I was the kind of diabetic child who refused to attend any sort of diabetes camps or events. I always told myself, I don’t need any diabetic friends. I can do this by myself. And I wasn’t exactly alone with my diabetes. My mother has type 1 diabetes, too. We’ve always had a diabetic partnership, and for most of my life that has been enough of a support system for me.
However, as years have gone on I have become more comfortable with the diabetic part of my identity, so much so that I joined the College Diabetes Network (CDN) last year, an organization whose mission is to empower and improve the lives of students living with type 1 diabetes through peer support and access to information and resources. Through CDN I started meeting other diabetics my age, and was blown away by how refreshing it was to chat with them about the daily challenges of living with diabetes as a college student. And thanks to CDN, I learned about an opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend the Children With Diabetes Friends for Life conference in Orlando, Florida. The CDN team, Christina Roth and Jo Treitman, encouraged me to go for it. This past April I applied, and by May, I had received the news that I was chosen as a scholarship recipient. I was overjoyed.
Fast forward to July 10th, when I found myself sitting next to my father, the most wonderful traveling companion, on a plane. Our destination was the Coronado Springs Resort located in Disney World, where we would spend the next five days taking advantage of all the conference had to offer. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I meet other people my age? Would I enjoy myself? Would I benefit from the conference? I was anxious, to say the least.
My concerns were allayed once I registered and saw a lobby full of conference attendees. I did my best to absorb the sea of faces before me: all of those people had something gigantic in common with me. It dawned on me that I would get to know some of them well over the course of the next few days, and I couldn’t wait to start the process of making some friends for life.
Before I go on, you might be wondering what exactly happens at a Children With Diabetes Friends for Life conference. In short, families or adults with type 1 gather to spend time together. Participants are are divided into groups by age. I was sorted into the college-age group, which was for 18-22 year olds.
For the duration of the conference, attendees are encouraged to participate in workshops that address a large variety of diabetes topics, like the latest technology for diabetics, dating and diabetes, starting a family with diabetes, and creating diabetes blogs. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica Apple and Michael Aviad at the diabetes bloggers session, as well as fellow bloggers Kerri Sparling and Scott Johnson. As a relatively new diabetes blogger, I found this workshop to be enlightening as I listened to the advice other bloggers had to offer. I’m excited to explore the intriguing realm of diabetes blogs and gain insight that I can apply to my own blog.
As far as the social aspect of the conference was concerned, I hit it off immediately with several people at the college dinner that was held on Wednesday night. Each person I spoke to had a different perspective on what it was like to be a young adult with diabetes. I was impressed by the clear resilience and independence of the students around me, and I was truly pleased to learn that diabetes wasn’t the only thing we all had in common. Thursday night proved to be fantastic, too. We attended the Friends for Life banquet and ball, which was a full-fledged party with food, music, and dancing. Then my newfound friends and I ventured to Downtown Disney and had a blast soaking up the magic of Disney World and exchanging stories – both diabetes related and unrelated.
One story that I heard at the conference particularly moved me. I was at Brandy Barnes’ workshop about Women and Diabetes – another excellent session – when a diabetic woman sitting next to me became emotional as she spoke about her young daughter with diabetes. She explained how she was dealing with guilt, as she felt responsible for her daughter’s diabetes. She feared the consequences this would have on her little girl later on in life. I felt a compelling need to reach out to this woman and let her know everything would be okay. I spoke to her briefly after the workshop, and explained to her that my mom and I are a diabetic duo, too. I told her that when her daughter grows up she’ll be grateful for her support, knowledge, and perspective as a fellow diabetic with a deeper understanding of diabetes. My mom and I can attest to how even though diabetes has tried to knock us down over the years, we’ve taken control of it and become stronger as a result. I gave the woman my e-mail and the address to my blog, and if she is reading this now, I want her to know that I meant what I said: everything will be okay.
Looking back now with the eyes of someone who attended the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life conference I can say that I regret – to a certain degree – not attending camps when I was younger. Being around others with diabetes has given me greater awareness of what it means to live with diabetes. Additionally, I am feeling more inspired than ever as a diabetic and a writer to put my story out there and do anything I can help and impact others, all while listening to and learning from what others affected by diabetes have to say about it, too.
Molly Johannes is a regular contributor to ASweetLife. She write the blog Diabetes Goes to College.