June 20, 2012

An Invitation… to Change the Diabetes World

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For a long time, the diabetes world has been challenged to agree on a color/symbol. Are we represented by a blue ribbon or a blue circle? Are we represented by a gray or silver ribbon with a red dot or a red drop of blood? Are we represented by red because it’s the color of blood and the ADA? Only a couple of years back, I saw an online poll soliciting suggestions and votes for a color to represent diabetes. There were votes for yellow, some for teal, some for lime green, a few for the rainbow. I shook my head wondering how we were ever going to accomplish what pink has been for breast cancer because, while it has its faults – pink KFC buckets are always a great example of how pink has gone a step too far – the diabetes awareness effort needs to aspire to that level of recognition.

Raising awareness is very much about public relations, and marketing a busted pancreas in November after everyone has been smothered in boobies and drenched in pink during October is not exactly an ideal position to be in. That’s a challenge for us, but it doesn’t change the fact that diabetes needs more love and recognition than it’s historically received, especially because it affects and kills a lot more people.

In an effort to be more widely recognized, over the last year, the DOC has adopted the blue circle, as evidenced by the support of initiatives like Blue Fridays and the Blue Heel Society, but only a year ago, there were still lingering doubts about how the DOC could symbolically represent itself in an easily identifiable way that would raise awareness for diabetes. Last year at the Roche Diabetes Summit, we broke into small groups to discuss issues and strategies relevant to the larger diabetes community, and one of the issues we addressed was how to resolve the color/symbol issue.

I advocated for the blue circle. I’ve been a fan of it since I started participating in World Diabetes Day a few years ago. It’s simple, and it’s different from a ribbon which sets it apart. I like that it represents unity and the community of people affected by diabetes around the world. I like that it has global power because it originates from the International Diabetes Federation. That was only a small part of the Diabetes Summit, but I believed the color/symbol problem was one we could do something about, and I appreciated that Roche structured the time so we could have small group discussions, in person, about this and other issues relevant to the DOC and the larger diabetes community.

The summit ended. I came home. The details of the color/symbol discussion faded, but the overarching idea that we needed to use the blue circle and advocate for its use by the broader community stayed with me. Incubating. Stewing. Percolating. Summer passed. Fall was upon us. Diabetes Awareness Month and World Diabetes Day were fast approaching. I wanted to do something meaningful with the blue circle that allowed for wide participation. Then the idea came to me, the World Diabetes Day Postcard Exchange, an idea that emerged from that opportunity to gather around a table with other diabetes advocates to flesh out the color/symbol problem and how to address it in a way that benefited the entire community.

Except for the first year when I was spazzy excited just to meet so many people from the diabetes social media realm, and frankly, shocked that I was even invited, I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned something substantial here about my participation in the Roche Diabetes Summits. There were a lot of hurt feelings in the DOC that first year, and ever since, there seems to be negative energy about these kinds of events in the online space because of the inclusion of a few and exclusion of many. I get that. I feel fortunate to get invited to some things, but I don’t get invited to everything. Logically, I understand that companies and organizations have valid reasons for inviting some, but not others. I also know being excluded doesn’t feel good, especially when you believe you have something unique and valuable to contribute, and ultimately, I think we all have something to contribute because no one’s experience with diabetes is any more or less valid than another person’s. Understanding that people’s feelings get hurt has made me reluctant to share much about the events I attend, so for the most part, I’ve chosen not to blog about it.

Another reason I haven’t blogged about Roche – or Medtronic – is because nearly everyone else who attends writes a synopsis, and anything I could add would be redundant. I don’t want to be redundant, which has a lot to do with why I only blog on occasion. I figure one of the reasons I don’t get invited to some events is because I don’t blog very often, but most days, I don’t have anything to say that is worth clogging your Google Reader. I don’t just want to be a part of the conversation; I want to add something valuable to the conversation. In the spirit of conversing, I certainly like when people read and offer comments, but that’s more of a bonus than the end goal for me.

Despite my sporadic blogging and practically defunct Twitter account (sorry, I got bored and it’s too much effort to keep up), I was invited to Roche again this year. Like the last three years, you likely won’t get a recap from me because I know my peers will do it better justice than I would. Just because I don’t post a report or blog much at all, doesn’t mean I’m a seat warmer with a familiar face, invited simply because I’ve been invited every year. Thankfully, blogging and tweeting aren’t the only ways to measure activism, success, dedication, and investment in diabetes social media. Blogging gave me a good running start, but I needed to stop just talking about what I wanted to do, and actually do it, so I’ve worked to find ways to combine art and diabetes to help people, build community, and raise awareness, including Diabetes Art Day, the World Diabetes Day Postcard Exchange, as well as multiple offline endeavors like the Diabetes Art Studio I’ll be facilitating at the Children With Diabetes Friends For Life Conference in a couple of weeks.

More and more, I don’t think the “blogger” label applies to me because that’s not my focus. It doesn’t capture what I contribute or describe my role in diabetes advocacy. I enjoy crafting something with language that people want to read, but art is my first love. Art is the universal language, and I think art and other forms of non-verbal creative expression are a grossly untapped resource for the global diabetes community. I’m going to do everything I can to facilitate harnessing the power of art to make a better world for people with diabetes, and attending the Roche Summits helps me do that. When we talk about who brings what to the proverbial table, that is what I bring.

Maybe you’ve been to the Roche Summit, maybe you haven’t, but regardless, if you participated in Diabetes Art Day or the Postcard Exchange, or even if you’ve visited the website or Facebook page of either to see what people have created, you have benefited from the Roche Diabetes Summit because Diabetes Art Day and the Postcard Exchange emerged from it. My hope is that attending the Roche Summit will again lead to collaborative creativity that expresses something about diabetes that can’t be written or said. I have big ideas for my next diabetes art initiative, ideas that require resources I don’t have, ideas that are meant to benefit all of us, and my promise to you is that I’ll use my participation at the Roche Diabetes Summit to promote and develop art initiatives that aren’t just for the short list of attendees, but for everyone.

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9 Responses to “An Invitation… to Change the Diabetes World”

  1. Cara says:

    Beautiful post Lee Ann!

  2. Mike Hoskins says:

    Outstanding post, Lee Ann! Thanks for writing this and sharing your thoughts. Completely agree: it’s about everyone, and your advocacy is just one of the many examples of the greatness that can result.

  3. Claire Blum says:

    Thanks Lee Ann for your thoughtful post and recognition that we all bring something unique and beautiful to the DOC!

  4. FatCatAnna says:

    Great post Lee Ann – you took the words right outta my mouth!!!! I would love to attend the Roche Summit – but live thru’ it via all the Americans that are able to attend!

  5. Christina says:

    I love this post. I love the blue circle. I LOVE the photo of the painted hands – which to me is the blue circle (that was probably intentional so Im glad I get it).
    I want badly to do the postcard exchange. Unfortunately I don’t know my address. We are in the process of relocating to a new state. We have a contract on a house in the new state but it isn’t 100% that is where we will live (silly appraisal fiasco). Anyway – I am hoping registration will stay open through August so I can be involved and my kids can be involved. I miss receiving snail mail.
    I love – your line “Blogging gave me a good running start, but I needed to stop just talking about what I wanted to do, and actually do it…”
    (Just realized I have used the word “love” a lot – stupid english language with so few words that mean love)
    I only this year started blogging about diabetes. I feel Im off to a decent start but I want to do so much more. I was incredibly fortunate to have dinner with Kerri S. of sixuntilme.com back in March along with my JDRF peeps and I expressed my desire to one day in a decade or so be able to speak, teach, moderate at diabetes events. I still hear her response “Why 10 years – why not now?” I hope I can realize my goal/dream of being more involved one day – hopefully in less than 10 years. Im glad you stepped up and actually did something.
    Looking forward to reading more – you are on my blogroll but I need to visit more often – even if you don’t have new posts I like reading your old posts too.

  6. shannon says:

    thanks for sharing so much in this post. my family has personally benefited from WDDPE and diabetes art day, so i appreciate your advocacy in those forms (though i do dig your blog posts as well). hope to see you in fla next week.

  7. Nice Diabetes says:

    Thanks for sharing, its great to keep the world aware

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