Welcome to D-Blog Week 2015, everyone!
This annual effort, now in its sixth year, is a great "coming together" of the diabetes blogging community around selected topics that affect our collective lives. The effort is spearheaded by Karen Graffeo of Bitter-Sweet Diabetes. You can learn more about it at this recent Q&A with Karen, and if you're interested in taking part yourself, you can sign up here. The Twitter hashtag to keep tabs on the many posts is #DBlogWeek.
For the first day, the official topic echoes tones of the previous "You Can Do This" project in our community:
In the UK, there was a diabetes blog theme of "I can...” that participants found wonderfully empowering. So lets kick things off this year by looking at the positive side of our lives with diabetes. What have you or your loved one accomplished, despite having diabetes, that you weren't sure you could? Or what have you done that you've been particularly proud of? Or what good thing has diabetes brought into your life?
We're no stranger to inspirational stories here at the 'Mine, and we've had the pleasure of covering so many -- from Olympic skier Kris Freeman and swimmer Gary Hall Jr., to race car drivers Ryan Reed and Charlie Kimball, to Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson and Miss Idaho 2014 Sierra Sandison.
Whether it's competing at the highest athletic levels, biking or running cross-country, flying planes, creating diabetes companies and organizations, building families, succeeding with stellar blood sugars or specific exercise goals -- you name it, there's probably a story of someone reaching for and realizing these dreams.
Today, we're excited to share the story of a young Canadian woman doing something maybe not quite as flashy, but incredibly inspirational and needed. She works with young ladies struggling in those crazy teen years to feel empowered, and know that they also can do whatever their hearts desire while living with type 1.
Her name is Kayla Brown. She was diagnosed as a teen herself in 2009, and is now a fellow D-blogger and the force behind the fun DOC initiative known as Type 1 Diabetes Memes, which brings a laugh with clever designs and even attire to buy.
Last summer, the London, Ontario, twenty-something founded T1Empowerment aimed at peer-support and bringing that "I Can" attitude to those who are facing the same issues she did when first diagnosed.
We asked Kayla to share her story and that of T1 Empowerment to help us kick off D-Blog Week 2015:
DM) First, tell us about yourself...
KB) I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March 2009 at the age of 18. When I was diagnosed, I knew I wanted to take a positive road as to my diabetes. In fact, I never saw it as a negative diagnosis. Even the doctors in the emergency room asked me why I was smiling when I was diagnosed... I didn't really know why, but I knew that I was going to keep living. Diabetes really gave me life, as strange as it sounds.
I'm proud to have graduated from Western University with a bachelor's degree in English, but my writing about diabetes goes back before that. I began writing a blog, Kayla's Life Notes and started participating in local events such as 5k runs and half triathlons. Eventually, I began inspirational speaking, telling my diabetes story to inspire others. A couple years ago I started the Type 1 Diabetes Memes page which now has over 30,000 views. I also have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2013, with the World Diabetes Tour as part of a type 1 documentary.
I've had diabetes for six years now but I feel as though I have had it a lifetime, like I don't know any different. I have made diabetes my mission in life, not only to take care of myself, but take care of others whether that's through lending a listening ear, a comfortable shoulder, or a laugh.
So what is your new T1Empowerment group all about?
I created it because I knew that there was a need for support for teens living with diabetes. I wanted to focus on teen girls because, being female, I knew I could better relate to them. I also think it's important for the teen girls with type 1 diabetes to have a role model in their life that they can trust and confide in. I talked to the local children's hospital and they felt like it would be a good idea -- the London Children's Hospital has been incredibly supportive. They help spread the word and a majority of the teens that come to my sessions were recommended via the hospital.
What got you started creating this support group?
I am a member of the International Diabetes Federation's Young Leaders in Diabetes program, representing Canada. At the last World Diabetes Congress in Melbourne, Australia in 2013, we learned a lot about leadership and our mission was to create a project. After developing T1 Empowerment, I knew that that would be the perfect project. I will be attending the World Diabetes Congress again in November 2015, this time in Vancouver.
Also, when I was in university, I created a group for young adults in my community living with type 1 diabetes. I organized events like "Amazing Race Challenge" and dinner outings with them. Now that I am out of school and most of those members finished school and moved, I no longer had that group to organize. So, this all comes together.
What's your role with T1Empowerment, and what does the group do?
I run this completely myself. I have lots of support through generous donors, as well as many people who have volunteered their time to speak or help run events for us. And of course, my teens make the group possible!
We have six members thus far and we meet regularly. We are small, but growing. Each session provides a safe and comfortable environment for teens. We've run a few events so far (all open to the community) that included a speaker who talked about life with depression, a speaker who talked about living with cerebral palsy, and a nutritionist. The teens also made their own paintings to sell for donation at one of our events.
Our spring event list includes yoga in the park, a talk on type 1 diabetes and mental illness and a trip to Banting House Museum (named after the co-discoverer of insulin Dr. Frederick Banting and located right there in London, ON!).
I'm also currently running an empowerment letter-writing project, trying to collect letters from teen girls living with type 1 diabetes from all over.
How can people get involved, especially if they're not located in Canada?
Anyone who does happen to be in South Western Ontario and interested in participating can email us at email@example.com to get details about meeting times and venues. It is a drop-in group and is completely free, so there's no commitment or need to sign up.
We're building out resources on our website than anyone can access from anywhere, and we post some related links to things like diabetes and depression. I am hoping to get the teens in my group to begin blogging about popular topics related to diabetes and teens as well.
And the letter-writing campaign is open internationally. I hope to have all letters collected by June 1, 2015. I want to post these letters from teen girls living with type 1 diabetes on the website and open it like a gallery, so that others can see the diversity and yet familiarity among teen girls with T1 around the world. I think it can be a very powerful project!
If people want to send a letter, the address is:
IN CARE OF: Jaime Boyle
735 Wonderland Rd N, Unit 19
CANADA N6H 4L1
Finally, I would love to see this T1Empowerment effort grow through many communities worldwide. I am happy to talk to anyone looking to start their own group in their community. Ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sounds great! And as you're working to inspire these teens, how do YOU stay inspired?
I feel empowered by many people in the diabetes community. I belong to a lot of groups on Facebook and have a lot of friends with type 1 diabetes and they all remind me that I am not alone. I want the feeling to be the same for teens -- I don't want them to feel alone, ever, in their diabetes.
What are your hopes for the group going forward?
That we can help many more teen girls living with type 1 diabetes. I hope that for the teens who do attend, that I am making even the smallest impact in their lives. When I started this group, I told my mother, "If I help at least one teen, then I am happy." I want this group to be impactful for all teens growing up so when they reach adulthood, not only are they prepared and self-confident but also have a great group of supporters to follow them into adulthood.
Thanks so much for sharing your story and telling us about T1 Empowerment, Kayla! Can't wait to see what happens, and you've definitely helping to spread that"I Can" empowerment message worldwide -- keep it up!
This is our post for Diabetes Blog Week 2015, Day One. See what others are sharing on today's topic, too. And don't forget to use the #DBlogWeek hashtag on Twitter to follow all the many DOC contributions!