Today’s post is a bit out of the ordinary, but bear with me … I want to recap what I learned last weekend for my own benefits, as well as for those of you who may be interested in learning more about Type 1 diabetes (remember what I said about continuous learning?)
Many of you know that my younger sister Lindsey has Type 1 diabetes, which is the reason I am so passionate about the cause. You may remember when I rode the Tour de Cure 62-mile bike ride last year in honor of diabetes (sadly, I had to miss it this year due to what I’m about to talk about!). Kevin and I do our best to support a variety of causes, but diabetes research is always at the top of our list. (picture source)
This year, I got the opportunity to go with my parents and sister to the Type One Nation conference in Austin. Of course, I wanted to go to support my sister, who flew in from North Carolina, but I was also excited to learn more for myself, my sister, and my current and future Type 1 clients.
The conference did not disappoint – it featured some very influential names in the field of diabetes advocacy and research, including Dr. Richard Insel (Chief Scientific Officer of JDRF), Nicole Johnson (Miss America 1999), and several fascinating endocrinologists, doctors, diabetes educators, and more.
Type 1 Diabetes: The Basics
In true Lyons’ Share fashion, I want to share my top 7 takeaways from the conference with you, but first I’ll give you the most simplified description of what Type 1 diabetes actually is. Type 1 is the type of diabetes that used to be called “juvenile” diabetes, since it is most often diagnosed in children or adolescents (although can be diagnosed in adults as well!). The pancreases of Type 1 diabetics stop producing insulin all together. We’re not exactly sure why this happens, although most people believe that it is a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental triggers that are yet to be determined, and potentially the introduction of a virus. When a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, this person will need to inject insulin into their bodies for the rest of his or her life. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes cannot be treated or managed with food, lifestyle, or oral medication (although carefully choosing food and exercise can, of course, help keep the Type 1 individual healthier and manage symptoms). The JDRF website has a lot of great information if you’re curious.
Top 7 Takeaways from Type One Nation Conference
- JDRF mission: I learned a lot about how JDRF splits its time and resources as an organization, which is a balance between lessening the burden for those living with diabetes today and finding a cure and preventative measures. The mottos “less until none” and “turning Type One into Type None” were repeated several times throughout the weekend, and I appreciated the dual mission. I want more than anything for my sister not to have to deal with her diabetes every day, but I also want future generations not to have to worry about diabetes.
- Scientific advancements: My family was fortunate enough to attend a dinner the night before the conference with Dr. Richard Insel, who spoke a lot about the pipeline of scientific advancements in diabetes research. I learned about fascinating breakthroughs like the artificial pancreas (which seems to be very close on the horizon!), encapsulation (which would place insulin-producing beta cells in a small capsule in the body that prevents autoimmune rejection), and smart insulin (which would only be released when needed). (picture source)
- Relatives of diabetics and TrialNet study: Did you know that close relatives of Type One diabetes are at 10-15 times increased risk for developing Type One diabetes themselves later in life? I didn’t know the statistics were quite that high, and at first it was a bit alarming. However, when I started learning more about it, I was excited about the “Pathway to Prevention” TrialNet study, which is a massive study of those at high risk for developing diabetes, which is aiming to identify lifestyle factors that trigger the onset of diabetes. I gladly participated in the trial, and will commit to blood testing every 6 months if I have any of the indicators of high risk.
- A unique drug: I learned that insulin is the only drug that can kill you if you receive too much of it, or too little of it. Type One diabetes management is all about striking the best balance possible between blood sugar and insulin dosage … and that balance has to be struck every minute of every single day, with no breaks. On a somewhat related note, I learned that the average drug costs about $1.5 billion by the time it gets to market (with drug failures included in the average). Wow! (picture source)
- No limits for exercise: One of my breakout sessions was on “Managing Blood Glucose During Exercise,” taught by Gary Scheiner, the 2014 AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year. I learned a ton during this session that may be applicable if I have Type One running coaching clients in the future (I currently have two diabetic health coaching clients!). However, one of my favorite takeaways from this session was that there are no limits to what a Type One diabetic can achieve with careful blood glucose management. A marathon? Sure! Ironman? Let’s do it! Scheiner was encouraging that, while diabetes might make sports a bit harder to manage, it does not make sports impossible. (picture source – “Red Riders” are distance cyclists with Type One diabetes!)
- Diabetes makes food a constant struggle: Another session I attended was led by Dr. Stephen Ponder, who shared that the average non-diabetic makes 221 decisions per day related to food (including where to get it, when to eat it, what to eat, how much to eat, how to prepare it, how satiated one feels, etc.). The average person struggling with a weight issue makes 300 food-related decisions per day … and the average Type One diabetic makes even more. Food is important to all of us, and we should all be paying attention to what we put in our bodies and how it impacts our health … but for a Type One diabetic, there is no way of escaping this constant struggle. (picture source – a book by Kerri Sparling, another conference speaker whose session I also attended and loved)
- Diabetes stinks, but the community is great. I always think about my sister and how strong and inspiring she is for handling her diabetes so courageously and steadfastly. I know how hard it is, day in and day out, and she makes it look easy, covering the pain, struggle, and agony. Despite this, though, diabetes has connected her with a lot of wonderful organizations and people, and I’m so grateful that I got to see some of that amazing community in action this weekend. People were constantly encouraging one another, sharing their experiences, and exchanging information. One of my favorite displays of the supportive community was this board, which allowed conference attendees to write a sticker showing why they were visiting the conference.
So tell me in the comments … Do you know anyone with Type One diabetes? Did you learn anything from this post? What is one cause that you are passionate about?