Valerie Nesom ’18 knows that diabetes education is important — but also a big challenge. Although she is not a diabetic herself, she has worked at an American Diabetes Association summer program for children with diabetes; she has shadowed diabetes educators at the acclaimed Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, and now she is turning her attention to the UNH campus. A nutrition major, Nesom was surprised to learn there were no organizations for diabetes support and education on campus. So, she decided to start one.
“I think it’s important for everyone to learn about diabetes,” says Nesom, “because it’s pretty prevalent around our campus, and people don’t realize that.”
With a little assistance from Judy Stevens, a community health nurse and health educator/counselor at UNH Health Services, Nesom learned about the College Diabetes Network, a nonprofit focused on peer education, networking and support. CDN has chapters across the nation, though there were none in New Hampshire. By starting one at UNH, Nesom put New Hampshire on the map.
CDN is an unusual form of diabetes education. Whereas traditional support groups are focused around circulating information about diabetes to those with the disease, CDN meetings are discussion-based and welcome people with a variety of connections to diabetes. In addition to Type-1 diabetics, Nesom’s group includes nutrition majors, friends of diabetics and people with an interest in the disease. Participants are able to share a range of perspectives, knowledge and experiences. “It’s more of a social hour,” Nesom says. “Everyone in the club, we all have more friends now. We hang out; we do stuff together.”
This way of learning about diabetes is a stark contrast to what happens in the doctor’s office after patients are diagnosed. Diabetes is a disease that shapes every aspect of your life, and new diabetics are often overwhelmed by how much they have to learn and how quickly — their lives depend on it. They need to memorize the nutrition information for every food they eat; how to test their blood sugar; how to recognize and treat low blood sugar; how to administer insulin; how much insulin to administer, and how to monitor their body for signs of complications. And these are just the basics! It’s no surprise, then, that some of the group’s Type-1 diabetics told Nesom that when they were diagnosed, doctors “just kind of bombarded them with information, and it was kind of hard to process everything.” For some, learning happens best through discussion with others who have had similar experiences.
While the chapter has only met three times so far, they are already planning for the future. Members are building a website, establishing group goals and recruiting new members. They’re also hoping to visit other campus organizations to spread awareness about diabetes at UNH. Meetings are open to anyone and take place Tuesdays from 7 – 8 p.m. in the MUB. Check out their Facebook page for more information.
If you’re diabetic, there are a few other resources you should be aware of. You might check out Judy Stevens’ Living Well, which is a group that helps connect and support students who live with chronic illnesses. If you’re struggling to find the right diet, you might try making an appointment with a nutrition councilor at the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness. Finally, given how much of your life diabetes can affect, you may find that speaking to a counselor helps. As those who attend College Diabetes Network meetings at UNH can tell you, diabetes isn’t just a list of symptoms — it’s a substantial lifestyle change. And while nobody can manage it for you, you don’t have to do it alone.