Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Friends For Life Canada 2019

If you’ve read my blog, you know about my undying love for the Friends For Life Orlando conference. This weekend I attended the 2nd ever Friends For Life Canada. And as you can imagine, my love hasn’t changed.

For those of you who haven’t read about Friends For Life yet, it’s a conference for people with Type 1 Diabetes and their loved ones that is put on by Children with Diabetes. In Canada, it’s also put on by Connected in Motion. The colours green and orange never mean more than they do here. Green bracelets are designated for people living with Type 1, and orange bracelets are worn by those who love somebody with Type 1.

My mom and I (green bracelets) with Jess and my dad (orange bracelets).

This year the conference was special to me for two reasons. The first is that last year we were meant to attend, but I ended up in the hospital. My health got in the way, as it does sometimes. So I was super thankful that this year it didn’t get in the way and I actually got there! The second reason being that my cousin Jess, who is probably the person closest to me in my life, found out she could join us last minute. Having her there and watching her have fun learning even more about Type 1 than what she already knows from watching me, was such a sweet experience. She is the best supporter and my sister in life, and I’m so glad I got to do this with her.

Me (left) and Jess (right)

Friends For Life Canada is much smaller than the Orlando conference. Just over 500 people, compared to just over 2000 people. So that had its pros and cons. A big pro being that it’s much more intimate. Another pro being that you’re meeting a ton of amazing people who live closer to you! So hangouts over the year are even more possible.

The conference started with a room full of people and a truly moving keynote speech by George Canyon. George is a country singer, as well as a part of the Canadian Armed Forces and a pilot. He has been tirelessly advocating for Type 1 diabetics to be able to have more rights to fly planes, and as you can see in the news lately, it has paid off. This man is truly one of a kind, and he captivated the room with his life story, teaching all the kids there that they can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do with Type 1 Diabetes.

The audience during George Canyon's keynote.
With George Canyon and Laura Billetdeaux.

That Friday night, Niagara Falls were lit blue for Diabetes awareness in honour of Friends For Life. It was so special to look out the hotel room and see one of the wonders of the world representing us.

Niagara Falls lit blue for diabetes awareness.

Now onto a slightly less serious topic, but very important - food. I can never write about my Friends For Life experience without talking about the food. So thankful to the team from Children With Diabetes who work for hours upon hours on figuring out the carb counts for all the food they serve. Because of them, the people with Type 1, and all the parents of the younger Type 1 kids can have a break from the exhausting task it is to constantly be carb counting at every meal. It seems like a small thing, but it is such a nice little mental break that we don’t realize we need until we get it.

The sessions I attended that stood out to me were Body Positivity & T1D by Dr. Deanna Paolantonio, and Advocacy & T1D by Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada. I wanted to share the following photo I took during Kimberley’s session, which details what we have successfully fought for people with Type 1 in Canada to be allowed to do, and what we’re still fighting for.

Slide from Kimberley Hanson's session.

 We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go! But I just wanted to share my gratitude to those who are fighting for our rights, and especially thank Diabetes Canada for all they do.

I also have to write about my own session, which I had the honour of presenting with my friend, Michelle Lord. Early Sunday morning we presented our talk; Diabetes Online Community: Making connections in the T1D digital world. We had a great time talking about the positives of social media, and how powerful it can be in bringing us together. You might be able to catch a little bit of it on her YouTube channel, which is quite amazing if I say so myself.

Unfortunately, we had to leave a tiny bit early from the closing keynote by Banting House curator Grant Maltman. I say unfortunately, because we did get to see most of it, and what we saw was so insanely captivating. So much so that I wish that the entire world could hear what he had to say. We learned about the discovery of insulin, back to times way before the beloved Banting and Best, and what diabetes was like in the world before it even had a name. I hope I get to see him tell this story again in the future! It really is a mind blowing story and he tells it so well.

Banting on the cover of Time magazine.

I left Friends For Life Canada feeling that amazing sense of community that lights me up every summer in Orlando. I already miss the fruit punch that is always served, but more importantly, I miss seeing green and orange bracelets everywhere I look and knowing that I was among people who just get it. The feeling of giving myself an injection in the middle of a room and not wondering what people around me are thinking about it... not feeling like I’m doing something out of the ordinary, never fails to take my breath away. Knowing that everywhere you turn is a family who has been through that fateful diagnosis day, and is now doing their best to get through every day with this disease, is as comforting as being wrapped in a blanket. Friends For Life feels like freedom. From from the confines of social stigma, from the isolation that Type 1 Diabetes can bring, and free from any feeling of being different. True, pure, happy freedom.

Thank you Connected in Motion and Children With Diabetes for an amazing weekend that I won’t forget anytime soon.


  1. So happy to have finally met you Michelle. We will have to get you out on our sailboat this summer with your Mum and Dad. Keep on doing what you're doing and my two cats .. Dexter and Fernando both say hi to you and Ben \\^,,^//

    1. So happy to have met you too! And doesn't that sound like fun!

  2. It might be fun to come to Orlando. Even if it might be a little chilly. I am glad you had fun, we will have on in Indianapolis.

    1. Have an amazing time! One of my diabesties will be there :) You definitely have to come to Orlando though! It's wild.

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