KK: Why did you create Diabetes Sisters?
B.B: My first 18 years with diabetes were pretty lonely. I was never ashamed of my diabetes or tried to hide it, but I just wasn't ever able to connect with another woman with diabetes for a long-term friendship. Of course, I had friends, but it always seemed like there was this one aspect of me that was hidden away, not because I wanted it to be, but because it had to be. All through high school and college I quietly wished for a friend with diabetes who could understand what my life was really like. I was ecstatic to meet the diabetes educator who had diabetes at my new endocrinologist's office. For years, I looked forward to my quarterly check-ins with her...and always went in with my list of questions that could only be answered by another woman with diabetes! My pregnancy in 2004 was met with mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety. Excitement because I was responsible for bringing a new life into this world...and anxiety because I was responsible for bringing a new life into this world-- with the added challenge of diabetes-- and I knew no other woman who had accomplished this feat. The diabetes educator had never had a child, so the loneliness and frustration set in again. My web searches for information and support were lackluster at best. I asked my endocrinologist and my high-risk OB to connect me with another woman who had achieved a successful pregnancy, but unfortunately, they were not able to do so. After the successful birth of my daughter, Summer, in 2005, I knew something needed to be done to address the unique challenges faced by women with diabetes, but I didn't know exactly what the solution was. It was in the Fall of 2007 when I was blessed with the vision for DiabetesSisters... and the rest is history!
KK: In your own words describe the "Sisterhood" of Diabetes.
BB: I am so proud of and grateful for our Sisterhood! It is made up of women throughout the world with all types of diabetes who want to support, empower, and educate their "Sisters" with diabetes and receive the same in return. As women, we are naturally social, look to others for support, and want to help others. There's a certain comfort found in talking to someone who has walked in your shoes. Every day, we walk by women with diabetes on the street and we have no way of knowing that they have diabetes. Our website and our in-person meetings encourage women with diabetes to step forward with pride and "own" their diabetes, ask for support and education when they need it, and offer support and practical advice to Sisters who are in need. It's very much a give-and-take-- like any healthy relationship! As a woman with a biological sister, I know the power of the bond that we share because we grew up in the same household and have certain things in common. My hope is to create an environment that replicates that same kind of bond among women with diabetes. After all-- we all need a Sister who shares those special inside jokes and funny stories that only they could understand. It's no different for women with diabetes!
KK: If it's my first time attending the 2011 Diabetes Sisters Weekend for Women Conference, what's the ONE thing you think a Diabetes Sister newbie will take away?
The one think that a DiabetesSister newbie will take away from the Conference is that she is not alone in this disease! In fact, she has a huge, supportive sisterhood to empower her and educate her about all issues related to being a woman with diabetes.
KK: Our healthcare system tends to overlook women in general, and women with diabetes specifically. DiabetesSisters wants to fill this void created in our system. Can you give us some examples of how?
BB: Our current healthcare system has so few resources to help women with diabetes deal with the challenges that the hormones of menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause throw at us. In addition, the vast majority of women with diabetes are unaware that they are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, depression, osteoporosis, eating disorders, body image issues, and ketoacidosis when compared to their non-diabetic female peers and their male peers with diabetes. Finally, (before DiabetesSisters) there was no single national organization out there that was focused on fighting for women with diabetes to ensure their voice is heard. DiabetesSisters' programs and services focus on filling these voids in three different areas: patient support, community education, and advocacy.
Women’s Forum- a place for women to talk openly, share stories and ask questions about diabetes among their peers without fear of judgment; SisterMatch- an international buddy program designed to connect women with a friend to support them on their diabetes journey; SisterTALK Blogs- information about the nuances of living successfully with diabetes from those who understand it best- type 1, type 2 and pregnant women who are living with the disease; From the Experts Columns- offer dedicated professionals in the diabetes healthcare and legal fields to answer reader’s questions and offer evidence-based advice; Monthly e-Newsletter- a free publication contains women’s diabetes articles, organization news, and links to news and research updates.
Our In-Person programming, such as our PODS Meetups and our National Conference Series offer women the opportunity to meet the women they have been chatting with online or for those who aren't involved in our online programs, they offer the opportunity for women to come together and support each other in person. We now have PODS Meetups in locations throughout the US- and are launching new locations on a weekly basis. We also have Conferences on the East Coast and West Coast this year! In terms of advocacy, in 2010, we launched the "orange: will" campaign to raise awareness about the unique issues faced by women with diabetes. Orange will empower women with diabetes to make their voice heard!
KK: If I'm experiencing Diabetes Burnout OR have decided to put myself first and make my diabetes a top priority in 2011, how will attending your Weekend for Women help me??
BB: Not only will you be educated on gender-specific diabetes topics, but you will be in a life-changing supportive environment surrounded by 200 women with diabetes. There's nothing like sitting down to a meal and hearing meter and pumps beeping all over the room and overhearing light-hearted debates about the number of carbohydrates in a specific food. Most importantly, the Conference offers new ways to think about nutrition, physical activity, and all of the things that have become mundane/second-nature in our lives. It also offers sessions on the emotional aspects of diabetes- that are often overlooked. So, it nurtures your health and nourishes your spirit- ensuring that when you walk away from the conference you feel rejuvenated and re-focused on the things that should be a priority in your life.
KK: How has being a member of Diabetes Sisters helped you live your diabetes life?
BB: In 2007, I was an average woman with diabetes and I literally knew no other women with diabetes (besides by diabetes educator). Fast-forward four years and now my life has done a complete 180-degree turnaround. I am surrounded by so many women with diabetes-- who are successful and inspirational. I am never at a loss for who to contact when a diabetes-related question arises.... because I have thousands of women in the Sisterhood to email or call on at a moment's notice. None of us are perfect in our diabetes management, but we know we can lean on each other and get practical advice from each other.
By being involved with DiabetesSisters, I've also learned a lot of important health information about being a woman with diabetes that I was unaware of previously. I also feel like DiabetesSisters has given me, and all women with diabetes, a much-needed voice in America! I feel so much more connected to women with diabetes around the world! I have to pinch myself on a daily basis because it's quite unbelievable that this is what I get to spend my days doing now!
WHEN: April 29 - May 1, 2011 WHERE: The Marriott City Center in downtown Raleigh,NC.