Students with Diabetes Conference… What a Weekend!

Well gosh I don’t even know where to start. Today is Tuesday, June 10th, and I am moving to New York City. Even though I haven’t been home since Wednesday afternoon, I feel like today will be the day when it really hits me: I’m not coming home until August. Yikes! But I am so excited about my summer at the same time! This weekend, Matt and I went to Tampa, Florida for the Students with Diabetes Leadership Academy and Conference. Spending the past four days with over 100 other Type 1’s gave me so much encouragement, community, and strength, that I wish I could have a weekend like it every month. It gave even more meaning to my internship with JDRF this summer than it already even had. Check out the Ellen-style selfie some of us took with Nicole on Sunday: Image Before I go into a very long post about all the awesome details of my weekend, let me give you some highlights… This weekend, I:

  • Met all the other interns that received positions at various companies this summer (JDRF, Novo Nordisk, etc.)
  • Met Nicole Johnson, former Miss American and current leader of Bringing Science Home and Students with Diabetes, the organization that brought this whole weekend and internship experience together!
  • Met many influential people in the diabetes community: comedians, a medical librarian, medical salesmen, a biomedical engineer, and a Certified Diabetes Educator.
  • Experienced Dale Carnegie Training in preparation for my internship experience and future.
  • Met TONS of wonderful other Type 1’s and some of their significant others who also came along, like Matt.
  • Learned how to view diabetes with a sense of humor.
  • Gained a lot of insight about diabetes and relationships.
  • Heard all about the bionic pancreas!!!! Expected FDA approval by fall of 2017!
  • Spent the evening out in Tampa, visiting the beach and the Hulk Hogan restaurant.
  • Went to a fun pool party with everybody at the conference!
  • Participated in research for Students with Diabetes.
  • Learned about diabetes service alert dogs! (I want one).
  • Gained really profound insight on being a leader from Tye Manor.
  • Had to say goodbye until next year ☹

So yeah. Crazy busy weekend, but full of so many wonderful experiences and opportunities. Now onto all the fun details ☺ Forgive me if this post is disjointed and scatter-brained… and possibly super long. I’m really just trying to get down everything we did this weekend. What I’m learning is that I need to journal at the end of the day, no matter how tired I am, because that’s how I will have these memories to fully look back on and relive!

I got to Tampa with Matt on Thursday morning for the Students with Diabetes Leadership Academy and Conference. And let me just say… this weekend was probably my favorite weekend of 2014 so far! Matt and I arrived fairly early to the conference, so we had some time to spare. We enjoyed the Tampa sunshine and walked to a nearby mall, just a mile away from our hotel. It was nice to be there earlier than all the others, because it gave Matt and I time to talk a little bit about what we expected this weekend to be like… which, in all honesty, we had no idea what to expect!

So then came the evening. Matt and I went back to the hotel, where we officially met the other interns that will be working at various diabetes companies this summer. Two other girls, Hannah and Jenni, will also be working at JDRF in NYC with me this summer. I am SO glad I got to meet them and form friendships before arriving in the city. After the meet and greet, we all went out to dinner at Ciccio’s, where we all (interns, Nicole, and many of this weekend’s speakers) ate together, shared stories of sugar lows and silly questions from strangers, laughed together, and listened to some inspiring tips from a few of this weekend’s speakers.
Out for dinner: Image Here are all the interns: Image And here are the NYC interns!  Jenni, Hannah, and me. Image After a long, tiring, but really exciting day, I went straight to bed in anticipation of what Friday would bring: leadership training and the official start of the conference! Friday began with some yummy breakfast early in the morning, followed by a session with Dr. Donna Petersen titled, “What does Public Health have to do with it?” Many of the interns this summer have a variety of majors: sociology, psychology, nursing, community & public health, and music, to name a few. I was one of the few Community & Public Health majors, which came as a little bit of a surprise to me. But when I think about it, we all have Type 1 Diabetes in common, and we all have a different way to make a change in our diabetes community. These internships, no matter our majors, will give all of us a stepping stone to do so. Ok so rabbit trail done. Back to the public health session. It was really fun to listen to Dr. Petersen talk about public health, even though I have heard much of what she shared in my classes at Malone. Here are a few tidbits:

  • Health is a physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely absence of infirmity or disease.
  • Public health is what we do together to create conditions in which people can be healthy.
  • Half of what creates a community’s health is the individual behaviors people choose.
  • Public health is a goal and a profession.

Very cool reminder of what I have been learning in school, before I go off to my internship!

After that session, Nicole Johnson led a mini session about remembering our values. As we all are going off this summer to work for large companies, Nicole stressed the importance of remembering our purpose in life and what we value. What we hope for our lives. We should always keep our values and purpose important in our minds, because if we don’t, they are easy to lose track of. So to help us identify what it is we value in life, we were given five sheets of paper. On each sheet of paper, we were instructed to write four things. On one sheet, four memories we never wanted to forget. On the second, four items we most value. On the third, four goals we have in life. On the fourth, four people we cherish. And on the fifth, four places that are most important to us. Between these five pieces of paper, there were twenty things I had listed to be most important or valued to me. Among them were Malone University, maintaining meaningful relationships, my parents, my health, my faith… And yet here is the tricky part.

Nicole wanted us to cross off five things. Ouch. But I did it. I reluctantly crossed a line through five things I had just written down as important to me. That was hard. But she wanted us to do it again! And again! Until only three things remained. I was left with these three things: 1. My Bible/journal (from my item list) 2. Have meaningful, challenging, encouraging, honest relationships (from my goal list) 3. Stay healthy (from my goal list)

In other words: my faith, my relationships, and my health.

While this activity was very challenging and not entirely realistic (I crossed my parents names off my list, but I still value them closely), it was very illuminating and a perfect reminder about why I want to live my life. As I go off into this internship, my goal isn’t necessarily to move on up in the professional world, but instead to live out my faith through my vocation, to acquire and maintain both new and old friendships with others, and to stay healthy! Thanks, Nicole, for the reminder ☺

Later that morning, all the interns went through Dale Carnegie Training on how to present ourselves. Lots of helpful tips on communication! We then heard from Martin Wood (fun fact: youngest medical librarian!), who spoke about applying leadership principles to our careers and diabetes. After lunch, we heard from Tom Boyer, government affairs employee for Novo Nordisk and politics extraordinaire. He spoke about the important of internships, professionalism, and even reading the newspaper! Who knew 😉 After Tom Boyer, we wrote elevator speeches and practiced them to each other as if we only had 60 seconds to tell a potential employer/investor/connection why we do what we do and how they can help us! So many important things that day in so little time… and I hardly wrote down the details!

After a break on Friday afternoon, a hundred people came flooding into the hotel for the start of the conference on Friday evening. While there had been about 20 of us interns participating in the Leadership Academy, there would be over 100 people attending the conference! So after check-in and registration, and conference officially kicked off! We played fun get-to-know you games at our tables and learned about each other, how long we’d had diabetes or maybe known someone with diabetes, and had lots of silly fun together! And by silly fun, I mean skits. You see, each table was given a prompt that had something to do with diabetes. Ours was “If glucose meters could talk… medical devices come alive.” We had about one hour to put together and practice our skit, and after dinner we would all come back together and take turns presenting our skits, competing for spot as winner… Our skit of the talking glucose meter came in second place!

After the “Diabetes Showcase,” as this competition was named, we listened to Jim Turner, a comedian and actor who has Type 1. He shared his experiences as a Type 1 through a medley of stories: serious, sad, hilarious, crazy, and ridiculous. Yet through every story I found myself thinking, “Yep. Been there before!” It was Jim Turner’s session that helped me see for the first time that every single person in that room with us had experienced similar things. And we all can see diabetes with a sense of humor. We can all see it as something we deal with together. Something we can help each other with, laugh with each other about, and cry with each other about. It was a real sense of community.

And that was just the beginning! Then came Saturday! Mike Lawson kicked the morning off with more comedy. We created diabetes memes with funny punch lines that likely wouldn’t make sense to anybody outside of the conference… but were hilarious to us. Again, it gave me a sense of lightheartedness and community among these hundred or so people that I hardly knew 24 hours ago.

After Mike came some break-out sessions. I attended one about diabetes in the workplace, which focused on the insurance maze that every diabetic has to wander through. I then attended a session about diabetes and romantic relationships. Matt and I attended this one together, and WOW did we learn a lot. Not only did we learn a lot from the session, but we enjoyed getting to know other couples that have experienced what we have. My friend and fellow intern, Hannah, was there with her boyfriend, Alex. It was encouraging to see Alex come all the way from Texas to spend the weekend learning about diabetes with Hannah! And then we met Miles and Brooke, a couple from Boston. Miles has Type 1 and you can tell Brooke cares the world about helping him. It was heart warming to see her ask so many questions and be so engaged, when it technically isn’t her burden to bear. But that’s what being in a relationship is about… sharing. And there’s some pretty intense sharing that goes on in a relationship with someone with diabetes ☺ Image Matt and I had so many good conversations this weekend, especially following that session. About what it’s like for him to help care for me, how I want to be cared for, and how we can help each other through it all. I am SO thankful for this weekend. Image After the relationship session, there were vendors to explore with supplies for sale, people to meet, t shirts to buy, and free things to win! It was after the vendor expo that my mind was REALLY blown.

We listened to Ed Damiano from Boston University talk about the bionic pancreas. It was hard to sit there and listen to him demonstrate the bionic pancreas that can do everything my real pancreas cannot without choking back tears. The amount of time, work, and energy that he has put into this device is unbelievable. The clinical trials, the people involved, the improvements in technology… it was all so impressive. And here he was in front of me, showing how one small device can not only sense your blood glucose, but can automatically give you insulin or glucagon based on what it senses about your blood glucose and what it knows about how your body reacts. AMAZING. This device spends 24 hours “learning” the patient, and becomes more and more accurate over that time period. The clinical trials showed unanimous improvement among the participants, with the tightest control I’ve seen.

And to think this device could be available in the fall of 2017…. WHAT!

The thought of not having to second guess what I eat or what insulin I give or what my number is before walking to class… it’s almost unimaginable, yet here it is.

“The ever extensive bridge to the ever elusive cure.” Speechless.

After Dr. Damiano spoke and demonstrated, Scott Scolnick, a salesman from Tandem, came up and spoke about his experience as a participant in the clinical trial for the bionic pancreas. Not only is Scott a Type 1, but he is also a major foodie. In other words, he ate EVERYTHING he could during the five days of trial to try to prove this bionic “gizmo” wrong, only to find by the end of the week that this machine might actually be a miracle. It’s amazing. Scott ate some of the craziest things a diabetic could eat, yet his blood sugars hardly spiked and when they did, they came down within one hour instead of half a dozen. Simply amazing.

Joe Solowiejczyk (say that five times fast) concluded the sessions on Saturday with some more humor and down-to-earth tips on living with diabetes. He was SO funny. We had us all write down the three most important reasons we take care of ourselves, the three reasons that makes us NOT want to take care of ourselves, and three ways we deliberately choose not to take care of ourselves (in other words, how we “check out” of diabetes). Joe had a great sense of humor and helped me see how, yes, diabetes can really stink sometimes, and yes, we all choose to ignore it sometimes, but taking care of ourselves is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. He shared funny stories of when his designated “diabetes depression” days where he pulls out his Ben and Jerry’s, watches sad movies, and instructs his friends to call him on the phone to tell him how courageous and inspiring he is. He said, “Sometimes, we just need it.” All in all, I was reminded by Joe that taking care of myself is ultimately one of the most important things I can do for myself, and yes, it gets tiring, but I can make it fun with the help of those around me.

And with that emotional afternoon, the session for Saturday were through! We were all on our own for dinner, so Matt and I took the opportunity to have some alone time and went out to dinner. We went to the Hulk Hogan restaurant just a mile or so from our hotel and ate on the water. It was beautiful. We talked about the bionic pancreas, about our relationship, about our favorite speakers, but mostly we just enjoyed the sunshine and the yummy food. (I had DELICIOUS shrimp). After we ate, we walked out on the pier and took some pictures, looked at the water, and just enjoyed our time together. We walked on the beach and Matt stepped into the ocean for the very first time! (And to think this boy had hardly been outside of Ohio before this weekend… the things he does for me… hehe). Image Image ImageImageImageImage Upon returning to the hotel, we went to the pool for the SWD pool party! I got to chat with Nicole some more and have some good conversation about my honors thesis that I want to start working on next year. I talked to her about ideas I want to research and how I can get started. Throughout the weekend, you see, SWD was conducting research. I participated in an interview, a survey, and an A1C test, all in return for some Target gift cards! Woo hoo! Image I am SO grateful to have Nicole in my life. She is an inspiration, a helping hand, and so loving. Image After our chat, we enjoyed the pool and the company of everybody around us. It was a great, relaxing end to a busy, emotional day. Sunday went quickly. Breakfast, a session on diabetes advances and technology, and one more on leadership form Tye Manor, who gave me a lot of inspiration and motivation. Let me share you his L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P acronym:
L: Listen to understand, not to respond.
E: Energize – “Don’t just make the horses drink, make them thirsty.”
A: Action – “Things may come to those who wait, but only what’s left from those who hustled.”
D: Develop a purpose – purpose will sustain you when life gets hard, it will push you forward no matter the circumstances.
E: Enable people to do their best
R: Reach out and reach back – focus on making a difference, not a dollar
S: Self-control
H: Handles human relationships well – assume positive intent
I: Integrity
P: Positive

And with that, the SWD conference was over… so much, yet so quick. There was so much I did not include (like our 9 pm flight home delayed until 1:30 am… yikes)… yet I’m sure this was still overload for some of you to read. So THANK YOU. Thank you for reading this, and thank you especially to those who were with me this weekend. It was an inspiration, motivation, and encouragement for me that will last a lifetime!

Here I come, NYC!

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8 thoughts on “Students with Diabetes Conference… What a Weekend!

  1. It was so nice to meet you and Matt, and I’m happy that you shared your perspective of the weekend. The Students With Diabetes weekend is incredibly important, especially when you approach it from the standpoint of not knowing or being able to share with other people with diabetes on a day-to-day basis. Keep in touch, and I look forward to seeing you again next year! Have a great summer in NYC! (I love that city SO much!)

    • Thanks Martin! I really enjoyed meeting you this weekend, and here’s to many more Students with Diabetes weekends ahead of us! Thank you for sharing at the conference – you were one of many that impacted me.

  2. I love your blog. 🙂 Keep pushing forward sweet girl! I am here to help you jump the hurdles and will always be cheering you on. You can do anything you set your mind to. God has given you incredible talents and a really special mission field.

  3. Hi! I didn’t get a chance to meet you at SWD, but this was a great description of the weekend, and I really enjoyed reading it! I’m sharing it with some people who are curious about what it was like because you captured it so, so well. I can’t wait to read about your adventures in NYC! Knock ‘em dead!

  4. Amy,

    I am so thankful for you and our friendship! I felt like a proud mom reading this. haha… but seriously! You are so beautiful inside and out, and gracefully walk through life with God leading you. I am so glad that you and Matt are getting insights on how to do life together with diabetes!

    Love you both! 🙂

    • Katie! I miss you so much. I’m so thankful for you 🙂 Thank you so much for investing in our friendship and in me and Matt. This summer will be hard, but it will be so full of learning and growing!

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