Following in the Footsteps of a Co-Leader: Julie's Experience at the 2018 CDN Annual Retreat

Juliann Burkett (The College Of New Jersey, Class of 2020)

I have been a diabetic for over 8 years. I was diagnosed as a small, shy eleven-year-old. My dad is also type 1 so I was used to seeing the needles, working a pump, treating lows, and the smell of insulin, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day all of those things would apply to me. I had my dad as my support system, or as we say, my “dia-buddy”, but I was the only diabetic in my grade from the time I was diagnosed until I graduated high school. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to high school that I even met another teenager with T1D, but seeing each other for 2 minutes a day in the nurse’s office wasn’t conducive to forming lifelong, mutually supportive friendships. My parents always wanted me to go to diabetes camp and pushed it pretty hard the first few years, but I was incredibly shy and still in a stage where I wouldn’t do anything unless my older sister was going! So eventually after years of me refusing, they stopped asking. I regret it though because I never got to meet kids my own age that were going through the same struggle as me, and that was very dampening for my spirit.


Then I got to college and everything changed. When selecting a school, having a CDN Chapter was a major criterion for me. However, my favorite school, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), checked every single other box on the list, except there was no CDN Chapter. So I figured I would just start my own. My third week of school, after finally settling in with my roommates and my classes, I started to think about getting the process started. I was ready to email CDN when I was scrolling through a school-wide snapchat story we have, and lo and behold, someone had beat me to it! I was shocked and honestly a little bit ticked that I didn’t get to do it first, but I went to the meeting anyway. That afternoon in the first unofficial meeting of TCNJ CDN, my life was changed. I walked into a lounge in a random academic building and saw this girl with curly dark hair sitting there. She looked up and there was a huge smile on her face and she exclaimed, “oh my gosh someone came!!!”. The rest is history. Hannah and I quickly became fast friends and I am not exaggerating when I say I literally depend on her for everything, and it is very likely I would be dead without her. Suddenly CDN had given me a person who knew exactly what I had been through, who understood what it meant to have three different devices buzzing at the same time, who could share extra needles, test strips, and meters, who I could call at 3 a.m. when I thought I lost my PDM but it was in my pocket the whole time and she wouldn’t judge me. The two of us partnered together to grow this incredible program. We now have a true network of T1D’s on campus who are mutually supportive and united in advocacy and education. We have hosted events alone as well as with organizations across campus to spread awareness of T1D. I absolutely love my TCNJ Chapter and I have no idea what I would do without them. I thought this is all CDN would be for me, just hanging out with my friends at school, carb counting with Hannah, and dragging our roommates and sorority sisters to our meetings and events. That was until I applied for the 2018 Leadership Retreat.


Hannah had been to the retreat in 2017 and she continually told me that I needed to apply. I almost let the application slip by as organic chemistry and genetics consumed my time in school. Thank God I didn’t let that happen. When I found out I was accepted, Hannah was the first person I called and we both geeked out about how excited we were. However, when the day came that I had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to get to the airport, to go through security by myself and fly alone for the first time to meet a bunch of random new people and spend a week with them in Maine, I started to feel overwhelmingly anxious instead of excited. Reflecting back to that morning I wish I could tell myself not to worry because this would be one of the best weeks of my life.



I have been on many mission trips with my church groups and school trips, but never once have I gotten so close to another group of people in such a short amount of time.  By the time I woke up on Monday morning, I already felt like I was surrounded by my best friends. And by the end of the day Thursday, sitting on the dock, soaking up sun and splashing around, it suddenly felt heartbreaking to leave these people. Even though at home I had my three diabetic friends, I now had 25 diabetic friends who were in the same place as me, had the same challenges, but different upbringings, cultures, and ideals, allowing us to exchange ideas and advice. Suddenly CDN was more than the sticker on my laptop and the weekly meetings with my friends, it was really a national network including friends I now had from as close as New York and D.C., and as far as Nebraska, Iowa, Hawaii, and everywhere in between. I cannot explain how thankful I am to have met these incredible people, hear their stories, and be able to call them my new family. Thank you CDN for giving me every single tool I could possibly need to survive college with T1D, for giving me my new best friends, and for listening to our complaints, our praises, our questions, and our love. This week is one I will never forget.



Julie is a sophomore biology major with a minor in public health at The College of New Jersey. Ever since she was diagnosed with T1D five days before her 12th birthday in 2010, T1D has been the center of her life and she knew that she someday wanted to do something meaningful to help those affected like her and her father. She has been  involved with JDRF through Research Summits, Walks, and other fundraising events. She is also the president of her club field hockey team, a sister of Theta Phi Alpha sorority, and co-president of TCNJ's CDN Chapter. She one day hopes to be a CDE, a researcher, or a policy worker.