Running the CDN — Embracing Diabetes


Editor’s Note: In 2022, the College Diabetes Network rebranded to become The Diabetes Link, expanding their resources beyond college attendees to all young adults living with any type of diabetes.

I wake up at 5 a.m., roll over to check my continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Stress has kicked in and I’m over 300. No wonder why it was so hard to wake up. Take a correction and jump out of bed to quickly get myself ready in “corporate clothes,” makeup, heels, etc… good to go. It’s 6 a.m.

Run into Starbucks—get my usual excessively large coffee #1 and a Greek yogurt, quick bolus and then I review my notes. Check my screen—Shoot! It’s 6:30. Order another excessively large coffee (#2), another quick bolus and run out the door.

Power walk my way down the New York city block to an intimidatingly nice building and head up to the 50-something floor listed in the calendar invite. Check my CGM—no surprise there… residual high, latte and food have kept me nice and stable around 280. Resisting the urge to rage bolus, I chuck my CGM receiver back in my purse. And so it begins.

Diabetes doesn’t define my life… but my life does revolve around it. Just not in the way you would think.

Walking into the 20-person board room overlooking Central Park, pinching myself again that this is where we will be strategizing our plans for the next few years—for the second year in a row. So much work, and so many late nights, have gone into making today a success … only eight more hours to go until that glass of wine! Meghan, our development manager, has already made sure everything is ready—so I set up my laptop, spread out my notes and breathe.

Then the crew starts to arrive. One by one, each of the people who have become friends, mentors and passionate advocates for our mission walk in and settle in for a long day of discussions.

I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 14, but my “life” with diabetes as I know it didn’t really start until I was in my Junior year of college. That’s when I found other people with diabetes and when the College Diabetes Network (CDN) became a “thing.” Now, at age 26, I have served as chief executive officer of the (now national nonprofit) organization for over three years. My relationship with diabetes incorporates the normal day-to-day and minute-to-minute grind that is this damn disease. But it is also running this organization to connect and empower an entire community of young adults with diabetes—to change their lives, to make college safer and more fun and to make it possible for them to take the diabetes sector by storm as they enter the workforce after graduation.

I feel unrestrained bad-ass energy every day thanks to my job—energy which gives me motivation to take care of myself, to keep trucking through everything this disease throws at me. Because when it comes down to it—I have it pretty damn good compared to the vast majority of people with diabetes—and I am going to do everything in my power to try to extend the same opportunity to them too. That is my mission, my personal passion. Nobody should have to experience diabetes the way I once did, the way so many people still do.

In reality, I’m a relatively uncoordinated and only a moderately fit individual. If we are being honest, I’m never going to enter a boxing ring with anyone and come out like Mohammed Ali … but boy, do I feel that way when I go into meetings like this. I might as well have brought my pink boxing gloves (and yes, I seriously have some…).

Today is our BIG board meeting of the year—the one where all of the passionate, ridiculously smart and simply awesome individuals who serve on our board fly into a faraway city to all sit in a room together for hours on end. It’s where we review our recent successes, discuss everything we have planned for the next year, but more importantly, determine where we are going in the next 2, 5, 10 years and how we will get there.

We have come so far since 2009, now having over 75 affiliated campus-based chapters (with another 25 in development!), a free student membership program, partnerships with national organizations such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA), JDRF and many others, resources for every aspect of diabetes for young adults, a Facebook group to help parents of students to connect—sometimes it all makes my head spin. I am so grateful that it is no longer just myself and colleague/friend Jo Treitman working 24/7….we now have an unbelievable team in the national office, amazing student interns and a national network of student leaders creating their own impact across the country. It reminds me of a ripple effect—the impact just keeps expanding and building.

I think back to where I was personally back in 2009, pursuing a psychology degree—to where I am now, running an organization and being responsible for everything that comes with it. Thriving in being able to provide support and opportunities for thousands of young adults with diabetes and creating an entire platform to sustain future generations of young adults to come is extremely rewarding.

I’m reminded of a slide presented by the keynote speaker at the recent Children with Diabetes (CWD) conference, one that I now have saved on my desktop. The slide had the traits needed to successfully manage diabetes—traits which diabetes fosters on the left. And on the right were traits identified by the top chief executive officers in major companies. They were all the same. Detail oriented, independent, willing to reach out for support when needed, “planner”, etc. Sound familiar?

I loved that slide as it illustrated so perfectly how I ended up where I am today, and the unexpected role that diabetes has played in getting me here. Beyond that, it illustrated how connecting CDN’s community of student leaders with the diabetes world will be game-changing for all of us, and why we can’t stop doing everything that we are doing to develop this network.

This is how I embrace diabetes. This is how I fight diabetes. And this is my small part in trying to make life better for everyone with diabetes.

The Diabetes Link, formerly known as the College Diabetes Network, provides peer support, resources, and leadership opportunities designed specifically for young adults. Learn more here. 

WRITTEN BY Christina Roth, POSTED 04/07/16, UPDATED 10/18/22

Christina is the chief executive officer and founder of CDN. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14, Christina became an active patient advocate while in college where she started CDN as a campus group in 2009. Due to the overwhelming response to the initial group, Christina expanded CDN into a national non-profit organization serving young adults with diabetes. She now lives in Boston with her black lab Arya, and when not working, can usually be found on the back of a horse or doing yoga. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Christina worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and consulted for the T1D Exchange. Christina served as president of CDN until 2013, when she was appointed CEO of the organization. As CEO, Christina frequently speaks on topics such as CDN’s programs, research on the young adult population and how to meet their unique needs, nonprofit management, women in business, innovation and start-up organizations.