Looking Back on my First Diabetes Conference

This post was originally published on July 18, 2013, on the ASweetLife website. Since I’m away on vacation this week, and it also happens to be the week of the 2020 CWD FFL conference, I thought it’d be fun to look back on the diabetes conferences I’ve attended in the last seven years. I got very nostalgic when reading this old post – all the feelings that I had during that week rushed back at me. To this day, I feel so lucky that I got to go and meet so many amazing people with diabetes – many of whom have literally become my friends for life. Read on for my full conference experience…

Children With Diabetes Friends for Life Conference 2013: A First-Timer’s Report

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.

Looking Back on my First Diabetes Conference
I recreated my overjoyed reaction to receiving the scholarship almost immediately upon arriving to Disney. Here’s the photographic evidence.

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.

A Mother and Daughter with T1D Take on Disney World

About five months ago, I turned to my mother and asked, “Want to go to Disney World with me?”

“Just the two of us?”

“Yup.”

And just like that, a girls’ trip was born! I was so excited about the prospect of going to Disney World with my mom – the first and only other time she’d gone was back in 2000 – that I didn’t really think about some of the logistics; namely, that it would be somewhat daunting to handle a couple parts of the trip due to both of us having type 1 diabetes. I couldn’t help but wonder and worry about really minor issues, like:

  • How would we handle pod changes?
  • How many extra medical supplies would we need between the two of us?
  • What about food – did I schedule all of our dinners at appropriate times? Would we find healthy options in the parks?
  • How would we keep our insulin vials cool?

It’s not like I haven’t been to Disney World in recent years – in fact, this was my fourth time going in the last five years – but it was just different going with my mom. I was the only T1D there in the recent trips, so I only had to worry about taking care of myself. My mom certainly doesn’t need me to take care of her, but I just get anxious when it comes to making sure we’re both adequately prepared when we’re away from home (and from my dad)!

But I was absolutely not going to let diabetes get in our way. And truthfully? It didn’t, for the most part. After all, we’ve encountered just about every kind of diabetes scenario possible. And we’ve dealt with all of them. Just because we were away from home didn’t mean that all of our knowledge on how to take care of ourselves was going to disappear. Plus, traveling with another T1D comes with a major bonus: They know just as much as you do about diabetes. They’ll understand if you need to have a snack while waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion or if you can’t drink a beer in Germany because you’re too high. They just get it.

Of course, a vacation to Disney World is unlike any other getaway. There’s a lot of considerations to make, particularly if you have T1D. My mom and I made so many memories on our trip (most of them unrelated to T1D), but the following parts of our vacation stick out as I reflect on what it’s like specifically for two T1D girls to go to Disney World.

The most exciting part was having the chance to do something like this with my mom in the first place. For various reasons, I never thought we’d get the opportunity to do a girls’ trip – so the fact that we went was really cool for me (and hopefully for her, too).

The scariest part was planning the trip. I took on this responsibility and was happy to do it, but it was a little added pressure to make sure our daily plans would accommodate our wish lists of what we wanted to do, in addition to both of our diabetes.

The most frustrating part was guessing the carb counts for most of our meals. This is something I would love for Disney to work on – offering nutritional information for as many food items as possible. For the most part, we had success making educated guesses, but it would still be awesome if Disney could be a little more accommodating in this respect.

The most difficult part was finding a good place for us to change our pods. Due to how we schedule our pod changes, they were set to expire when we’d be well into our days at the parks. And even more irritating was that between the two of us, we’d need to change our pods on four separate days of our vacation. So it was definitely inconvenient timing, but diabetes doesn’t care about that! However, we worked it out by asking a cast member (a Disney employee) for some help. She told us that a companion bathroom would be our best bet, so each time we had to deal with a pod change, we located the nearest one and did what we needed to do. It was a little stressful to do our pod changes in such a small space, but the privacy was worth it. And even though it was a challenge, we overcame it.

The most relieving part was what didn’t happen – no pod failures the entire trip! That meant we watched our favorite Beauty and the Beast show at Hollywood Studios without interruption and rode countless rides in Magic Kingdom (her favorite was the Little Mermaid ride, mine was Pirates of the Caribbean) with nary a BEEEEEEEEEEP to be heard.

The most tiring part was walking 10 miles every day of our trip. Yes, 10 miles! We actually made a bit of a game out of it, to see if we could beat our mileage as we traveled from one park to the next. But I can’t say that this part didn’t come without its perks – walking so much really helped our blood sugars! It came in handy if we didn’t bolus enough at mealtimes, and when we were running low from all the movement, we were happy to correct with Mickey ice cream bars.

The most magical part was having dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table during the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Seriously, we lucked out – it’s said that Cinderella’s castle is the hardest dining reservation to make at Disney World, and if you hope to snag a booking, you’d better try to do it at least six months in advance. I desperately wanted to make this happen for me and my mom because Cinderella is our favorite princess. So when I did get a reservation for us, I knew it would be one of the best parts of our trip. Rest assured that diabetes was far from our minds as we milked this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

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The castle looked spectacular for the holidays.

From enjoying a glass of champagne over dinner at the castle to reveling at the gorgeous Christmas decorations adorning the Disney property, this trip was worth it in every way. Thank you to my mom for accompanying me, and an even bigger thank you to my dad for being cool with it. And at the end of the day, it was a pretty perfect way for a mother and daughter with diabetes to kick off National Diabetes Awareness Month, don’t you agree?