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Personal Stories

Meet Sarah Petti – Diabetes and Women’s Health Advocate

From her early days as a Girl Scout in middle school, Sarah Petti knew she wanted to dedicate her life to the service of others. She even aspired to join the Peace Corps, but her type 1 diabetes diagnosis at age 15 decidedly set her on a new path. Petti soon found ways to make a positive difference—by combining her life experiences and interests, she could serve the diabetes community in her own unique way.

Meet Sarah Petti – Diabetes and Women’s Health Advocate

A Different Path

Petti said she always had a strong desire to get out into the world and make a difference. “What I hadn’t considered until I went through my own struggles with diabetes is that I could actually help people who were just like me – people with type 1, people with any type of diabetes.”

Today, Petti is a DiabetesSangha facilitator, yoga and meditation instructor, integrative nutrition health coach, full-spectrum doula, host of The Diabetes Doula Podcast, and founder of Grace & Growth, a group focusing on spiritual wellness for women with diabetes.

About Sarah Petti

Petti was diagnosed her freshman year in high school at her pediatrician’s office during a routine physical. “I was really lucky I never went into DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) or was put into an emergency situation. I had a very thorough pediatrician who sent me directly to Boston.”

Petti’s father was recovering from bilateral knee replacement surgery at the time, and her parents’ focus was getting him through the major event. “I think it was easy for them to miss some signs. I had to use the bathroom all the time and was so thirsty. I was eating all the snacks in the house—I went through all of the peanut butter crackers, granola bars and juice boxes way too fast, and I was getting in trouble. They were like, ‘Why are you eating everything?!’”

“But that hunger was just so intense, and as my blood sugars crept up, the hunger was even more present. I definitely felt hungry and tired." Petti said she would be exhausted returning from soccer practices. She was a competitive soccer player and made the varsity team as a freshman. After school she took long naps and was losing weight.

T1D Synchronicity

The famous Swiss psychologist and author Carl Jung describes synchronicity as “unusual and meaningful coincidences, linking the internal and external worlds of the individual.”

Petti had no family history of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and believed that synchronicity helped her to understand and prepare for this new challenge. Diabetes showed up several times right around her diagnosis.

“I watched the Babysitters Club at a friend’s house, maybe a day or two before I was diagnosed. I remembered thinking, ‘Poor Stacy, she has low blood sugar and wanted to go on a hike.’”

Petti also saw someone in a study group wearing an insulin pump and started a conversation with him. But the real clincher was that Petti learned about diabetes in school the very same day of her diagnosis.

“We have to pay attention to stuff like that. It has helped me as part of this acceptance journey. Maybe this was meant to be, and if we look for the signs, I’m comforted by it.”  

Diabetes Side Effects and Dual Diagnosis

Petti admits she struggled with the chronic illness for the first seven years or so. “It was like a back-and-forth of managing my diabetes well and then being really burnt out. My parents were a little hands-off because I took responsibility and made it seem like I was doing okay. The doctor put me on an archaic regimen called 70/30.”

70/30 insulin treatment is a premixed insulin that works in two ways: rapid-acting insulin to control mealtime blood sugar spikes and intermediate-acting insulin to control blood glucose for up to 24 hours.

The doctors wouldn’t give Petti an insulin pump until she gained better control of her time in range (TIR) and lowered her A1C. Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that measures an individual’s average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months.

“I struggled for a few years. When I was about 21, I was hospitalized with DKA for the first time. It was rock bottom, where I said to myself, ‘Okay, this is serious, you’re not a teenager anymore.' You’re trying to build a life, and my poor parents were devasted. They didn’t want to see me in such a state, so I decided to make a change.”

Petti recommitted to her diabetes management but said she wasn’t educated on how to lower her A1C properly. “When I reduced it drastically, I ended up with the diabetes complications I was trying to avoid. I got really sick that year and also had Lyme disease at the same time, so it was just a really bad year.”

Petti said she was also dealing with some severe GI issues, which ended up being gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition that causes the stomach to have weak muscular contractions and a delayed response to emptying.  

Symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • An early feeling of fullness
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Weightloss
  • Abdominal pain

How to Stay Uplifted

When something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually a sign our bodies are trying to tell us something. It’s important to be aware of how you feel physically and mentally. Focus on signals and listen to your body’s needs. Getting a second opinion is not only okay; it’s sometimes essential.

“I was told, “You haven’t had diabetes long enough to have this kind of complication, which I know now from being a part of the diabetes community that just isn’t the case. There are T1Ds with diabetes for a short time that end up with complications, and sometimes it doesn’t even reflect how well we’ve managed our diabetes.”

“I got really into not just the physical parts of diabetes but the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of diabetes.”

Bio-Individual Health

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition refers to bio-individuality as its core wellness philosophy—there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to health and nutrition. Petti believes people have their unique biological makeup and that everyone’s body responds differently.

“I ended up with these complications, which set me on a path to navigate through them and my life with diabetes while still leaning into the things that make me feel good. Of course, I need insulin to stay alive, but I started exploring different alternative healing modalities. I got really into yoga, mindfulness and meditation.”

Integrative Health Coach

Petti originally intended to become a diabetes educator but switched to studying integrative nutrition. “I realized there was so much out there I felt really passionate about exploring.”

“As health coaches, we are taught many different healing modalities, which allows us to gain a greater understanding of the resources we can offer, knowing that what works for one person might not work for another.”  

“And for me, what’s worked has changed over time, and that’s the message I like to share with others: Just having an awareness of ‘how does a meal make you feel when you eat it?’”

“And stay with that awareness because I think, at times, we’re all just going through the motions in life. Be intuitive, and ask yourself, what do you want to eat right now? Does dairy upset your stomach? What’s the best way to fuel my body to feel my best?”

DiabetesSangha

Next, Petti became a yoga teacher and started facilitating meditations for the community, leading her to become one of the founders of DiabetesSangha. In 2020, along with Brooke Cassoff and Sam Tullman, Petti established DiabetesSangha, a group dedicated to meditation and mindfulness practices for people with type 1 diabetes. The year after COVID-19, facilitator Peter Friedfeld revived the organization. You can find DiabetesSangha’s events and schedule here.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Studies show that meditation and mindfulness have as many health benefits as physical exercise. The practice also reduces stress, anxiety, depression and pain. The National Institutes of Health found that meditation can even lower blood pressure and improve sleep.

“Many people think, ‘I can’t do it,’ but they don’t understand that we don’t see the results during the practice itself. We see it in the other areas of our lives. When we practice meditation, we practice getting back to that present moment. It might mean that when you’re out living your busy day, you have the skill set and conditioning to return to the present moment. You may come back to your diabetes before you sit behind the wheel of your car. Or realize, what is that tingling I’m feeling? Could I be going low? I might need to check my Dexcom right now. My mediation practice creates spaces in other areas of my life where maybe I’m not being as mindful – it helps to train my brain to come back.”  

Full Spectrum Doula

Petti’s T1D experience and complications moved her to not only study integrative nutrition and meditation but also to become a full-spectrum doula. As a diabetes full-spectrum doula, Petti’s practice offers services to people with all types of diabetes, providing holistic, high-level assistance.

A doula provides informational, advocacy, emotional, and physical support to someone going through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. In comparison, a full-spectrum doula takes an individual through all stages of reproductive health, which is everything from menstrual cycles to menopause, including preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum, as well as grief, loss and abortion.

Most importantly, The Diabetes Doula is committed to providing compassionate, gender-affirming care and support to anyone in need, regardless of financial circumstances.

The Diabetes Doula Podcast

The Diabetes Doula Podcast explores the journey of women from pregnancy, postpartum, and reproductive health ‘through the lens of living with diabetes.’ The program is currently available on Spotify and YouTube.

Grace & Growth

For the last decade, Petti has lent her support to individuals with all types of diabetes, both in the Boston area as well as virtually. After attending a Connected in Motion Slipstream event. “A lot of the feedback I was getting was we need more of this on anxiety and eating disorders, kind of the hard parts of life.”

“I had been a peer support leader for many years in the Boston area and couldn’t meet in person anymore, so I decided to bring it online. Then, in 2020 (with COVID), it was perfect that I had built up this space. Initially, we met once a month and then transitioned to meeting once a week during lockdown.”

Petti founded her support group, Grace & Growth, in 2019. The group focuses on spiritual wellness for women with diabetes. Any woman with any type of diabetes is welcome to join; however, much of the content is geared toward women living with T1D. Grace & Growth is inclusive to anyone who identifies as a woman who is living with any diabetes: T1D, T2D, prediabetes, LADA, and gestational.

“It’s a group for women with diabetes, also non-binary and gender non-conforming. We welcome all into our space. We focus on mental health and spiritual wellness versus the practical T1D management tips, though we certainly discuss pre-bolusing and diabetes issues.”

The Garden

“We meet on Wednesday nights for what we call the Garden. That name comes from a quote by Jack Cornfield, “which is water the part of the garden which you can tend to.” The Garden is a private, non-recorded group video chat.

“So for myself, as I would love to change the world, we can only change the part of the world we can touch, and if more of us just focused on our communities, I think that would allow this world to become a better place without this overwhelming idea that one person has to take it all on,” said Petti.

“This is my free resource and contribution to the community. It’s so casual; I tell people to come in their PJs. I have Zoom open for 2 hours, and it’s an open-door policy: show up when you can stay as long as you want. 7-9 pm EST. We share our roses, our thorns, and the best and worst of our week. It can relate to diabetes, but sometimes it’s not diabetes related but through the lens of diabetes.”

Find Your Diabetes Community

Discovering the diabetes community, whether in-person or virtual, is a powerful peer support.

Petti urges other T1Ds to find a community and find people who understand what it’s like to be you. “Maybe that means finding a space that connects you with a hobby, whether it’s Connected in Motion, rock climbing, canoeing, whatever that may be, just find like-minded people with diabetes that you can connect with, and I think that life just feels a little easier.”

Petti also believes narrative medicine is powerful and healing. “Take it in and reflect on your own experience. Even if it’s different, it stirs ideas inside us.”

Advice for the Newly Diagnosed

Petti advises someone new to T1D, “Just surrender to what is, and be grateful. I’m thankful for the insulin in my fridge, amazing diabetes technology, my supportive partner and my family. It is a wonderful, supportive community, and I feel super grateful for all the gifts diabetes has brought me rather than what it’s taken.”

Today, Petti lives between Boston and Cape Cod on the East Coast with her husband, son, Angus and mini Aussie, Hawkeye.

“These days, I try to help empower people with diabetes when it comes to their reproductive health and wellness in general. I feel I live a life well with complications. They’re a part of life, and I think my spiritual practice, much of what we do with DiabetesSangha, allows me to examine how some of this is just outside of my control, and that’s okay.”

You can find Sarah Petti on:

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