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A Story of Diabetes, Peer Support, and Friendship

Three women share their stories of love and friendship forged through the common experience of living with diabetes.

Anna Norton

CEO, DiabetesSisters

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1993, I never dreamed I could forge relationships built on a shared diagnosis. Then, in the early 2010s, I met Christel and Nicole. Our work as health advocates sat us at tables where we collaborated, making lives better for people living with diabetes. But outside of meetings, the three of us “clicked.” We laughed at the same jokes, loved shopping for purses and shoes, and shared a common thread of always being hungry.

As the years have passed, our meetings together have increased, but more significantly, our friendship has grown into holiday greetings, daily text message check-ins, and an understanding of one another that’s so deep, it’s as if we have known each other our entire lives. We have traversed the globe together, from deserts to beaches to canyons and casinos. And each of us knows — and we have exercised this — that no matter what time of day or night, we are there for one another to discuss our health, marriages, parenting woes, and more.

In a world where we sometimes see illness as a barrier to living, this friendship is the opposite. We laugh, we love, we cry, we dream — about diabetes and beyond. We are diabesties.

Sarah Mart

Director of Operations, DiabetesSisters

People with diabetes share a common understanding of challenges, burdens, and fears that often accompany life with this disease. The moment I see someone check their blood sugar, I have a sense of things they have seen and survived. But even though folks with diabetes are everywhere, it’s easy to feel like we are completely alone.

I felt overwhelmed and alone with diabetes when I first found Melissa and Heather about 13 years ago. We met through the diabetes online community, commenting on blog posts, writing our own, and connecting on forums and social media. When we eventually met each other in person, it was clear that the friendship growing out of our typed words was 100% real. Our conversations lasted for hours, punctuated with laughter, tears, and hugs. We listened to each other with respect and care. We offered nonjudgmental support to each other and our lives.

Diabetes shows up in our discussions because it’s always there, but our friendship is not limited to only this disease. Our group text pings at all hours about all kinds of topics. Blood sugar levels and struggles to push or pull the numbers back into range? Sure. Diabetes treatments, devices, appointments, and distress? Of course. Caring for children, spouses, pets, and/or parents? All the time. Career paths and professional development? Continuously. Books, streaming, podcasts, and music? Yes. Memes? Always.

We show up for each other. I am their person, and they are mine. We three have lived with diabetes for a collective 106 years and counting. What could have been solely solidarity through shared disease is a trio of true friendship and chosen family.

Karen Graffeo

Content Manager, DiabetesSisters

There’s something to be said for the power of “me too,” and I feel that most strongly in my life with diabetes. There’s a special connection when I talk about my chronic illness with someone who gets it because they live it too. Someone who understands the term “bolus-worthy” and doesn’t raise an eyebrow if I say I’m “so high” (because they know I mean my blood glucose is higher than I’d like). Someone who can estimate carb counts with me and recommend a cute bag for stashing all of the diabetes stuff I need to lug around.

As magical as it is to connect with another person with diabetes, it’s even more magical when the friendship founded on a shared medical condition turns into much more. When I first started leading the virtual peer-support group for DiabetesSisters (called PODS), Diane was our first attendee. In the early days of Virtual PODS, our meetings were often just her and me. Eight years later, she still comes to my Virtual PODS meetings and has formed a local PODS group in her area. In those eight years, we’ve also bonded over so much more than life with diabetes. Although we live in different states and rarely see each other in person, we text regularly about work, cooking and baking, our families, and weekend plans. I’m Facebook friends with her mother, and she was one of the first people I was in contact with when my father passed away.

Another online diabetes friend that has become a real-life friend is Phyllis. We met at a diabetes conference and bonded over experiences with the insulin pump we both wore. Since then, we, too, have developed a friendship that covers much more than diabetes. We text a lot, exchange holiday gifts, meet for shopping trips (pre-pandemic) or Zoom dates (during the pandemic), compare the antics of our beloved cats, and fan-girl over our favorite celebrity. Phyllis is in my corner when I need help with both diabetes things and life in general things, and it goes both ways. There isn’t always a lot to be thankful for when you think about living with a chronic illness. But I’m thankful diabetes brought me these friends. We each have decades of life with diabetes under our belts, but there is so much more to us and our friendships.

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