Recently, I shared some good news that I was finally ready to release into the wild after sitting on for a few weeks.
And so, a tweet and a LinkedIn post later, I’d happily shared that I’ve been invited to give the Award Lecture in the Living with Diabetes Stream at the IDF World Congress in Lisbon later this year. When I talk about standing on the shoulders of diabetes advocacy giants, two of the previous Awardees define community and advocacy. I still can’t believe that anyone would consider me to follow on from Riva Greenberg or Manny Hernandez, who gave the lecture in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
I was overwhelmed by the messages of support and congratulations from friends and colleagues, many from the global diabetes community, a couple from my own workplace – by and large people who know diabetes. But also, from those without diabetes too who acknowledged how honoured I would be feeling to be recognised in this way.
But there was one comment that stood out and that was from one of the most dynamic, influential, and impactful diabetes advocates I know, Dr Sana Ajmal.
Sana’s message was this: ‘Thanks for being unapologetically yourself! That’s what truly defines your activism. Looking forward to it!
I stopped when I saw it and read it a few times over.
I often describe my style of advocacy as bolshy. Others have said I take no prisoners in my resoluteness. A former manager once said (I think affectionally) that I step off my soapbox only to climb onto my high horse. And I also accept that being unapologetically myself – and unapologetic in my approach – doesn’t always sit well. But Sara used the word so generously, which is probably not how everyone would see it…
I have been unapologetic in my attitude and determination. I’ve been unapologetic in the sheer doggedness I’ve employed over the last 21. I’ve been unapologetic for challenging the status quo and demanding that things change. I’ve been unapologetic in the issues that I have claimed are important to me. I’ve been unapologetic at sounding like a broken record and appearing a one trick pony when I’ve repeated over and over and over again that language matters, that peer support works, that people with diabetes have a right to be in the room and centred anytime diabetes is a topic of discussion. I’ve been unapologetic in the way I’ve challenged people – from HCPs, policy makers, diabetes organisations, industry – asking them to all do better for and by people with diabetes. I’ve been unapologetic in my fury against misogyny and the patriarchy in healthcare.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I plan to say when I give the Award Lecture at the World Diabetes Congress. I have decided on the theme of the talk, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’ll touching on successes and challenges of advocacy. When I get to thinking about what a massive enabler of my work in this space has been, there is something I keep coming back to and that is the remarkable leadership of remarkable people I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter. I’ve learnt so much from the advocates who came before me. The barriers they broke down to do what many of us now do, and the grace, confidence and, often, brazenness they needed to push through is nothing short of inspiring.
And it’s been the extraordinary curiosity and bravery displayed by those without diabetes. I will forever be grateful for the way those people never asked me to apologise, never tried to stifle my voice, never tried to centre themselves over the community and always – always – included lived experience and were led by our needs, willing to be uncomfortable when they were challenged. They are the leaders who understood our expertise and made sure it was included when diabetes was on the agenda. And understood how they could learn from it. They define the idea of diabetes allies!
I’m thrilled that I’ll have a chance to stand up at an international conference and talk about why #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs is the foundation of my advocacy and activism and how, most unapologetically, I’ll never change that.