Editor's note: Emily was chosen as a CDN NextGen student to attend the ADA Scientific Sessions. Check out what she learned there!
I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 11 on May 5th, 2009. Because we caught it early, my body was still helping me out by making at least some insulin, so I wasn’t really fazed at first. During my “honeymoon phase”, diabetes became a part of my life that was second nature and thus it was not too difficult to control. It also helped that I had always been interested in the anatomy of the body with hopes of becoming a doctor, so the needles and blood didn’t bother me.
Starting in October after I was diagnosed, my family created a JDRF Walk for the Cure team called “Emily’s Fightin’ Friends”. Even after being thrown together last minute, we still had about 80 family and friends come and walk with us around Cooper River Park in South Jersey on a cold, rainy Sunday morning in our yellow tie-dye shirts. I remember feeling excited to see so many people supporting my family and me, but I looked at it more as a social gathering than a mission to cure diabetes. We continued leading walks for four more years, with the team increasing in size each year.
As I graduated from high school and began college at Tufts University in Boston, my body began to make less insulin and my diabetes became increasingly harder to control. Trying to earn a position on the Tufts Softball team was especially difficult when I had to skip parts of practice due to crazy low blood sugars from the intensive exercise (but this did earn me the nickname “Juice,” because of the many juice boxes I would chug on the side of the field). Additionally, having Dexcom and pump alarms going off during the night was not the best way to become friends with my roommate. Diabetes became a responsibility and a job rather than second nature. When my mom would ask me if I had checked my sugar, I sarcastically responded with, “We already walked for the cure mom, I don’t have diabetes anymore.” When my grandfather would call me with excitement after hearing about a new technology or research scheme that came out, I would say, “that’s cool” and roll my eyes, not buying into a word he said. Suppressing the idea of diabetes was easier than embracing it at this time.
My outlook changed when I began to work at Cooper University Hospital last summer, coincidentally the hospital right next to Cooper River Park where the JDRF walk took place. After shadowing an endocrinologist at Cooper, I met many patients who not only lacked proper education about how to care for their disease, but also had no means to purchase Novolog or Humalog, let alone an insulin pump or a Continuous Glucose Monitor. Resorting to other insulin brands that were not as soundly created or understood, precise control was impossible. This experience led me to feel guilty for not taking advantage of my privileged situation and it motivated me to become a more active member of the diabetes community.
Attending the conference
I began more regularly attending my College Diabetes Network Chapter’s meetings, volunteering at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and keeping up to date on research in the diabetes world. I also began applying for opportunities through CDN, and was lucky enough to be accepted to the “NextGen Leadership Program,” which sponsored me to attend the American Diabetes Association Conference in San Francisco, California.
Having no idea what to expect, I arrived in San Francisco and was introduced to the founder and staff members of CDN as well as the 5 other students who were also part of the 2019 NextGen Program. When the food came and the conversation at the breakfast table fell silent as we all pre-bolused our meals, I immediately felt a sense of camaraderie with the people I was surrounded by.
At the conference, it was incredible to see 20,000 people all with a drive to improve treatment options and cure diabetes. I attended many sessions, hopping from one talk to the next, attempting to take everything in. Hearing about research from all over the world, including learning about scientists who are using the Edmonton Protocol to salvage islets from a working pancreas to move into a patient with diabetes, gave me hope for a cure in the future. Learning about the clinics designed to ease the transition for patients from pediatric to adult endocrinology care demonstrated to me the level of thought that goes into daily diabetes care. There were several sessions dedicated to educating physicians about the type of language they should use with their patients, emphasizing always staying positive and giving patients a reason to think that tomorrow is worth fighting for. These were promising to watch as an aspiring physician. Discussions of diabetes burn-out and providers’ issues with patient non-compliance made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who became frustrated with this disease and sometimes felt that I needed a break. Lastly, the new technology innovations such as the paired Tandem and Dexcom Control IQ and the implantable Eversense sensor truly convinced me that diabetes won’t feel like a job in the very near future.
I left the ADA Conference with a new sense of hope, purpose, and motivation. I even put my Dexcom G6 sensor back on after a 6-month hiatus right when I got home! ADA came at a perfect time of a diabetes burn-out period for me and completely flipped my view. I am so thankful for this experience and look forward to contributing to diabetes research this summer at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
The CDN NextGen program is sponsored by Sanofi and Lexicon. This program allows CDN members to attend various diabetes conferences with CDN staff, and be matched with mentors in their desired career fields.
Interested in becoming a mentor to CDN NextGen students? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're a young adult looking to go into the diabetes sector, applications for the NextGen program open in February. Keep an eye out!
Check out other NextGen student experiences at ADA here!