for Spare A Rose, Save a Child for 2021. It’s another chance for the diabetes community to come together and show just what it can do to support those who are living in places where diabetes is more difficult to afford and to manage; where access to healthcare, medications and diabetes consumables is a daily challenge. If you are lucky enough to live in a country where there is universal healthcare, or to have insurance that helps you afford living with diabetes, and are in a position to make a donation, please, please do.

And share! Word of mouth is important for Spare a Rose. Seeing the DOC flooded with images of roses and links to the donation page helps no end. So, here you go…click on the image below to be taken straight to the donation page. Let’s see what we can do for others in the community.

Follow Spare a Rose on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

And on Instagram.

My email autoreply is on and I have a glorious four weeks of holidays to look forward to. The last time I took any time off was back in January when my family travelled to NYC. There is no travelling this year. We have a new, beautifully landscaped back garden to camp out in over the next month instead. (By ‘camp out’ I mean sit comfortably on a sun lounger and drink Pimm’s.)

My plans are simple – do as little as possible. I’ve rallied against taking any time off this year because I’ve not seen the point. Why would I take time off to simply stay within the walls that I’ve stayed within for most of the year? 

That was a mistake. I should have taken some time off. I should have stepped away from the computer and from work – even if it were just for a couple of days. 

And so, I’m going to truly try to log off, to not stare at my computer, or open my laptop to just write a quick thing, revise something I’ve been working on, message a friend. I’m going to remove SoMe apps from my phone so that it’s not all that simple to quickly check for an update of what is going on in the Twitterverse or the world of Facebook and Instagram. 

I wanted to finish the year on a positive by highlighting some of the people who have made the DOC truly remarkable. So, this is a little Interweb Jumble of the folks in the DOC who have made the place safe, happy and continue to truly be about community. Check them out if you already don’t. Expanding your view of the DOC is important if you want to learn about more than just your part of the world. 

Cherise Shockley has a new podcast…

…and you should subscribe! It’s called ‘Don’t Keep it to Yourself’ and it’s my favourite new diabetes podcast which is completely not about diabetes! Instead, Cherise is pushing people outside their comfort zones and asking them to share things that others may not know about them. I’ve loved hearing the episodes she’s already shared and had an absolute ball chatting with her. 

The thing about Cherise is that she IS community. Even though her podcast is not about diabetes, it is still about people supporting and looking out for each other. Because that is who this woman is! Subscribe and listen from wherever you subscribe and listen to podcasts. 

DOC friends who have made me uncomfortable – but in a good way.

First up is wonderful Steffi from Pep Me Up whose Instagram stories challenged me to look at what was going on in the world in different ways. She has been absolutely relentless in her efforts to elevate the stories of people who are forgotten or left behind and highlight the bias we inherently have. You can find Steffi on Instagram here.  

And secondly, the also wonderful Tine who you can find on Twitter at @SayTine. We’ve known each other for a number of years now and we bonded over a mutual love of food. We have been allies in the language matters movement. Tine’s feminism has always been aligned with my own, but she has introduced me to different people and ideas that have made me consider some of my own ideas. 

Accessible Dtech information…

…from the always enthusiastic and excited Nerdabetic. I met Kamil for the first time a year or so ago and discovered that he is every bit as awesome and lovely in real life as he is online. I love the way he makes the latest in diabetes tech accessible and relevant to tech-imbeciles like me while also making it relevant to people whose interest in and understanding of technology generally makes my brain synapsis short circuit. It’s great to see Kamil appearing in the global DOC more with appearances on diaTribe. Kamil’s YouTube channel is here.

Brilliant photography…

…from a DOC stalwart. Mike Durbin was one of the first people I noticed in the DOC when I started participating in DSMA tweetchats over ten years ago. I’ve never met him, but am always interested in what he has to say, and his thoughtful takes on the diabetes world. Mike appears in every single presentation I give about diabetes peer support and the DOC because I always share this picture. It speaks community to me. 

On top of being such an integral and wonderful part of the DOC, Mike is a truly outstanding photographer and this year, I have found myself absolutely obsessed with what he has shared. You can see his work on Twitter here.

More Clever creatives

I adore the gorgeous artwork Nicole Buchanan shares on her Instagram. She absolutely nails diabetes moments with stunning designs and clever captions. I’ve shared so many of her posts because it’s like she has climbed into my head and then perfectly explained the mess in there with a beautiful illustration. You can follow her on Instagram here

Another favourite diabetes creative is Katie Lamb, another talented illustrator who manages to capture diabetes in her lush drawings. She’ll even draw you for a small fee! Find her here.

Aussie Jenna Cantamessa continues to share beautiful drawings on her Instagram here, and she has just opened an Etsy store so you can own one of her beautiful pictures. 

Special mention to dedoc for keeping PWD at conferences…

…because it would have been all too easy for us to have been forgotten with conferences going online. Bastian has done a stellar job getting DEDOC Voices up and running, offering scholarships to PWD to be part of ATTD (the only IRL large-scale conference this year), EASD and ISPAD. 

CWD keeping people connected

Children with Diabetes did a herculean job of not only running hugely successful Friends for Life conferences online, but also churned out relevant content all year, and seemed to run a bazillion meetups to keep people connected. In case you missed the fireside chat hosted by Kerri Sparling about #LanguageMatters, you can play catch up here. 

Spare a Rose…

…will be back next year, but I just wanted to mention the amazing efforts of the community this year as we smashed all previous records and delivered a magnificent USD$73,748 straight to Life for a Child. How remarkable is it when the DOC stops looking inwards??

The offline DOC friends who kept me going…

…are the reason that I have reached this stage of this year with some sense of balance. A huge thank you to the squad of four friends from the US & UK who have shared their lives with me throughout this clusterfuck of a year in an endless message thread that has kept me going. And the IRL friends too – with special mentions to Georgie and Jo. I am so grateful we live close to each other. 

And don’t forget…

please do consider making a donation to Insulin for Life’s Secret Santa Campaign.

Finally…

…that’s all from me for 2020. I’ll be back in the new year, but for now I am switching off and doing everything in my power to be less busy, less online and less engaged. Probably the only downside I see with Loop is how reliant it is on being close to my iPhone at all times, because honestly, I would like to let my phone battery run flat and not charge it up again until the end of January! But I am making a concerted effort to turn off and ignore notifications and be more present with the people I am so, so lucky to spend my life with. To those celebrating, have a wonderful festive season. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by. See you in 2021. 

I know…it’s almost Christmas. And if you are anything like me and mine, you’ve left the run of gift buying a little late. Or you’ve wound up in lockdown. Or the thought of battling crowds is not something that you are all that keen on because there are too many un-masked bandits in the shops.

And so, here’s another little reminder that there is no need to panic because Insulin for Life is doing Secret Santa and your can absolutely buy the BEST. PRESENT. EVER. with heaps of time to spare. All without hitting pause on your Netflix binge!

It only takes $5/€5/£5 to make a real difference to a person with diabetes in an under-resourced country. That small amount will provide a week’s worth of insulin and diabetes supplies to someone who otherwise might not have them.

My family made the decision this year that in lieu of gifts for my cousins’ kids, we’d make donations instead. We absolutely adore these kids, but know that they probably won’t miss the book or book voucher we usually give them. And we also know that making a donation in their names literally means saving a life. That seems like a pretty good trade.

Without a doubt, 2020 has been horrid for many, and those doing it toughest were already likely doing it tough even before a year-long pandemic. If you are in the position to make a donation to this cause, please do. If you can share the link to the donation page with friends, colleagues and loved ones, please do.

I know that the diabetes community comes together to support our own beautifully. We’ve seen it in a million different ways. I’m hoping that in the lead up to Christmas that support will look like people making donations to Insulin for Life…and encouraging others to do the same. Please do help if you can.

Easy, impactful and nailing your Christmas shopping just by clicking on the picture above!
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