Monday, July 20, 2015

2015 CWD Friends for Life: Seeing life through new eyes

       I recently returned from my very first Children With Diabetes Friends For Life conference at the happiest place on earth aka Disney world. The magnitude of this incredible experience is still hitting me and I am permanently changed because of it. It was amazing to be in a place where the people all spoke the "language of diabetes", there was a mutual understanding of how precious life is, and the selection of gluten free foods was just as large as the gluten filled variety. At FFL, I felt so at peace
and calm, something that I have rarely felt in the 4 years since my diagnosis. Seeing those green bracelets of belonging made my heart oh so happy (people with diabetes wear green wristbands, supporters wear orange,  and people with celiacs wear yellow). I was meant to be in this wonderful place surrounded by these extraordinary people who will forever be my friends for life.
     I immediately knew that I was in for a life changing week when I went to my eye exam with the expert Dr. Ben and his friendly staff. I got my eyes checked with state of art of the equipment that you will not find anywhere else and my eyes were given a clean bill of health other than spots from drinking too much tap water (time to get a filtered water bottle). During the 3 hour exam, I met a family that I will never ever forget. They are a wonderful family that took me under their wing during the conference. Our first connection was that I had the same pump as their 10 year old son, and I later learned we were diagnosed just 2 weeks apart. The mom was so so sweet to me and was by my side when I had an ugly site rip out during the banquet. When they say CWD is like one big family, they are not kidding.

   I would never have been able to have these experiences without help from the Diabetes Scholars Foundation who made this trip possible for me. At first, I was concerned of finding "my group" among thousands of conference attendees, but that fear was quickly washed away after attending a session run by Sean Oser, Scott Johnson, and the hilarious Kerri Sparling. I met a wonderful group of people my age and I immediately felt at ease with them, just knowing that they were going through similar things and not to mention the diabetes jokes we could share :p. One night at dinner, we all ordered diet cokes and got a strange look from the waitress until M proudly held up his green bracelet and proclaimed, "we all have diabetes, that's why we all ordered diet coke". There is confidence in numbers and us people with diabetes will stick together through thick and thin. When we were at Magic Kingdom and someone had a low, we all sat on the ground together in line until all was well. More often than not, I was the low one and I for the first time I did not feel embarrassed about it because I was surrounded by those who understood. I will never again feel alone on the world of T1D because I now have an extensive support system of people that I can exchange advice with.
   At the end of the week, I walked away with not only new friendships but also HOPE for the future. I was fortunate enough to have attended Dr. Ed Damiano's session discussing his advancements with the Bionic Pancreas project. He introduced his new prototype for the only fully integrated, fully automated bihormonal bionic pancreas called the iLet. This device is set to be released in 2018 and will drastically change the lives of all those living with T1D, as we will no longer need to check our blood sugar or count carbs. Even though it will still require us to wear infusion sets and a CGM, it is a monster step forward and I know that this community can make it happen. I am so blessed to have discovered the CWD community and am already counting down the days until next year's conference. See you soon my friends <3