Well here we are, sitting up once again wondering how this summer is going to play out. Will I find the office on time? Do I keep a tally of the times I Google phrases I’m unsure of? (It’ll be a good laugh when August rolls around) Will the other interns and I get along? Do I bring my lunch? Do I change from sensible shoes to heels outside, in the lobby, in the bathroom? OR do I brave the fifteen-block stroll in my business professional heels? Aside from all of that, I ultimately wonder how I will make a difference while working with JDRF – Advocacy. The first question many people ask me is what I will be doing while working. Although this seems like a sensible question, I honestly tell them I do not know. I have always been one to have a plan, but it seems unreasonable to expect to plan for a difference when I have not experienced an opportunity like this before.
One week ago I returned home from the Students With Diabetes Leadership Academy and conference. Before attending I was constantly asking and trying to answer double the amount of questions I am now. As last weekend progressed I was given many tools and words of wisdom to take with me as I begin my endeavor in taking on Washington, D.C. The Leadership Academy began on Thursday night with a dinner (which I was running to after a six hour plane delay), we were able to get to know each other on a more casual level before settling in on Friday for speakers and what seemed to be a boring, business-like day. As Friday began, the freezing cold conference room was filled with glazed over eyes of twenty-something year olds wishing breakfast started an hour later (although breakfast became vital as the days went on). Our first topic was public health, a topic I was convinced to be dry and not one I wanted to delve into at nine in the morning. Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Donna Petersen explained it in such a way that it honestly seemed like we had a job to do. Dr. Petersen made it clear the word ‘public’ has a negative connotation, causing many people to turn their noses away; much like many government health issues, yet we as people have a responsibility to prevent and create a positive connotation to the word ‘public’. Okay, I know it may seem I have joined the public health groupies, and trust me I still need some convincing that it is a topic that would hold my interest for an extended amount of time, but Nicole Johnson’s strategic plan to put Dr. Petersen first got me and I believe everyone else hooked! Public health is not a topic one can listen to with glazed over eyes and think “O.K. I get it”, one must listen and try to understand, initiating thought and alertness in seventeen twenty-something year olds.
So, Nicole has given us our first tool, DO NOT turn your nose to something you think is boring, not for you, etc. because you truly never know. The rest of the Leadership Academy was filled with speakers such as Rick Gallegos, CEO of the Dale Carnegie Training, Martin Wood, a person who has too many titles to list but most importantly the author of the blog, Diabetically Speaking, and Tom Boyer, the government affairs head for Novo Nordisk. The next lesson we were taught was networking, networking, networking, though this seemed to be a common theme throughout the conference as a whole. The Leadership Academy was also a tool in itself, while the many speakers each brought new lessons to the table, and shared a different story that affected us differently, there was one underlying theme each speaker touched on, opportunity. It was an opportunity to be able to apply for an internship, it was an opportunity to attend the Leadership Academy, it was an opportunity to be given an internship, and most importantly, it was an opportunity to be surrounded by seventeen brilliant young adults who all shared the never ending challenge of Type 1 Diabetes.
As the Leadership Academy came to a close I was fired up, ready to take on the fun and excitement of an internship. I was given the confidence to go forth and learn and accept that although I may not know anything about government advocacy, I do know about diabetes and I was ready to use that to my full advantage. Following was the Students with Diabetes Conference, or diabetes camp for big kids, as I like to call it. We were able to relax, tell stories, and share our frustrations with each other. Something that usually gets to happen every once in a while, or once a year at SWD! There were many speakers, which provided thought provoking questions, laughs, and many emotional tears. During the conference every speaker shared a bit of knowledge worth taking home, but it would take just about the whole summer for me to explain it all, therefore the following quotes are ones that left me without questions. Ed Damiano, the creator of the bionic pancreas started his presentation with the words “making diabetes management disappear” giving everyone in the room a sense of hope. He then proceeded to state; “diabetes is relentless” another phrase that I know is true, but often wonder if I’m one of the few who think that. Needless to say, he walked away with a speechless room filled with tears of hope. Another speaker who I connected with was Scott Scolnick, a clinical trial patient of the bionic pancreas. Scolnick shared his story of being without diabetes for five days and explained the emotional wall he hit after the opportunity to test the bionic pancreas. His journey posed questions I now ask myself; will I be ready for a day without diabetes? How will that change my life? (Although the answer seems obvious, it is quite complex) The last two statements that resonated with me were “diabetes is exhausting” and “diabetes is like a spiritual gift sent from God to show you how perfect you’re not.” By Joe Solowiejczyk. Both of these statements are explicitly true, my doctor often jokes with me as I am a perfectionist with everything I do, but diabetes, because it is impossible to be perfect all of the time!
As the conference came to a close it was bittersweet, I was given tools and taught leadership skills that were to prepare me for my internship this summer. With these skills I was expected to move forward and truly jump into the working world with an “of course I can!” attitude. While the Leadership Academy and conference helped prepare me for what was to come, it also provided me with friendships I was not expecting. With all of the people I met, we each shared a common burden, and who couldn’t get along with someone who also has insane stories of being low, high, or the lack of normalcy in our lives. I have always been surrounded by diabetes, attending multiple diabetes camps and having family members with this disease has given me a support system many people do not have. I did not expect to add to this support system, or to provide what I have received for so many years to others. Students with Diabetes helped me network into a bigger diabetes world, and I am so happy I was given this opportunity. I left with friends who shared common goals to work in the diabetes field, friends who also wondered if living without diabetes was something that would change us all together; and how could you not make a friend after shoving glucose tabs down his throat when his blood glucose was 23? And among making friends, I was able to have these real conversations and experiences in which I had not experienced before. The Students with Diabetes Leadership Academy and Conference was one of the greatest experiences I have had yet. Thank you Nicole and John for recognizing and acknowledging my passion for diabetes, and giving me the opportunity to work in a field I would have never thought to try. Thank you for creating an experience every person with type one should be given, and generating an environment in which we can connect, grow, and thrive in bettering ourselves. Students with Diabetes has added to my passion, and I will be paying it forward.