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Photograph courtesy of DiabetesSisters

An estimated 15 million women in the United States have diabetes. This chronic health condition often requires careful lifestyle management and medications to treat — it’s not easy.

Women living with diabetes also face some unique challenges. For example, studies have found that women are less likely than men to be referred to healthcare providers who can help them manage the condition.

Women are also more likely than men to say they experience diabetes-related stigma. That leaves many women coping with feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation.

DiabetesSisters wants to change that.

The non-profit organization launched in 2008 with the goal of helping women with diabetes get the support they need to thrive. Since then, they’ve been connecting members from coast to coast, both in-person and virtually.

Healthline reached out to women who volunteer with this grassroots group to learn more about their exciting efforts and the difference they’re making in the lives of women with diabetes across the country.

Part of DiabetesSisters (PODS) Meetups are one of DiabetesSisters’ signature programs.

“It doesn’t matter what type of diabetes we have, or if we were diagnosed two months ago or two decades ago, everyone is welcome to share and learn together,” Sara Pollack, a high school paraprofessional and leader of the PODS Meetup in Chantilly, Virginia, told Healthline.

“Every meeting ends with new connections made and knowledge shared,” she continued.

Not too long ago, Pollack was newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and in need of support.

She began to search for a diabetes support group shortly after her diagnosis in December 2018. DiabetesSisters wasn’t operating any PODS Meetups in her area at the time, so Pollack worked with the organization to start one.

Now Pollack and other women in her community have a safe space where they can share their experiences and benefit from the sisterhood and support that surround their meetings.

“I love that it’s women supporting women,” Pollack said.

PODS Meetups and other DiabetesSisters programs provide valuable opportunities for women with diabetes to share knowledge that they’ve developed through lived experience.

“We have so much to learn from each other, especially when the group has Joslin Medalists — women living 50-plus years with diabetes — and newly diagnosed women looking for support,” said Clare T. Fishman, a 59-year-old who’s been living with type 1 diabetes for nearly five decades.

Fishman attended her first DiabetesSisters PODS Meetup in early 2014, and she now leads the Boston (Metrowest) Meetup in a suburb outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

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Clare Fishman (left) with fellow DiabetesSisters members. Photograph courtesy of DiabetesSisters.

She said the camaraderie, shared experiences, and expertise among group members makes her feel excited for every meeting.

“I love being able to facilitate the discussions and bring new information to the group,” she said. “I learn and teach something every time we meet.”

For example, a fellow PODS Meetup leader recently introduced Fishman to a “DIY close loop” system for monitoring her blood sugar and administering insulin.

Fishman has since shared this innovative strategy with other group members. “It’s been absolutely life-changing,” she said, “and something for which I’m passionate about advocating.”

If there’s one way to bring sisters together, it’s a dance party!

Kate Ryan is the co-owner of Hip Hop Fit with Gene Hicks, a small fitness studio in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Ryan and her husband, Hicks, began working with DiabetesSisters a couple of years ago, when they hosted the first of multiple community diabetes events at their studio.

“It’s important that those living with diabetes find support and resources to help them live their best life,” Ryan told Healthline. “DiabetesSisters’ commitment to reaching out to communities who are underserved helps bridge the health gap.”

Hip hop fitness events are just one of many ways that DiabetesSisters collaborates with community groups across the country to raise diabetes awareness and knowledge.

The organization launched its Minority Initiative in 2016 to help ensure that its education programs and other resources reach underserved community members, including African American, Hispanic, South Asian, and other minority populations of women with the condition.

“Their mission to spread awareness about diabetes is paramount,” Ryan said, “especially their commitment to minority communities.”

Joining the DiabetesSisters community helps women gain life-changing knowledge, peer support, and opportunities for personal growth and leadership development, Healthline learned from Alejandra Marquez.

“Because our lives with diabetes are a rollercoaster, sometimes you need to be louder, or need to be listened to, or need a recommendation,” she said.

Marquez has lived with type 1 diabetes for 27 years and leads the PODS Meetup in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Alejandra Marquez (center) with DiabetesSisters CEO Anna Norton and Director of Operations Sara Mart. Photograph courtesy of Alejandra Marquez.

She credits the support she’s received with helping her to manage her blood sugar levels and stay healthy while pregnant with her son.

The organization has also helped her hone her voice as a diabetes advocate and peer mentor.

“Since I joined DiabetesSisters in 2012, this organization has been growing, and teaching me, and giving me the support I need.”

“As a PODS leader,“ Marquez continued, “I can improve my public speaking, be a leader in my diabetes community, and spread the word about DiabetesSisters.”

DiabetesSisters isn’t just helping women with diabetes lead their best lives — it’s also inspiring them to take on leadership roles and support other women in their communities.

“Before DiabetesSisters, I didn’t know anyone personally who had diabetes,” Fishman said. “Now some of my nearest friends are my fellow sisters.”

It’s simple to get involved in the organization, she continued. If you want to join a PODS Meetup or connect with a PODS Meetup leader, she encourages you to visit the DiabetesSisters website and fill out an interest form.

Want to support the organization’s efforts to increase diabetes awareness, education, peer support, and advocacy? You can make a donation online.