In today's episode we will be talking with Serena Valentine about peer support for those who have chronic illnesses due to diabetes. Serena will talk about the importance of finding support for anyone who has diabetes and how to transition to your new lifestyle.
Ms. Serena Valentine is the Executive Director of CORE Initiative, a health & wellness education nonprofit organization in Houston, TX. She is a diabetes peer educator with Cities Changing Diabetes, a global initiative that is managed by Novo Nordisk. Ms. Valentine works with Prevent Blindness to promote eye health and bring awareness to the connection between diabetes & vision loss. Her mantra is, “What you don’t know, CAN hurt you….”.
Shireen: Podcasting from Dallas, Texas, I am Shireen and this is the Yumlish podcast. Yumlish Is working to empower you to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type two diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions with you each week.
In today's episode, we will be talking to Serena Valentine about peer support for those who have complications due to diabetes. Serena will talk about the importance of finding support for anyone who has diabetes and how to transition to your new lifestyle after a diabetes diagnosis.
Ms. Serena Valentine is the Executive Director of CORE Initiative, a health & wellness education nonprofit organization in Houston, TX. She is a diabetes peer educator with Cities Changing Diabetes, a global initiative that is managed by Novo Nordisk. Ms. Valentine works with Prevent Blindness to promote eye health and bring awareness to the connection between diabetes & vision loss. Her mantra is, “What you don’t know, CAN hurt you….”. Welcome Serena.
Serena: Thank you so much for having me.
Shireen: Such a pleasure having you on. So Serena, tell us a little bit about your journey. Introduce yourself to our listeners and help us understand what your journey has been to come here.
Serena: I am a person living with type two diabetes. And I have been living with type two diabetes for almost 19 years now. So my journey basically is consumed upon not knowing what to do for myself, which gave me the passion to move forward and try to educate other people in the community. People who most likely would not have access to diabetes education.
So I am passionate about people trying to get the information that they need because so many people are suffering from diabetes and suffering from complications. When they really don't have to, some people are being diagnosed with diabetes and whatever habits led them up to that point, they really didn't have to.
And so I am just so glad that I get a chance to share this information with other people. And along the way, I learn more for myself. So that sums up my journey.
Shireen: Thank you so much for sharing that. Serena, tell us how important it is for someone who is suffering from a disability like blindness to due to diabetes, to have peer support and what that peer support has meant for you as well.
Serena: Well, peer support, I call it sharing. So we're all we all share. We share in more than one way we share in our diagnosis of diabetes, no matter what type it is. We also share in Similar experiences that we may have together. For example, in managing, checking blood sugar, trying to eat healthy, trying to exercise not just that, dealing with the mental health of it, all dealing with anxiety.
Sometimes we deal with depression because we are like, we're doing everything we can, but sometimes things don't change the way we would like them to change. And so. Peer support helps not only the peer group, but it definitely helps the supporter, which is me and I, I can Def definitely say that I have been really rewarded in this journey, even leading a peer support group, because I've learned so much from others, they hold me accountable, you know, they're all Ms. Serena. Did you eat right today? Did you exercise today? Did you take your medicine today? And in order for me to be able to tell them yes, I have to actually do it.
Right. So I'm held accountable as well. So it keeps me in. With my own journey and with my own diabetes management. So peer support is so important for people not to feel like they're alone in their journeys. A lot of people in, in their families feel alone because either there's other people in their family, they don't have diabetes, so they're, they're trying to process it.
And then they're trying to help the person with diabetes. And sometimes it's not taken that way. Sometimes it's taken negatively because sometimes some people go overboard. I know about that. And also it's, it, it, it also makes you feel alone. Even if you have other people in your family who have diabetes, but they're not as active with their management.
And they're looking at you, like, why are you doing all this? Like, I'm I'm I didn't do anything. And I'm fine. Well, you're fine, but I wanna be better. You know? So sometimes some people feel alone. They wanna be around other people who want to make their lives better and improve the quality of their lives with diabetes.
Shireen: Thank you for sharing that. I, I wanna now go a little bit more broadly to talk about support groups. What exactly does a diabetes support group do? And what are these benefits? How does it help someone? So you mentioned that peer supports piece, but what does a specific disease related support group really do for an individual?
Serena: Okay. So. That's a good question. Particularly the groups that I lead, we mix DSMBS, which is diabetes, self management, education, and support. So that the people who come to peer support, if they have questions concerning diabetes, we are able to answer them and answer them because we've been trained properly trained in diabetes education.
So we all, we're also able to introduce topics in peer support that the diabetes, self management courses may not the diabetes, self management courses address what diabetes is the nature of the illness. And it also addresses ways that you can effectively manage it. But peer support addresses: how do you mix that into your everyday life?
If then cuz things happen all the time circumstances, pop up, routines break. What do you do to counteract those events that happen in your life that you can't control and how do you get through it emotionally and mentally so that you can keep going. So peer peer support addresses everything else outside of diabetes.
Can be related to diabetes and a, a lot of things that we learn in peer support also are not explained by a doctor or any other healthcare provider, because a lot of times they don't have diabetes, so they, they don't know. So there's intricate information that can. Learned or not even just learned because a lot of times people with diabetes go through little things that they don't understand.
And they're like, oh, something's wrong with me. But when they get in peer support, they hear other people, oh, me too. That happened to me too. And you know, what is that? And why is that happening? That helps a whole lot with you know that you're not the only one dealing with it. And so we, we learn other things about how to bring it together with life management and diabetes management.
Shireen: You know, you bring up an interesting point that, that feeling of guilt or that feeling of like, oh, all this progress that I've made or, or how can I ever get there? How do you, as an educator uplift someone through a time like that?
Serena: Well, so this is what I, I tell even the people that I train to teach this information. I tell them our job is to instill hope. So it's not just giving them the information, talking about complications. Well, if you don't manage, this is what happens. If you don't do this, this is what happens. Make sure you do this.
So this doesn't happen. It's not just giving that information, but it's letting them know you can survive. You can live a full, productive life with diabetes and the way I particularly do that is to infuse my own story. In peer support, I talk about myself all the time, not to the point where they're like, oh gosh, she's talking about herself.
Like, okay, I wanna talk, I wanna ask questions about me, but if there is a topic that we're talking about that day and it relates to something that I've dealt with myself, I bring it in there. I also talk about what I go through. My last peer support meeting, I was, I was honest with them cuz we do, we do like a certain time limit of just sharing what has happened to you since the last meeting and I talk.
I said, well, it was my birthday. Yes. I had something sweet. Yes, I splurge. And yes, my sugar did spike. However, I knew what to do after that time is over. Okay. Birthday's over. It's time to get back to regular routine. You can get back, you don't have to splurge and then stay on a bench for a long period of time and you risk your body dipping into complications.
And so you can have a good time and then cut it off. It's possible. You can do that. So it's instilling hope that, okay. I'm dealing with this too. Let me tell you how I did it, even though our bodies are different. I just wanna let you know, it's possible that you can get back to a regular schedule. You can effectively manage diabetes, even if you have a moment of indulgence.
Shireen: I wanna go back to talking about vision loss. And how has it been for you to connect in this environment that provides this kind of peer support with other people who deal with complications from diabetes, like vision loss, how do people connect with one another through the, through the disability, through the illness, through everything else that surrounds your life?
Like how do you connect with someone in a peer environment? And how do you, how do you think it helps them share, in a more stronger or not, you know, not as strong way with you, with their peers in that environment. What, you know, how do you go about creating that environment? How do you nurture it? And then how do you think it benefits the whole group as well?
Serena: So what I normally do, especially when someone's first coming in, I kind of get them. People seem to be very easy talking to me, telling me stuff that, even stuff that I probably shouldn't know but you know, it, it happens. I'm, I'm glad that I'm here for that. That's that's. That's my my journey. That's a part of my journey.
So I get people to talk about what's going on in their lives. And if I come across someone who's like, you know, one word answers. Yeah, I'm fine. Don't know. I don't know if I can do this. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. Then that's when I infuse my story, I'll do tell just a little bit of it and say, well, you know, Well, I gotta tell you something because this is something that's on my mind.
This is something I'd like to share with you. And I, I get down to the nitty gritty to where it, the, the part that's ugly, the part that's ugly. It's important to share that part as well, because. Diabetes managing it.,It is not a pretty, it's not pretty, it's not easy. It's not butterflies and rainbows and sunshine and blue skies.
It's not like that all the time. And if ever, so it being able to share with someone that, Hey, I feel the same way that you do. Then I get people to open up more and they say, you know, I was thinking that I just, I wasn't sure that I'd like to share, but since you said that, dot, dot dot, this is what I'm dealing with.
And so it kind of fosters a, an environment for sharing and it's different for the group session than it is for a one-on-one session. The on one sessions, it's so much easier to get someone to talk. The group sessions. It's a little difficult, cuz you got some people who wanna talk too much. And then you got some people who don't wanna talk at all.
But the way I manage that is that I, I give the people who talk, give them a chance to talk. I talk, I never push the people who don't wanna talk because a lot of times those, the ones who keep coming back, they're listening and they're getting used to the session and used to people used to the rhythm.
Once they get used to rhythm, I got 'em. So, so it, it, it, that kind of fosters that environment for being open and honest.
Shireen: Love that. How difficult is it for people who've had diabetes related complications, vision loss, you know, kidney disease, so forth. How difficult is it for someone who has dealt with those types of complications to actually go back and try to lead an independent life?
Serena: Very difficult. I have to say so myself and it really all depends on. Maybe you have a support system with your family and friends and coworkers. Maybe you don't. If you don't, that is why peer support is available. I even make myself available. People send me messages on messenger at one and two in the morning.
I don't feel good. This, I, I don't know why I feel like this or, or I I'm a little anxious because my sugar was high before I went to bed, you know, stuff like that. And when it comes to people with disabilties, it's first, you have to deal with, I was able to do this now. I can't anymore. That part is the big part that you have to get over in your mind is I was able to do this, now. I can't. I, myself, I actually went completely blind for nine months. It took. A long time. I can't even tell you how many changes I went through in my head because I was always up moving around, doing things I had already started Core Initiative. I was like, okay, I'm on a roll. I need to make sure I get these partnerships and blah, blah, blah, with my career.
Things like that. All of a sudden for it to stop. And now I need someone's help with almost everything. It's very difficult, but what got me through, and I have to be honest about this, what got me through to still trying to work and still being passionate to help others. The group that I work with, Cities Changing Diabetes, the, the, the Houston the Houston branch, those people embraced me.
They were support for me in addition to my family. And when at first I didn't wanna tell. That I had lost my vision. I was just trying to act like, could you imagine someone trying to pretend that they can do something, but they can't, especially something like seeing, and they were just looking at me like, Are you okay, Serena?
And I'm like one day I was just like, I gotta tell y'all I really, I can't see your faces. I can't see none of this stuff. I'm actually on my I'm recording. What y'all are saying and acting like I'm writing on paper. That's how serious it was for me. I didn't want anybody to know that I had a deficiency because I didn't want people to think I could not do it.
So they really embraced me and still pushed me to continue working. They would say, okay, come on, we're gonna help you. We're gonna continue this process because we need you. You know, and, and I know they said that to encourage me. They didn't really need me. They probably could have found someone else. Who's dealing with diabetes who could see fully and could do the work, but they pushed me and I'm so grateful for that.
They were a really big part of my support and I appreciate them and I hope they're gonna watch this so they can see I, I, I really appreciate them including my family as. Self support system is really important. And if you don't have that support, find a group where you can have that, cuz it can really make a difference in you just lying down with the disability and not moving forward to you picking up and saying, okay, I have, I have things to do.
I don't wanna sit here and do nothing. I'm depressed. I need to pull out of this and support can help that much more, it's that Important.
Shireen: Thank you for sharing that and being so incredibly vulnerable with sharing your honesty there. As someone who also suffers from eye disease, what advice would you give someone and this going back to when you know, you lost your vision for a good nine months, what, what advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed with diabetes or is challenged by some of these complications?
What would you tell them if they're out there listening?
Serena: Right, right. I would tell them it is not the end of the world. It is not the end. If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, it is not a death sentence. It is something that can be managed. Now. It's not gonna be a perfect road. It's not gonna be without any challenges, but you can make it through the challenges and you can't succeed.
You can still be productive. You can still. Live a happy life. You can, while sometimes you deal with difficulty, it, you can make it through it, it it's, it's, it's possible for you to do so. And I just wanna say that when you're dealing with complications such as vision loss, I can really talk about vision loss, cuz I I've experienced.
It may be, you may have experienced the worst, like blindness and I was told that I would never be able to see again, they were setting me up to learn braille, get a cane. And I, I just refused to believe that that was gonna be the rest of my life. So I got myself together. Started making sure that I was eating healthier.
And I picked a corner in my house where I was, because I was living with my mom at the time. Cuz I couldn't, I couldn't see. I was living with my mom. I picked a corner in the house and said just move everything outta the way I exercised right there. My brother he's a fitness trainer. So he found me some exercises I could do that would not.
You know, apply pressure to my eyes. So my eyes wouldn't bleed. And I did, I just went forward with it and I got some sight back in the left eye. My right eye's still blind. And sometimes I have episodes, but it's so much better than not having sight at all. I wanna tell everyone. Do not count those little things as small.
The fact that I can, I have about 40, per 35 to 40% vision in my left eye. That is huge for me because I didn't have any, so count the small things as big things go for it. Why not? Why not? Because if you don't pay attention to those small things, your perspective will keep you in a mindset to where everything is bad.
When everything may not be bad and you can push past and experience even more big, all the small things add up to bigger things. And I, I I'd have to say me working to keep my perspective in a certain, in a certain vein has helped me to succeed as far as I have. So it's not over keep pushing.
Shireen: Oh, I love that.
It's not over. Keep pushing. I absolutely love. what are some of the stigmas attached to people with diabetes that you hear about?
Serena: Ooh, do we have time for that one? oh goodness. Okay. Well, I hear stigmas that pertain to a person's willingness to comply with the doctor's orders. I hear a lot that people with diabetes are non-compliant.
They, they don't care and they have diabetes because it's their fault because they ate bad and they didn't exercise. That's not always the truth. That's not always accurate for every person. Some people you might catch some people that just don't wanna deal with it. It isn't that they don't care. Just, they just don't wanna deal with it.
And they put it off some people, but other people, it may be a lack of resource. The areas of town that they live in. It's not close to anywhere where they can receive what they need as far as healthcare access food insecurity thing. There's a whole list of other reasons why people may not be able to properly manage their diabetes.
So that's one stigma that I, I don't like to hear. Another stigma is everyone with diabetes is overweight or obese. I have so many people coming into peer support that are very slim. And while, while obesity heavy weight is a risk factor. That's not a deciding factor for whether or not you have diabetes because diabetes is excess glucose in the blood, you know, so a slim person could very well have diabetes.
A lot of times I've heard people who come in that you know, are very lightweight and they say, I didn't think I thought something was wrong, but I didn't think it was diabetes. Cuz I thought only heavy people got diabetes. But that's not true. Another stigma which is something I had to experience myself when I was diagnosed, I was diagnosed as a type one.
Only because of my age, I was 20 years old when I was diagnosed. And for five years I was treated as a type one. But when I was pregnant with my son, I found out I was really a type two. That's when my treatment changed and things turned around to where I could feel like I might be getting better. Now people are being diagnosed with type two in childhood stage childhood ages, school ages.
So now there's a leveled out playing field. When it comes to age, you can be diagnosed at any with any type at any age. And so people really need to pay attention and get themselves tested. I get, I get my son tested. All the time. Every time we, he has a checkup, he gets tested. And so he had a little instance where his A1C went up a little bit.
When you have diabetes, you have to watch out for your kids. You have to watch what they're eating as well. Make sure they're exercising because it's, it's possible that they could develop diabetes as well. We got his A1C down where it needs to be. He's good. So it, it, you know, those, the age stigma is a, is a issue as well.
So those are the biggest ones that I've heard when it comes to di diabetes.
Shireen: Mm-hmm , you know, one of the things that you're talking about is, you know, the family just sort of being there, getting the right support, turning to each other, looking out like you are looking out for your son and making sure you're staying on top of his A1C numbers and doing all of that.
How important is it for family or significant others to be a part of this new lifestyle post diagnosis?
Serena: It's very important because anything can happen. I know I in my earlier years, I, I didn't wanna tell people I had diabetes. So if I was dating someone, I didn't wanna say that I had it. And there's one time where my blood sugar was really low and I didn't, I, I was not.
I was not, I can't say I, I was conscious, I was awake, but I still was in a confused state because my sugar was dangerously low. He didn't know what to do. He's freaking out like, what is going on? You're not telling me like, what is what's up? And at that point, I can't tell you anything, cuz I don't really, I can't really even think about what you're trying to ask me and,
I had to think to myself, okay. If I'm gonna be seriously dating someone or it could be friends, coworkers, anyone that you're around for a significant amount of time, especially work, they need to know that you have diabetes, because if something happens to you, they need to know what to do. In case of, so I, I went through, this is funny.
I went through with my family after that happened, I was like, look, okay, everybody needs to know what to do. I set my family down you know, to talk to them. And I talked to, I couldn't talk to them all at once. So I talked to them separately, but I was like, I need y'all to know how to give me a shot. When I need it, I need you to know how to check my blood sugar.
Let me tell you that was hard to get them to do cause they were like, oh I'm not touching the needle. I'm not touching that. I'm like, yes you are. Yes, you are. You're gonna do it today. And a few of them went ahead and did my mom did it for me. My brother did it for me. And I even taught my my, my nephew and my niece.
They know how to check my blood sugar. They know how to give me a. So cause I'm around them a lot. So it's important to teach your people that who are around you, what to do, anything can happen. You don't wanna be in a situation where you, something happens. You fall to a diabetic come and be, and it's not that other person fault.
They don't know what to do. And they're freaking out, you know, especially people who love you. That's hard for them to watch you in a state where they don't know what to do. They don't know how to help you. So to help you and to help. it's important to notify every one of what's going on.
Shireen: And this goes back to what you mentioned and or what we, what we narrated a few minutes ago in your bio. Like what you don't now can hurt you.
Serena: Yes. Yes. Most definitely. Most definitely.
Shireen: Yeah. And so, so with us, Serena, we are toward the end of this episode, can you tell our listeners how they can connect with you and just learn more about your org.
Serena: Yes. So Core Initiative has a website it's www dot people, nomics.org. That's P E O P L E N O M I X dot ORG. You'll find all the work that the organization is doing and what we're up to and what's coming up. You can also find me on Facebook. It's just Serena Valentine. Look me up. Some of the things are public.
Some things are not. I have been because I've been doing more interviews and videos. I have been accepting people for friend requests. Of course. I, I kind of look into it a little, a little bit, you know, social media could get a little crazy, but I have been accepting people from other places. For friend requests.
And so I have videos there. Most of my interactions will be on Instagram and TikTok. So on Instagram it's P R O V V as in Victor, 31 lady V. There, I have a lot of my journey from when I was 70 pounds heavier to now. And it's it's it, I've heard, I've heard it's inspirational. And on TikTok, I have a lot of videos where I talk about diabetes symptoms. I talk about things that other people don't talk about. I talk about the social issues, the socioeconomic issues. I do series on those. So you'll find all that on TikTok. I do have a few videos on YouTube through prevent blindness. I have two of them on there for that. I don't have my own YouTube channel yet.
Everyone says I should get one, but I don't know. I'm not in a hurry. But, yeah, that's the way those are the ways you can get in contact with me on Facebook. There's also Houston Diabetes, peer support program. So we are accepting people right now. It doesn't matter if you're not from Houston, don't Fret.
We we're still gonna take you cuz we want to be able to help you. Now, since we do virtual meetings, we can reach anyone anywhere.
Shireen: I love that. I absolutely love everything and, and I'm gonna throw my vote in for having your own YouTube channel as well. So for whatever that is worth, I'm gonna throw a vote in that, in that request as well with that Serena, it was such a pleasure having you on.
Thank you so very much for your time. Now to all of our listeners listening in, head over to our social media, head over to our Facebook, our Instagram, find the post for this very podcast and answer this quick question. How has peer support helped you live with diabetes. Again, head over to Facebook, at Instagram, we can find us on Facebook at Instagram, at, at yumlish_ on Instagram and at Yumlish on Facebook, we will see you on the other side of this episode and continue the conversation there.
Serena, thank you so much.
Serena: Thank you so much. Bye everyone.
Shireen: Thank you for listening to the Yumlish Podcast. Make sure to follow us on social media @Yumlish_ on Instagram and Twitter and @Yumlish on Facebook and LinkedIn. For tips about managing your diabetes and other chronic conditions and to chat and connect with us about your journey and perspectives. You can also visit our website Yumlish.com for more recipes advice and to get involved with all of the exciting opportunities Yumlish has to offer. If you like this week's show, make sure to subscribe so you can hear more from us every time we post. Thank you again, and we'll see you next time. Remember your health always comes first. Stay well.