Recently we talked about help for teens with diabetes; today we're moving on to the college years. Coping with diabetes while dealing with the rigors of college life might sound impossible (it does to me, anyway!), but we know that many people muddle through. Fortunately, two new organizations have recently launched to reduce the "muddling," and proactively help college kids deal with the precarious balancing act of managing diabetes while managing their school schedule and additional chaos of university life.
Students with Diabetes
Bringing Science Home, a program of the University of South Florida, has launched a new initiative called Students with Diabetes, which aims to "contribute to the education of college students by providing skill sets that will help them navigate college life with diabetes safely and effectively." It fosters support groups on college campuses across the country. The Students with Diabetes program is led by Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999 and hostess of the weekly dLife TV show, who many of you know was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 19 years old. Nicole shares that she was advised by her doctor to drop out of college and give up on her career dreams. Of course, Nicole ignored that advice, and credits her involvement in the Miss America program with supporting her when she had no resources.
"It was an outlet for me and it fed my competitive spirit," Nicole explains. "I was competing against diabetes, against the advice I had been given, and against the parts of me that felt broken. The Miss America program became my channel and allowed me to test boundaries and explore my potential with diabetes."
Nicole has worked with hundreds of college kids with diabetes over the years, and says that some of the topics that the groups will address include dealing with alcohol and stress, building routines into a schedule, and relationships, sexuality and pregnancy.
"I hope Students With Diabetes assists young adults in learning about and strategizing their new adult lives with diabetes," Nicole says. "There is a support element that is critical in this group as well. The power of learning to talk about personal experiences is a tool that will empower young adults to become extraordinary. The organization is in a way about learning to form meaningful relationships with others."
Right now, the Students with Diabetes organization is only available at the USF campus, but students who are interested in starting their own campus group should contact Nicole or visit the Students with Diabetes website to get more information.
College Diabetes Network
When College Diabetes Network founder Christina Roth enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she soon discovered just how challenging it could be to manage her diabetes on campus. "It seemed that everything was set against what I should ideally have been doing and there was no help from anyone on campus," she explains.
Christina met and joined forces with a nurse practitioner on campus and created CDN Umass "with the intention of simply connecting and helping students on our campus." So far, the CDN organization has launched additional groups at Harvard, Trinity, Penn State and University of Wisconsin at Madison campuses. Each group determines its own activities, but some to date have included guest presentations by pump and CGM companies, nutritionists, medical professionals and a professional trainer with diabetes, as well as open conversation about issues of living with diabetes.
"I hope that students will have the information and support to help them take the best possible care of themselves," says Christina. "When your diabetes isn't in control it affects every aspect of your life and can keep you from accomplishing what you want to."
Christina says that, for her, the CDN meetings have been hugely motivational and helped keep her healthy. She says, "My advice would be to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, don't let diabetes keep you from doing anything, stay connected to other students facing the same challenges, and do what you can to get involved."
Students interested in starting their own campus chapter of the College Diabetes Network can register their school at the website.
Christina is also looking to launch a "CDN Approved" network of universities, where school administrators can submit their school to be part of a list so that parents and students can make an informed choice about attending that school; they will "know that their health and personal needs as a diabetic will be ensured on (that) campus." I love the idea of "diabetes accreditation" of sorts for college campuses. Wishing Christina and her team great luck in getting that idea off the ground!