The Children with Diabetes “Friends for Life Conference” in Orlando is just that, a network of friends, families and medical professionals sharing the power of a community. As a person living with diabetes for over 25 years it is magical; only elevated by the Disney atmosphere surrounding everyone. The young kids that attend the program are mesmerized at the sight of the princess castle while, unknowingly at times, getting a grand education on living with diabetes and building relationships with others who also wear a neon green bracelet!
The conference is flooded with green wristbands that signify you have type 1 diabetes. It’s a proud announcement you make to everyone in a very visual way. I heard from many that did not have that color bracelet say they felt left out. I would have felt left out too! I flashed mine giving high fives to others who had one! It felt GREAT because I wasn’t alone.
Smiles spread across so many faces as the opening speech was given, the content of which flowed up and down many emotional paths. I found myself holding back tears, even shedding a few, at the immense gratitude being given to members of the FFL family we had lost. A great bit of advice was given to everyone in attendance. The advice was to learn while you were here is to learn.
“Learn from the medical professionals, learn from the exhibitors, but most importantly LEARN from the families and people living with diabetes that are here.”
Now let the magic begin! The Glu Team had a booth in the exhibit hall and we spoke with so many members and soon to be supporters. The Glu community’s focus on research was a new concept to most but immediately valued by all. I understand how difficult it is to reveal your emotions about diabetes to strangers and how hard it is to take that first dive in. For those who weren’t interested in an online community, I asked, “Do me a favor, for everyone wearing a green bracelet, please take the surveys we offer on Glu. Researchers and others are making decisions based on community feedback.” That message held true to everyone and the primary purpose of Glu became clear.
Friends for Life is wonderful because it allows adults with T1D to attend discussions, presentations, and focus groups covering the most intriguing topics in diabetes. Everything from diabetes stress management, the art of mediation, to giving feedback to device companies on the new screens should look and function is offered.
I saw life changing moments happen before my eyes. I witnessed a parent overwhelmed because her daughter’s blood sugar was low in another room. She didn’t know whether to stay involved in the discussion or go be with her daughter. She raised her hand and spoke to everyone in the room about what she was feeling.
“Just breathe” said the doctor that was presenting. “Just breathe it’s the best thing you can do.”
He told everyone in the room to take a deep breath, hold it, and let it out slowly. You could hear the sound of the entire room’s exhale, like the ocean’s wave rolling on the shore, and the tension in the room dissipated.
The fact that this parent shared so openly with us allowed others to speak freely about what was overwhelming them as well. The honest, open feelings that had been trapped inside people for far too long came out and others gave uniting and helpful support. We all shared challenge of living with diabetes.
Moments like that happened through out the entire conference. The optimism that everyone shared was as bright as the neon green bracelets. I got to meet so many diabetes friends in person that I had only known virtually as my diabetes online family. I even danced with a few too! It was so great to share the joy and passion I have for diabetes with others whose personal mission is the same.
I was sad to leave the comfort of camaraderie, the smell of glucose tabs, and the land of Mickey Mouse, but all good things must come to an end. I got on the plane with renewed hope and a strong sense of support from the diabetes community. I can say proudly that I attended the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life conference in 2013 and will be sharing with others the magic that truly happens right outside a fairytale castle.