Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CWD FFL 2017: The Week I Love Diabetes

One week out of the year, I LOVE diabetes. This sounds crazy, right? Who could ever love diabetes? Well, anyone who has ever attended the Children With Diabetes Friends for Life international conference will tell you that it is the one week out of the year that a sense of normalcy exists for those of us living with T1D. Last week I attended my second conference and when I tell you it just keeps getting better, I'm not lying. 
July 5- Departure Day!
Everyone has already arrived and registered, I just had to show up to the party a little bit late. Due to school being my first priority, I was only able to afford to take one day off of class. July 5, after sitting through a lecture, a lab, a practical exam, and a written exam, I was finally on my way to Orlando to join my friends at Coronado Springs. All day, my phone was blowing up with two of my best friends for life, Morgan and Michelle, texting and calling me to get constant updates on my location. We could not WAIT to see each other. I arrived very late and as I was getting out of the car, Morgan came out of no where and attacked me with hugs. We didn't want to let go. We've been speaking via FaceTime for a whole year now, it felt surreal to be able to hug again. I made it just-in-time for the Crystal Bowersox concert and I got to reunite with Michelle and I got to meet Gretchen, who by the end of the week would also become one of my best friends. Morgan was rooming with us, and that first night we didn't get in bed till around 1 am because we couldn't stop talking and laughing. I now had on my green bracelet (for those with Diabetes) and mom had her orange one (for those who love someone with Diabetes) we were ready to tackle the week. 
July 6- Let the sessions begin! 
Today began with a huge breakfast buffet and The Richard Rubin Opening Keynote: Diabetes at 212° by Dr Desmond Schatz. This keynote was amazing, upsetting, thought provoking, and interesting all rolled into one and it got us all pumped up for the next few days ahead. On this day, I attended the Sugar Surfing workshop with Dr Stephan Ponder. This is a session I was very excited about. I have read Dr Ponder's book twice and he has literally been instrumental in keeping me healthy with T1D. I enjoyed listening to Dr Ponder expand on the diabetes management tips outlined in his book and getting to talk with him personally about my journey and how much he has helped me. Mom got to attend sessions about the cost of insulin and advocacy. 
Much of today was also spent exploring the exhibit hall and reuniting with other FFLs from last year like the Fickling family, Logan and Samantha Merwin, the Paul family, the list goes on... And of course with the exhibit hall comes lots of free stuff and lots of time spent at the Pump Peelz stand with my friends Scott and Emily, picking out new swag for my devices. 
Next came the scary part of the trip... retinal screening. As you probably know, eye problems can be a serious complication of diabetes. CWD so generously provides all people with T1D a retinal screening to assess the eyes and how healthy they are. Thankfully, aside from some sun damage, my eyes are perfect. 
The day ended with the banquet, where we got to hear RaeLynn perform, eat amazing food, watch amazing people accept this year's awards, and watch DocuDiabetes III. Here is where my 5 seconds of fame comes in... my video I made for PTA school (about diabetes) was chosen as a top 5 for DocuDiabetes.
July 7- Adulting sessions galore... 
Today's sessions on my agenda were all about being an adult with T1D and entering the world of "adulting". I learned all about insurance and my rights as a person with Type 1 Diabetes. I got to hear one of my fave FFLs Leigh speak and she always teaches me so so much about how to navigate college and the workforce as a person with T1D. I also attended a session about the flaws in the hemoglobin A1C test and though mom and Morgan were utterly bored, the health sciences student in me thought it was super interesting. 
Tonight was all about adults and young adults. I attended the young adults dinner with lots of people my age and we went to the Tandem adults night where they had food, karaoke, drinks, and games. 
July 8- DISNEY DAY! 
Mom, Gretchen, Morgan, and I all decided to go to Animal Kingdom for the day and we had a blast. There is something pretty neat about sitting down on a curb at Disney and all sharing glucose tabs to treat low blood sugar... makes low blood sugar feel a little more "normal". We enjoyed seeing the new World of Pandora too! 
Now came the hard part... goodbyes started. Morgan was leaving at 4 am, so we spent our evening at the Family Night and running around the hotel so she could say her goodbyes. But, as sad as goodbyes are, this was one of my favorite nights. Gretchen came to our room for a couple of hours and we sat on the bed and laughed, cried, and shared stories. It is SO NICE to be able to talk openly about diabetes and it's struggles with people who actually care and "get it". I was not ready to leave this safety net. 
July 9- Farewell FFL 
Today is the day we dread. Saying goodbye. I cried a good bit of the morning hugging all of my people and saying "see ya next year". We all were getting ready to head back home and home for us is all over the country. Ohio, Canada, California, Florida, North Carolina. This part stinks. 
We enjoyed an amazing breakfast with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto and we shared some final memories. FFL 2017 was officially over. 

As you can tell by my long winded post, FFL was once again more than I could have ever asked for. Once again, I felt so normal for a week. I was surrounded by green and orange bracelets. Someone always had insulin if needed. Someone always had test strips. Someone always had glucose tabs. Someone always had a shoulder to cry on. And EVERYONE genuinely cared about the battle we are all fighting against this devastating disease. 
Thank you CWD for making this possible. 
My green bracelet is off. My ID badge is hung up. My program book is on the shelf... but the memories are close in my heart and my FFLs are just a FaceTime call away. 
Let the countdown to next year begin. 

-Ashlyn

Oh and PS- Thanks to my amazing instructors Kelli and Melinda for allowing me to take a day off of school and rearranging your schedules for me to test early so that I could have this amazing experience. I hope you both understand how much last week meant to me after reading this. 
 

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