Wondering what it’s like to be surrounded by thousands of people affected by diabetes? Today, my fellow Friends for Life faculty member and longtime family friend, Scott Johnson, takes over SUM to share his experience as a first-timer at FFL back in 2010.
Scott was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes back in 1980 and has been blogging about his experiences since 2004 over at Scott’s Diabetes Blog. Today, he’s an integral (and huggable) part of the diabetes online community, working tirelessly as an advocate and also as the US communications lead for mySugr.
(And if you’re looking to connect in person with like-pancreased people, you can register for Friends for Life here. Or, if July in Orlando is not your thing, there’s another conference in Falls Church, VA that might hit the mark for you.)
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As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I started noticing people with diabetes stuff around the hotel. A Dexcom sensor or OmniPod pump on their arm. Maybe a diabetes-related t-shirt. A used test strip. I was gawking at everyone! Rubbernecking my way from place to place as I walked around the hotel. It’s so uncommon to see people like me out in the world, but at Friends for Life, it’s the norm, which is a very powerful experience.
And when it comes to powerful experiences, Friends for Life has plenty to offer. One of my favorite moments was walking into the big breakfast room for the first time. By dumb luck, I picked a corner door and walked inside. That moment stopped me in my tracks.
I was stunned by how massive the room was. I couldn’t see everyone because it was too big. The other side of the room felt lost to the curving horizon line of the earth. And it hit me, suddenly, that everyone there was there for me. Well, not me, exactly, but “me” as in type 1 diabetes. I’d never seen so many people together specifically for type 1 diabetes before I’m my life – and I’ll never forget feeling so amazed, so grateful, and so ready to drink it all in. It tugged on some heartstrings I hadn’t known were there. I’d found a family I didn’t know I was missing.
The whole conference was extremely emotional for me. Seeing little ones with diabetes knowing they’ll grow up with a better experience than me thanks to Friends for Life made me so hopeful and happy for them. But knowing they’ll know the shitty sides of diabetes too made me want to hug them and cry.
Some sessions were presentation style with slides, others were small group sessions offering a safe place to vent about tough topics with others in similar situations. There were different tracks to choose from, depending on interest, relationship to diabetes, age group, and more. I bounced around from session to session and was impressed by all of them. Jeff, Laura and the FFL team pull together an impressive roster of faculty members and volunteers to make magic happen. It was the first time in my life where I could listen to a famous doctor or scientist that I’d only read about give a presentation one hour, then find myself visiting with them later that day somewhere else in the conference. It felt surreal in so many amazing ways.
And then there’s simply sitting with a group of PWDs for hours and commiserating about some situation that we’ve all dealt with or just laughing the night away and talking about everything but diabetes.
It’s hard to describe the level of understanding present at Friends for Life. I remember listening to Rick Philbin give a talk about insulin pumps and exercise, and as he’s up at the podium he described the subconscious urge to check his pockets for glucose tabs every time he programmed a correction bolus out of fear for going low down the line. I was like, “whoa… he can see inside my soul..” but I’d never been able to articulate that subtle fear! And then there’s the story of getting to play basketball with Rick and Gary Scheiner – an awesome experience – until they got into a “discussion” about the score. That’s a day I’ll never forget!
And stay tuned for another guest post all about eyes …
I have to acknowledge Roche Diabetes Care’s huge roll in my first Friends for Life experience. They invited me to the second Roche Social Media Summit and hosted the event at the same location as the Friends for Life conference. This reduced some of my out of pocket expense (airfare) which made it possible for me to attend. That small logistical favor changed my life in so many ways. I’m forever grateful.
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Thanks, Scott. See you in a few weeks!