For Mary Bucklin, founder of the University of Rochester’s chapter of the College Diabetes Network, twin sister Hannah’s type 1 diabetes has never been a sad thing.
“My parents tried to make it exciting and like a new thing,” the senior says. “I remember when she got her first [insulin] shot, it was a big deal. We all gathered around and helped her out.”
Since that day, Mary, who does not have diabetes, and her family have been very active in their local diabetes community, attending events and speakers at their hospital and participating in walks, as supportive and involved a family as there could be. But Mary says not everyone has such a strong support system and this is one of the reasons she decided to start a College Diabetes Network (CDN) chapter on campus.
It’s important to her that people with diabetes on campus know that there is a group they can go to if they want it.
“Not everyone out there wants that or needs that,” Bucklin says, ” but just to know that when something comes up, if your pump fails, to know that there is someone to call who can get you extra medical supplies. Or if you need a package picked up, someone can get that. Those things are pretty essential (to people with diabetes), and it’s a life or death situation.”
Hannah started a CDN chapter at the University of Pennsylvania her freshmen year – one of only five in the nation at the time. Now, that number has grown to nearly 100. CDN had been founded by two collegiate women only years before. Mary was inspired by Hannah’s efforts and started her own chapter here at UR.
“It was one of those things, like, when I was a freshman I thought about it, and then I didn’t do anything about it,” Mary says. “I would tell people to kind of confirm that this was something I was going to do and kind of like to see what their reaction was to the club.”
It wasn’t until the fall of her sophomore year that Mary decided to make the club official and went before SA to get recognition. She talked to one of the SA advisers and did some preliminary research, but “I didn’t really have a plan.”
She went before the SA board anyway and was denied.
“I probably should have investigated more or talked to some more people than I did before I went into my first meeting,” she says. “I was not prepared at all and they asked me, ‘Oh , what are you going to do’ and I had two ideas and was just under prepared and so we got denied.”
Disheartened, Bucklin tried again and was denied by SA a second time. Meanwhile, she met with University Health Services and began running her club through them. She organized events and hosted speakers, such as a triathlete with diabetes, all the while perfecting her presentation.
Last spring, she went up before the board one final time.
“I said, ‘OK, I’m going to try it one more time, and if it doesn’t work (this time) then it’s probably not going to work.’ But we got accepted in the spring and it was very exciting. (This fall) was the first time that we got to go to the activities fair and have a table and so now our email list has expanded like 20 times and we have a lot of freshmen that are really excited about it… The response that we got from this freshman class was overwhelming and really exciting.”
Bucklin says this enthusiasm makes her wonder if “there were a lot of (older) kids that I didn’t get to reach out to” but says she is happy with how things are going this semester.
According to Bucklin, there are only about 30 students with diabetes on campus and about 8-10 of them are in the club, a solid representation of the campus population. The rest of the 40-odd members who attend the events are students without diabetes but who might have a friend or relative with the disease or who are just invested in spreading awareness. UR’s CDN chapter has more than 200 names on its email list.
Mary says that one of the goals of the club is to give people “a better idea of what diabetes is, because there’s a lot of myths and sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, if you eat sugar you’re going to get diabetes,’ and that’s not really true. Because people who have type 1, one misconception is that they can’t eat sugar. If you have type 1 diabetes you can eat whatever you want, you just have to monitor it and there are no health restrictions, you just have an insulin pump. You’re just like a normal person, just you’re in charge of how much insulin your body has. Getting rid of those misconceptions and getting people to stop saying things like that is definitely one goal of the club.”
As Hannah herself has said: “Diabetes reflects life. It’s not always going to be perfect.”
Mary wants to make the larger UR campus community healthier by showing them good eating habits and the benefits of regular exercise. That’s why CDN and UHS have teamed up to present the Monday Mile, a mile long walk around campus every Monday aimed at getting people out of the library and moving for a few minutes a week.
Her aspirations don’t end at the Genesee River, however. CDN also wants to include the rest of the Rochester community in its initiatives. This is why Mary has set up the Teen Diabetes Network, a group of five or six local teens with diabetes who meet once a week.
“Sometimes we talk about diabetes, sometimes we just talk about regular life,” she says. “They just get to meet other kids in the community with diabetes. It’s been fun and I definitely want to expand it and have ideas for the future, but for now we have something at least.”
To those who wish to start their own clubs on campus, Bucklin says don’t be discouraged.
“Finding one or two other people that are really excited about this made it possible. If I was just doing this by myself, I know I couldn’t have done it.”
She cites Morgan Kath and Sarah Friedman, the vice president and secretary of CDN, respectively, as instrumental in her efforts to establishing a club. Morgan’s sister, Courtney, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 14 years ago. Sarah was diagnosed as a teen-ager.
“There’s definitely going to be hoops you have to go through, but you can find ways around it,” Mary says. “And finding faculty and students that are excited about what you are doing is a big help.”
Bucklin has plans for the future, but for now she is thrilled to finally be an SA-recognized organization and to be serving on the CDN national board of student advisers, helping other people set up chapters at their schools and making the organization she is so devoted to a little better everyday.
November is National Diabetes Month and CDN will be putting on a host of events to raise awareness, including a Go Blue breakfast and tabling in Wilson Commons. Make sure to stop by their table and ask them some questions, you might just have your prior notions about diabetes turned upside down.
To read more about the College Diabetes Network, specifically the University of Rochester club, please click right here
To contact the University of Rochester’s College Diabetes Network, send an email to http://Uroch@collegediabetesnetwork.org