Monday, July 10, 2017

My Friends for Life 2017 Experience - Year 2

Last summer I had one of the best summers I've ever had. One of the reasons was because I attended Children With Diabetes' Friends For Life conference for my first time. This is a conference for people with Type 1 Diabetes, and it is HUGE. Over 2000 people attend, all people with Type 1 Diabetes, and the rest who love someone with Type 1 Diabetes.

This year (and they've now announced for the years to come), it was at a Disney hotel, which gave it that extra little bit of excitement, because who doesn't love Disney? In my humble opinion it makes it a lot harder to be sad on Disney property.

We flew out on Tuesday, which was registration day. You go in, you get your FFL tee, and you get a green or orange bracelet. Green for Type 1. And Orange for Type 3 (someone who loves someone with T1D). They also provide an extra yellow bracelet to those who have Celiac Disease, which is very common in Type 1! This allows them to go into the special gluten free buffet at meal times.

Morgan, Gretchen, and I with our green bracelets. Morgan has an extra yellow one!

 My parents and I got organized, checked out the hotel grounds for a bit, and then I met up with one of my best T1D friends, Mary. She is with Beyond Type 1 who had a session, and a booth in the exhibit hall, so let's just say she was pretty busy, and I feel so lucky that we got to sit in a restaurant for two hours and just chat and have some time to ourselves before things got crazy.

The next morning, I met up with my FFL from last year, Morgan, who I love dearly and it was so good to be reunited. Next came Gretchen. Gretchen and I have been pen pals for over a year, and when we found out she was coming to the conference this year, it was Beyond exciting. So you can imagine our giant hug when we saw each other. It was so surreal and getting to spend the week with her was so special. Now we were just missing our FFL from last year, Ashlyn, who got stuck coming a day late because of school, but arrived the next day and got bombarded with hugs.
Gretchen, Morgan, and I waiting for Ashlyn with our Diet Cokes.

 That day is what I called Day 1. It was the first day full of sessions, meals, events, and the exhibit hall. The first session I attended was 'Meet Chris Ruden'.  Chris Ruden is a power lifter with Type 1 who is also a motivational speaker. He was born with a congenital defect; he has 2 fingers on one hand and a shorter left arm.   I had previously followed Chris on Instagram and didn't know much about him except for the fact that he was good at lifting weights. He has a large social media presence so I figured I'd choose his session to go to, to see what he's all about. And I was amazed. There is a reason that guy is a motivational speaker. And that's because his words make you want to get up and do something. Right then and there. As someone who also has multiple disabilities, it was definitely a very inspiring session for me. Hearing his story about him accomplishing what everyone told him he could ever do was so powerful.

The awesome Chris Ruden and I...He has slightly more muscle.

Next was the session I was most excited for; Beyond Type 1 and Bike Beyond! Team Bike Beyond is a group of cyclists with Beyond Type 1 who are currently biking accross the USA to raise funds and awareness for T1D.. and they are unbelievable. So in this session, we got to do a Skype-like session with them. Mary, Dana, and Michelle from Beyond Type 1 stood onstage and did a great job asking questions to the bikers. It was exciting to see some familiar faces who are on the Global Ambassador Council with me. If you go to Beyond Type 1's Facebook page, this was actually live streamed so you can watch it for yourself! These people blow my mind every day, and I am so grateful for their strength and willingness to give it their all to raise awareness.

Some pictures from the Beyond Type 1 Session, with Mary onstage.

Next was the Grand Opening Ceremony. If you read my post from last year, you'll know that every item of food is CARB COUNTED Yes, the carb counts for everything are out on the table. It really is Type 1 Diabetes heaven.

It was also the opening of the exhibit hall, which is always my one of my favorite parts. All the sponsors, and many other t1d organizations and shops set up stations, and have fun, interactive things to do. Especially for the kids. Tic Tac Toe basketball, slime making stations, bean bag tossing, etc. As usual, there were also great giveaways and handouts from various companies. Bags, MANY fidget spinners this year, tees, stress balls, stickers, etc.. let's just say you need an extra suitcase for all of the gifts they give you.

Some pictures from the Exhibit Hall.

Some of my favorite booths included Myabetic, because I happen to be in love with their bags. Beyond Type 1 had a gorgeous booth and had people writing letters to the Bike Beyond Team while they're on the road! I wish they had a more prominent spot in the hall because what they do is really so unique and incredible. Connected in Motion, who takes people with T1D on fun excursions and camping trips also had a great booth. I was also so excited that Genteel was there with their own booth! They had a fun game going on. If you could guess your blood sugar when they tested it, your name would get put in a draw to win a Genteel. One of my highlights was spending quite a while chatting with the doctor who invented the Genteel. A brilliant, and kind man. I found I learned a lot in that conversation. Of course Pump Peelz was there doing some great giveaways and selling Peelz at discounted prices, and you know we can all never get enough Pump Peelz. All the big companies like Animas, Tandem, Lilly Diabetes, NovoNordisk, Dexcom, and Omnipod were also there. I'm sure I'm missing mentioning a lot!

After that, we were fortunate enough to get to see Crystal Bowersox perform live, and she really has the most gorgeous voice.

Day 2 started with a session by Dr. Desmond Schatz. His presentation was heavily dedicated to the urgency of changing the way the world cares for Diabetes. He had great slides and held my interest (which is not an easy feat!).

Some slides from that morning.

The next session I went to was 'How to Get Support Using Apps, the Internet, and Social Media'. I loved the panel for this session, as it was run by two of my favorite this people in the DOC (Diabetes Online Community), Kerri Sparling, and Scott Johnson. I look up to them as mentors, as well as friends, and I'm so fortunate for that. It was a fun discussion and I always love discussing social media for good use.
With Scott and Kerri.

Every year there is a Family and Friends Banquet with a different theme. This year was Country Jamboree, so it was a fun and easy one to dress for. We saw lots of plaid, overalls, and cowboy hats. During this dinner, one of my favorite singers, Raelynn, performed. I met her last year and met her the day before in the exhibition hall, and she is so kind. But what was even more exciting was sitting on the edge of the stage watching her perform her new hit album so close up. I even managed to grab a set list... I'm a 12 year old fangirl deep inside about many things.

Country Jamboree night, with Raelynn performing.

On Day 3, I went to a session called 'Supporting a Healthy Body Image', which I really enjoyed. I stopped and spoke to some parents of T1D teens after the session, and it was nice to be able to give my insight to them because I was that 14 year old T1D kid at one point.

Day 4. Last day. As most people are all packed up, we headed to the Farewell Breakfast, that was slightly more exciting this year because there were Disney characters. But like last year, this was the hardest part... saying goodbye to these people who you've barely spent any time with yet feel like family. Knowing you'll all be spreading out to your own little part of the world, far away from one another, until next year. And leaving that safe bubble that is Friends for Life. Where there are test strips everywhere, where no one has to ask what that weird device you're wearing on your arm is, and where everyone comes together and goes into this amazing little bubble for a few days. Because these are your people. They are the ones who know what it's like to have to be constantly monitoring your blood sugar, and giving the proper dose of medication with no one's help but your own. They are the parents of T1D children, who essentially have to work as their pancreas as a second job. They are the kids who have to be bribed to test their blood sugar or to treat their highs and lows... who are just trying to be kids. They are the ones who never get a break... yet somehow, Friends for Life kind of feels like our break. For all of us... kids, adults, and everything in between.

We love Minnie.

As this year wraps up, I want to remind myself that throughout the year I will have something important to look forward to next year. Something to give me motivation on those days I want to give up. Because a year really does fly by. Until next year, FFL.


  1. It was so good to see you, even if it was for a moment. And I never even got to see your mom! See you next year!

  2. Hi Joanne!
    It was so good to see you too- I wish we had more time to chat!