October 26, 2015, my diagnosis day, I took to the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) for support. Upon looking up hashtags on Instagram and joining many Facebook groups, I was able to realize that there are many people out there who are walking the same walk that I am. I am SO thankful that I became part of the DOC because I made many online friends and connected with my local JDRF chapter. But, something was still missing. I still had yet to spend any time with anyone else living with T1D and even though I was part of online groups of thousands of PWD (people with diabetes), I still felt alone.
In one of the many Facebook groups I have joined, I came across a thread about an event called Friends for Life and everyone seemed beyond excited to attend. I decided to Google this event and to my surprise, it was very close to home in Orlando, FL. I applied for a scholarship through the Diabetes Scholars Foundation and was blessed to be awarded a scholarship to attend. Let the planning begin.... I had NO CLUE what I was in for.
Friends for Life is largely about making new friends and connections but, there is MUCH more to gain from this experience as well. One of my favorite parts of the week was the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall was full of different vendors. I got to take a look at different products like Pump Peelz, GlucoLift, and SpiBelt. I got the opportunity to speak to the people behind organizations like Beyond Type 1, The Diabetes Scholars Foundation, and The Diabetes Research Institute. There were also vendors set up for many different devices such as pumps, meters, and CGMs, available to people living with T1D. My favorite part of the exhibit hall was getting to put my hands on the iLet Bionic Pancreas and speak to the brilliant minds behind it. This technology seems very promising and will hopefully take away some of the burden of living with this disease.
Another thing FFL offers is educational and support sessions. I attended sessions on seeking accommodations in college, having a career in healthcare, managing sick days, dealing with burnout, dealing with complications, and so much more. My mom had the opportunity to attend sessions on positive caregiving and sending a diabetic child off to college. During these sessions I also got to meet some people who have done things like drive a race car, compete in American Ninja Warrior, and make it to the top on the Voice and American Idol, reminding me that there is nothing that I cannot do. There is so much value in these sessions, especially for someone who is newly diagnosed.
Oh, and I also should add that ALL of the food is carb counted.... that in itself is magical.
All in all, FFL was the most amazing experience ever. For the first time in 9 months, I felt "normal". For a week I did not have to explain myself, I did not have to deal with stares, and I did not have to feel like a weirdo. For a week I could laugh about a high blood sugar instead of cry, I could test my blood sugar and have others right beside me doing the same thing, I could wear my devices proudly and have a whole group with me doing the same thing, and for a week, I could just be me. Thank you Diabetes Scholars Foundation for this opportunity and thank you Children with Diabetes for making such a difference.