By Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE
The expression, When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,
encourages optimism and positivity in the face of life’s challenges. For sure, the diagnosis of diabetes can be a life challenge. For our Tandem Blog series, Making Lemonade from Lemons, we’re profiling people with diabetes (PWD) who’ve squeezed lemon from the diagnosis of diabetes and made lemonade - they exemplify this expression. These PWD make living with diabetes just a bit easier for everyone and show the world just how well PWD can live. This profile features Christina Roth, a person who has lived with diabetes for 16 years. Christina is the CEO and Founder of the College Diabetes Network (CDN).
Q1. Hope: Please share a few details surrounding your diagnosis.
A1. Christina: I was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day as a freshman in high school when I was 14. I always had a needle phobia so the concept of giving myself injections was frightening. But I quickly learned to do this. I addressed taking care of my diabetes head on. Unfortunately, by insisting on doing everything by myself and not accepting help and support I quickly burnt out. As a result I really struggled with my diabetes management in my later years of high school.
Q2. Fast forward. Tell us how you fit diabetes into your life today?
Diabetes, and helping other people with diabetes, has become my career. In this regard diabetes is part of almost everything that I do today. That said, I try to plan ahead as much as possible so that I don’t become “sidelined” by highs or lows in my day-to-day life.
Q3. When, why and how did you become inspired to start your non-profit College Diabetes Network?
This happened in stages. First I was simply just looking for a way to connect with other students on my college campus (University of Massachusetts, Amherst). To accomplish this I put together and posted a webpage. The student health center on campus was willing to help by sending a meeting notice out to students with diabetes. They didn’t allow me to send it due to concerns about violating HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). That was in 2009.
Soon college students with diabetes from around the U.S. began to find CDN through Google. This was evidence to me that there was no other organization providing this connection point or support. In 2010 I registered CDN as a non-profit.
In 2010 I was still a senior in college. I assumed that another bigger diabetes-focused organization would want to take CDN on as a program. That didn’t happen so I began the steps to develop CDN into a full-fledged organization. It began with building a board of directors and developing a strategic plan in 2011. In 2012 I quit my day job to become a volunteer for CDN. In 2013 I was appointed CEO.
Q4. Give us a snapshot of how CDN has grown and how your initiatives have evolved over nearly a decade?
The community of young adults created through our chapters is at the core of everything CDN does. From that core, we have built a platform to benefit and meet the needs of all young adults with diabetes transitioning to independence (not exclusively college students). From our NextGen Leadership Program, to our educational resources and guides, every program we offer has been driven by young adults to solve the problems they’ve experienced. Our programs aim to create widespread and sustainable solutions to help countless young adults.
Q5. What have you come to observe and what does your research show about why peer support (and other support) is so critical to the emotional wellbeing and success of college students with diabetes?
Peer support is critical to keep college students/young adults from feeling isolated and alone with this disease. This is particularly critical when they are living in a new place, away from their family, and surrounded by a campus or other environment full of people who generally don’t know anything about diabetes. This peer support can be as simple as meeting someone for coffee, being able to text someone on a bad day, or just knowing someone is there to call in an emergency.
Q6. How do you suggest people discover opportunities to engage locally, nationally or internationally to connect, participate in and serve the community?
Reach out and engage! Start talking to people. Learn about the variety of opportunities out there. Think about what you are most interested in and where your interests and opportunities intersect.
Q7. What has been your biggest glass of lemonade regarding your diabetes to date?
If I had to only choose one glass of lemonade, it would have to be finding meaning and purpose in my career. I am passionate about what I do, and I am privileged to work with passionate and amazing people every single day.
Q8. How has your engagement with other PWD and in the activities you’re involved in assist you with your diabetes care, both physically and psychologically?
Meeting and talking with other PWD has helped me find humor in the little things we deal with every day. But more than anything it has helped me be kinder to myself when my blood sugars aren’t perfect.
Q9. Please share your words of wisdom to PWD who are inspired to make lemonade from lemons.
Do it! You won’t regret it, even if you push yourself outside your comfort zone. Always keep in mind that dealing with diabetes has made you stronger than you even realize. But once you take this leap, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There’s a whole community of people behind you who want to help you succeed!
If you’re a person who believes you’ve made lemonade from your diabetes diagnosis, or if you know someone who has, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured.
Hope Warshaw was compensated by Tandem Diabetes Care for her contribution on this topic. However, she created the content and it is based on her personal knowledge, experiences, and observations.
From time to time, we may pass along: suggestions, tips, or information about other Tandem Insulin Pump user experiences or approaches to the management of diabetes. However, please note individual symptoms, situations, circumstances and results may vary. Please consult your physician or qualified health care provider regarding your condition and appropriate medical treatment. Please read the Important Safety Information linked below before using a Tandem Diabetes Care product.