Sunday, July 10, 2016

Friends for Life

Friends for Life is a conference put on yearly by Children with Diabetes in Orlando, Florida. This year my parents and I decided to make the trip and go, and it was the best decision we've made in a long time. I have so much to say about my experience that I almost don't know where to start. This year had over 1800 people attending, all either someone with Type 1 Diabetes, or someone who loves someone with Type 1 Diabetes. It went from Tuesday until Sunday morning and I am writing this from the flight home feeling pretty devastated that it's over for this year. I'm going to warn you right off the bat that this blog post is going to be a little bit disjointed. Not only am I pretty exhausted from the busy week, but my feelings about my experience are so raw that they're all over the place. 

I want to say that I'm speechless when it comes to my reaction to this amazing conference, but this is a blog, so I can't. I was talking to my mom tonight and I said to her, "It feels so incredible being in a place where you're the 'normal'". People with Type 1 Diabetes everywhere. A place where it's completely routine to pull out your meter and test your blood sugar or inject. A place where "I'm low" or "I'm high" is the usual language. A place where everyone acts like family because we are all in this together. 

Arriving on Tuesday we had no idea what to expect, but we were definitely excited. I was eager to head straight to the registration area, so we went ahead there. We were greeted by friendly faces and given a guide book, name tags with 'first timer' ribbons, and wristbands. The people who had Type 1 wore green bracelets and the people who loved someone with Type 1 wore orange. There was also an additional yellow bracelet for people who had Celiac disease or couldn't eat gluten. 

Over the next two days we went to many sessions by some of the most incredible people in the *DOC. There were multiple sessions going on at the same time so a lot of the time I had trouble picking which one I wanted to go to! Some of the ones I ended up choosing were "Finding Support in the Diabetes Online Community", "Dealing with Burnout", "How to Share Your Family Stories as Powerful Diabetes Advocates", "Is a Career in Health Care Right for You?", "Thriving with Type 1 Diabetes: My NASA Story", and "Diabetes Can Be Complicated". Talking about the DOC was definitely my type of session. It was more of a discussion than a session, and I quickly learned that this is the type of session that I preferred. I enjoyed sitting with my peers and discussing life with Type 1 over sitting down and watching a scientific PowerPoint presentation. Now there is nothing wrong with the more scientific sessions, and my mom seemed to really enjoy those ones, but it's definitely a personal preference. We were encouraged as first timers to leave a session if we weren't feeling it and quietly go into another one so that we could get the most out of it. I have to say that I did do this once with a session that I didn't list here. My personal favorite person to hear speak was definitely Kerri Sparling, the amazing (and equally hilarious) woman behind the blog Six Until Me. I think she truly became a role model of mine during this past week. I would be thrilled to be just like her one day. Throwing humour into diabetes, being an advocate, a blogger, and a friend to everyone, and inspiring people like she inspired me. 

One of my favourite parts was the exhibition hall. It was so much more than what I expected. So many freebies and giveaways, and kind people educating about their products or charities. Kids running around with Snow Cones. Custom hats and bags being made with airbrushes. Pump Peelz being sold. Meet ups with amazing Type 1s like Crystal Bowersox from American Idol, Raelynn from The Voice (who I was particularly excited to meet), and Steven Brickhouse from American Ninja Warrior. Country singers George Canyon and Eric Paslay were also in attendance and performed at events. Omnipod had a station set up for kids and adults alike to decorate demo pods. All the siblings and parents who didn't have Type 1 loved it and wore the pods proudly! It would have been hard to tell who had Type 1 had it not been for the green and orange wristbands!  Like I said, it was one place where having Type 1 was the 'normal', and I think for once the people who didn't have Type 1 actually felt a bit left out!
There was something so special about watching these kids run around with their friends with dexcoms on their arms and looking like they felt proud of it. They were showing off their pumps and running around without a care in the world. They just looked like they felt at home. I always think that I'd love to be a big sister toward kids with Diabetes, but it's really me who is looking up to them. These kids are handling Type 1 like pros.

Now let's talk about the food. The amazing, carb counted food. You heard me correctly. All the food at this event was carb counted for us to save us the hassle, and it felt like heaven. This was one of the things I dreaded missing most going back to real life. I think I drank enough sugar free, carb free fruit punch to last me all year. 

There is a reason this conference is called Friends for Life. At this conference, we are all going through the same thing. The same full time job that is Type 1 Diabetes. The same daily health scares and struggles. Together, we can cry about it and we can laugh about it. I made friends with people less than half my age and people more than twice my age. In 5 short days, I made friends for life. We will keep in touch and reunite with huge hugs next year at Coronado Springs and I can't wait. 

*DOC - Diabetes Online Community


  1. Woo-hoo! I remembered the name of your blog (I know I wrote it down, but I lost the paper I wrote on - I'm old).

    It was so nice to meet you and I loved reading your perspective on FFL. See you next year! Say hi to your Mom for me.

    1. Hi Joanne! So happy you remembered the name! Woohoo! My mom says hi back. We'll definitely be seeing you next year :)

  2. P.S. Love the pic of you and my girl!