Happy Valentine's Day! There is nothing quite like the support of a partner in dealing with diabetes, and we're even more in awe when we see partners "getting their hands dirty" with work in diabetes advocacy. Such is the case with Chris Barnes, husband to Brandy Barnes, the founder of the DiabetesSisters.org community. Brandy has hosted several national conferences for women with diabetes (we attended their Spring conference last year), and Chris has been a huge supporter, assisting in the production of these events. This year, Chris is co-organizing a new "Partner's Perspective" program, which is incredibly important since diabetes truly touches all members of the family.
In today's edition of our Partner Follies series, Chris shares how he met Brandy, his introduction to the world of diabetes, and the work DiabetesSisters is doing for women and the partners who love them:
A Guest Post by Chris Barnes
It was July 1996 and I spotted a beautiful girl working behind the desk at Granville Towers, a residence hall at the UNC (University of North Carolina) Chapel Hill. Needing something to say as to break the ice, I asked her what radio station that she was listening to, and she responded with a smile. As she got up from the desk to help a resident, I noticed something clipped to her skirt. Thinking that it was a pager, I asked, "Why do you need a pager?" She responded that it was her insulin pump and that she had type 1 diabetes. By this time, I had worked up the nerve to introduce myself. She smiled and said, "I'm Brandy."
Although it was time for me to return to my post as a camp counselor at UNC's Women's Basketball Camp, I knew I had to see Brandy again. I quickly thought of a way to ensure that I would, and asked if she had a pen I could borrow. Unsure if she felt the strong attraction I felt, I felt a sense of relief when she told me I could borrow her "special" pen that was covered with a sunflower design. She was sure to tell me that it was her favorite pen and that she really wanted it back. I knew that wouldn't be a problem!
The more we got to know each other, the more I learned about diabetes. As Brandy shared more about diabetes and how it affected her, I noticed that she never complained. She was determined to not allow her life to be affected negatively by her diabetes. Her positive outlook immediately drew me closer. We officially began dating two weeks later, and I have learned a great deal about diabetes in the 16 years we have been together.
I have learned how to spot when she may be getting low. I also know that when she has a high blood sugar she needs rest. At night, I have programmed myself to hear the beep of her checking her blood sugar level. Early on, I learned the importance of Brandy waking me to go downstairs to retrieve a snack for her during a low in the middle of the night. After a few experiences of her disappearing downstairs and returning confused about why she went downstairs, we made an agreement that she would always wake me and tell me the number on the meter so that I know exactly how much of an emergency I am dealing with.
In the Fall of 2007, Brandy started to feel an internal pull that she should be doing more to help others with diabetes. After a lot of prayer, thoughtful consideration, and discussion, Brandy shared with me her idea to start an organization that caters to women with diabetes. I was in complete support of her passion. In fact, I was so much in support of her following her passion that I came up with the name of the organization that is now internationally known as DiabetesSisters.
DiabetesSisters is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health and quality of life of women with diabetes, and to advocate on their behalf. The vision of DiabetesSisters is to provide a centralized location for women with diabetes around the world to come together to support and empower each other to reach their full potential while also sharing practical, useful information about the disease and its treatment to improve their health.
Brandy has positively influenced the lives of women with diabetes all over the world. The signature event of the organization is the Weekend for Women Conference. It is a unique weekend conference focused on women with diabetes — and their unique challenges and issues. Conference participants attend educational sessions on gender-specific issues related to diabetes treatment and care (such as body image, depression, pregnancy/menopause), speak one-on-one with other women living successfully with diabetes, receive unbiased information on the emergence of new equipment and medications, and learn new tactics for improving their physical and mental health.
At this year's Conference, I will be leading a new program for the partners/spouses of women with diabetes. It's called the Partner's Perspective Program, and it's a one-of-a-kind session for the partners/spouses of the women who attend the Weekend for Women Conference. While the women attend informative, fun sessions about living with diabetes and connect with other women who "get them," we partners can spend time with others who understand the challenges and benefits of living with a woman with diabetes and learn more about how to best support, cope with, and manage this lifestyle. They'll hear from experts, talk to other partners, and take part in our orange:will Diabetes Awareness Walk.
While Brandy has been a pioneer and role model for women with diabetes everywhere, her greatest accomplishment to date is our beautiful, healthy daughter named Summer, who will turn 7 on April 12th. We are proud of the little woman she is becoming and also proud of the positive messages that have been instilled in her about being a woman with diabetes. Ironically, she is not scared of having diabetes. Instead, she actually wishes to have diabetes so she can be a part of the "sisterhood"! When she asked, "Mom, am I going to have diabetes when I grow up?" Brandy told her we would have to see what gift God gave her. At least, if she is diagnosed with diabetes, we know that she will have access to a a plethora of resources for women with diabetes that Brandy did not have.
Brandy and I have been married for nine years. She is an inspiration to me each and every day of our relationship. By the way, I still have her favorite sunflower pen in my possession.
Thanks for all you do, Chris! We should all have a Valentine like you.
And Readers: Don't forget to check out the DiabetesSisters website to find out more about their conference and sign up! This year's event is being held May 18-20, 2012, in Raleigh, NC.