The Lions Clubs International, the largest volunteer, service organization with clubs around the world, held their 41st annual meeting at the United Nations. Throughout the day, they updated members on missions and accomplishments. They have done tremendous work in detecting and treating eye disease in children, in childhood cancer, disaster relief, eradicating hunger and poverty and more.
They have also put a spotlight on diabetes through a joint collaboration with the International Diabetes Federation. An association of 230 diabetes organizations from 160 countries. There is a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations to raise awareness of diabetes, make screening more available, as well as education and access to care. It was my honor to be the face and voice of this collaboration, as a member of IDF’s patient advocate group, the Blue Circle Voices.
Highlights: I shared the stats – 425 million people around the world have diabetes. One in three U.S. adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes, and 9 out of 10 people with pre-diabetes don’t know they have it.
Diabetes is not just a matter of insulin resistance (type 2) or not producing insulin (type 1) but also a condition that affects people emotionally: shame, guilt, frustration, fear, stigma.
I shared a service project that took place in Costa Rica last month. A young woman with type 1 diabetes, who’s a psychologist, Daniela Rojas, ran a 3-day adventure camp for children with type 1 diabetes. After every physical feat the kids read an inspirational essay from my book, The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes, (Spanish version, El ABC para aprender a quererte teniendo diabetes), that became an open window for them to express and share feelings and fears they never had before. And to realize they are strong outside, and in. This camp is a replicable model of excellence for diabetes camps around the world. I heard throughout the day Lions’ interest in working with diabetes camps.
I received applause when I announced I’ve already applied for my Joslin 50-year medal still three years away, and laughter when I asked if my unruly mane of hair might make me an honorary Lion, well Lioness.
I closed with a story of my father, who when I lay in my hospital bed 47 years ago upon diagnosis, shouted at my cold doctor, “There’s a person in that bed, not just a disease!” Maybe that’s why today I share with health professionals a way to put “Heart-Ware,” the seeing of each other, back into health care.
Above all, I was thrust back into a time when people came together just to do good. Maybe it never left but it’s hard to feel when we are so divided as a nation, as a world. The day was a refreshing and reassuring confirmation that kindness still lives in people’s hearts. And that activism to help one’s neighbor is occurring every day, in small and large communities, through the work of passionate Lions, Leos, Lionesses and Blue Circle Voice members.
My fellow diabetes advocate and friend Christel Marchand Aprigliano was recognized by newly appointed Lions Clubs International President, Gudrun Yngvadottir (from Iceland), for her amazing work influencing diabetes government policy. Rock on Christel! And rock on Gudrun who, having injured herself while skiing a few weeks ago, wasn’t going to miss the auspicious day.