As I listen to, talk with and learn from the diabetes community, I’ve had the privilege of hearing your inspiring and moving stories. You so openly share your challenges and your successes. This has inspired me, and today, I’d like to start featuring some of the special people I’ve been encountering along the way. We’re kicking off this series with Brandy Barnes of DiabetesSisters.
Through her passion for knowledge, Brandy began researching and studying diabetes. She works to educate those she touches, no matter where she is – from her high school newspaper to her college peers and even her state, coordinating the site for an American Diabetes Association project in North Carolina. I had the chance to ask Brandy some questions and here’s what she had to say …
Q. How did your journey with diabetes lead to the creation of DiabetesSisters?
I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 15 as a sophomore in high school. I grew up in a rural part of North Carolina, so there were already limited resources. I searched for another female with diabetes all through high school and I thought that by going to college at UNC Chapel Hill that my world would be opened up to a lot of diabetes resources that I didn’t have while in high school. While I was exposed to more resources, including a certified diabetes educator who had type 1 diabetes, I was still disappointed by the severe lack of resources for women with diabetes. A bright spotlight was put on this void when I was pregnant with my daughter, Summer, in 2004. I did all of the right things, I searched local resource listings, I talked to my high-risk OB-GYN and my diabetologist, and I searched the internet, but I came up empty-handed. I wanted to talk to other women who had been through a successful pregnancy with diabetes and learn from their experiences. I knew it would provide so much comfort and ease my fears. I also knew this was an area that only another woman with diabetes could help me through. In 2007, I began to think about how I could best help other women with diabetes who had gone through similar experiences…and that’s when the idea for DiabetesSisters was born.
Q. You just wrapped up Weekend for Women, how was it?
Oh Wow! It is always so hard for me to describe the Weekend for Women Conference experience in words…especially immediately after it’s over…It takes a while to soak in the entire experience. I guess it’s something you have to experience to understand (I hate to hear people say that, but I honestly think it’s true in this situation!) Anyway, we had an absolutely spectacular time.
We learned a lot from the educational sessions, but I think what made the entire experience impactful were the times we spent in “true Sisterhood.” For example, on Friday night, we played some fun games to draw women out of their shells and to encourage them to get to know each other. Afterwards, a big group of us joined together in the hotel bar to get to know each other.
On Saturday night, we decorated the Ballroom in orange and everyone wore their favorite orange outfit. Riva Greenberg spoke and we recognized each and every woman with a special gift for the number of years she had lived with diabetes. Then, we had fun dancing together and just being silly. It is a memory that I will have for the rest of my life!
On Sunday, we held the first annual orange: will walk and Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and his wife joined us for the walk. We ended the walk with him proclaiming of May 1, 2011 as ORANGE WILL EMPOWER WOMEN WITH DIABETES DAY in the City of Raleigh and encouraging everyone to wear orange in support of women with diabetes. It was an unbelievable feeling to see all of those orange shirts walking through the streets of downtown Raleigh in support of women with diabetes. It gave me an unbelievable feeling of power and strength!
When I was first forming DiabetesSisters back in 2008, I knew I wanted to have a “retreat” where women came together in person. This was something I had always wanted to do, so I thought there must be lots of other women with diabetes who were also longing for something like this. It’s difficult when you hear about this “big epidemic” called diabetes with over 11 million walking around with diabetes in the US and you don’t know a single one of them!
Q. What is your favorite part about Weekend for Women?
Hmmmm … it’s really hard to choose, but I think the walk was the best part of the Conference for me. Seeing women coming together, supporting each other and supporting the cause is really a special thing. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than me, something important, when I was walking in the walk.
Q. Are there other events or activities you’re hosting later this year?
Yes, we have the Weekend for Women Conference San Diego, CA on October 7-9, 2011. It will be similar to the Raleigh Conference, but different speakers and slightly different social activities. I am excited to bring the Sisterhood to the West Coast this fall!
Q. I want to start a new series, featuring people who do incredible things. What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Although I have done so many exciting things with/for DiabetesSisters, including creating the Weekend for Women Conference Series, starting local PODS Meetups (support groups) throughout the country, and overseeing a Sisterhood that includes more than 5,000 members, my biggest accomplishment (or the one that I am the most proud of) is my beautiful, healthy daughter named Summer who just turned 6. I’m proud of the little woman she is becoming and I am also proud of the positive messages I have instilled in her about being a woman with diabetes. Ironically, she is not scared of having diabetes. Instead, she wants 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?” I told her we would have to see what gift God gave her. At least, if she is diagnosed with diabetes, I know that she will have access to a lot of the resources for women with diabetes that I did not have.
I’d like to extend a very special thanks to Brandy for taking time for this interview and for providing a recap of Weekend for Women! Brandy — you are truly an inspirational woman who has impacted so many lives, within the DOC and beyond! Thank you, so much, for sharing with us.
All the Best, Laura K.
Disclosure: Brandy Barnes is a former employee of sanofi-aventis U.S. (August, 2003 – April, 2010). While Brandy received no compensation for this post, she is currently under a consulting agreement with our company and sanofi-aventis U.S. was a sponsor of this Weekend for Women event. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of sanofi-aventis U.S., its employees, agencies or affiliates.