Saturday, July 14, 2012

FFL12: During

*This is part two of a three part blog - what went on during the conference. 
Part three will be the shenanigans occurring after the conclusion of the conference.
There are lots of photos, so you have been warned - may load slowly.
All the photos make this post a bit of a mess. Enjoy them anyway.
Finally - this is another long post. My apologies - I've got a lot to say.
Have fun! I know I did.*

**Author's note: While I thoroughly enjoyed everything about FFL and spending a week with my closest D-friends, I agree with Chris when he says the conference is still very much geared for parents of children with diabetes (CWDs). I truly appreciate the changes recently made to the conference in an effort to include those "grown-up" CWDs (myself included). I went to a couple sessions marked as "Adults with Type 1 track" that were clearly geared towards parents and not those living with D (PWDs). I still gathered plenty of useful information and plan to return to FFL as often as possible. Things are definitely heading in the right direction, and I very much look forward to being a part of the changes being made.**

Breakfast with 3,000 friends
(and a little Kim, Scott, and Andy)
Thursday morning marked the start of the conference. 3,000 of my best friends and I all gathered for breakfast and the opening remarks by Tom Karlya, also known as Diabetes Dad. His speech was geared towards parents and had a wonderful message about guiding your child(ren) with diabetes, but not carrying them because they cannot cross their "finish line" if you do. He used this video from the 1992 Olympics as an example of how parents can help but not do it all. The video is both inspirational and tear-jerking, which I'm certain was his intention. He also said the following, which has stuck with me as the true definition of the DOC and FFL, "I can't promise to fix all your problems, but I can promise you won't have to face them alone." Perfection.

Dr. Edelman
I attended two sessions that first day (three were offered). The opening session I attended was put on by Dr. Steve Edelman (also of TCOYD fame). Dr. Edelman is not only an endocrinologist, he is someone who lives with type 1 diabetes. He "gets it" on a completely different level than most diabetes doctors. His session was called "Beyond Diabetes" (or something fairly similar), and it was essentially about potential complications, what you can do to prevent them, and how to treat them if they do occur. While there were a few people who didn't enjoy the session at all because of the darker side of diabetes it covered, I have always felt it's important to be aware of what could happen, how to prevent it, and then how to treat it - if necessary. Most of the information I was already familiar with, but I appreciated the information covered and hope at least a few people took something away from it. 

The second session I attended was given by Dr. Richard Rubin on "Diabetes Overwhelmus". This session was predominantly for parents of CWDs (as Dr. Rubin has a sister with type 1 and is a parent of a type 1 himself) but with a gentle reminder, he slightly modified his presentation to include those overwhelmed by living it day in and day out. I'm not sure if I am able to convey how inspirational Dr. Rubin was. As someone who doesn't live the day-to-day of diabetes management, he somehow knew and understood what it was like. He essentially "gave the okay" to feel overwhelmed and ask for help. He recognized the delicate balancing act required of diabetics and acknowledged it isn't simple or easy and isn't attained very often. He stressed the importance of not judging yourself based on numbers and that what's most important is the simple act of trying - not perfection. I can't tell you how much I agree with this. Probably with my entire being. 

Thursday afternoon I didn't really have a session I wanted to attend, so I opted to help Kim set up the You Can Do This (YCDT) booth in the exhibit hall. It was so unbelievably exciting to be a part of the first "outreach" program for YCDT. We rented a bell boy who also had a luggage rack and transported all the "stuff" down to the hall. After much sweating, giggling, photography, and excitement we had the booth mostly pulled together and ready for the grand opening on Friday. The YCDT message was finally ready to be launched to the public in way it hadn't previously been done before. I was so thrilled for Kim. There aren't enough good things I can say about this project and what it's going to do for the future of diabetes support. 

Kerri, me, Kim, and Sara
After readying the booth we took the next couple hours to "get pretty" and attend the FFL banquet. It was a beach theme; I suggested wearing swimsuits but apparently no one else agreed this was a good idea, so I settled on a dress with sparkly shoes. The themed atmosphere was very fun with "sand" volleyball going on in the back, beach balls flying all over the place, and lively music playing in the background. We heard from quite a few inspirational people, and I smiled like a big nerd as I listened to the stories of the awards being handed out. The people receiving them were truly deserving. Then, the entertainment really began. Crystal Bowersox (of American Idol fame) put on a show for us. She is an extraordinary singer and role model for PWDs as she has a very realistic approach to diabetes and corresponding management.
Crystal Bowersox performing

Sara, me, Simon, and Kim
 A few of us (about 17 of us) left the banquet early because we had a date with Spiderman. In 3D. The movie was amazing (haha punny), the company was a blast, and the 3D glasses provided endless entertainment and photo opportunities. I have to say I enjoyed the new Spiderman film much more than I did the Tobey Maguire series. Andrew Garfield is adorable. He did an excellent job playing Peter Parker in high school - he was thoroughly loveable and squeezie and looked FANTASTIC in spandex - all keys to a successful movie. 
Sara, me, Simon and Kim

Adam and me
Me and Kim

The next day was the final day of sessions (but not activities). It started with a superb open discussion about diabetes burnout geared specifically for those living with type 1. As last year, Jill Weissberg-Benchell lead the discussion with the help of another psychologist who lives with type 1 (I apologize, his name is eluding me at the moment - but trust me he is young, good looking, and most definitely my type). She has the ability to go far beyond the normal understanding of life with diabetes, despite never having lived it herself. Her sense of humor is witty and she openly, and quite regularly, calls bullshit on diabetes and how it behaves. She is nothing short of the best mental health facilitator I have ever come into contact with. Ever.

The second session of the day was lead by Kerri and ScottKJohnson of both Twitter and diabetes fame. What could this session possibly be about, you ask? Twitter, of course! They lead both a rousing and informational presentation and discussion about Twitter and its benefits for those with a connection to diabetes. Personally, I was incredibly reluctant to join Twitter because I already had other social media outlets. Little did I know it would be one of the best decisions I made in recent memory - it connected me to, literally, hundreds of other people with diabetes online, in real life, and in the blogosphere. It was a lighthearted discussion, and I appreciated it after the "downer" of the previous session. 

Next, it was time to bring the YCDT booth to life. I'll speak more on YCDT later in a separate post dedicated just to the project. Just know that it was wildly successful both Friday and Saturday at the conference.
Me, Scully, Kim, and Andy
Workin' it in the Exhibit Hall
(Photo credit: Chris Scully)

What I find most interesting is that the best night (in my opinion) of the entire conference, is the one in which I have the least to say. I can't describe to you how much fun it was to gamble and play blackjack with my friends, all while losing $50,000 (thankfully it was Monopoly money). It's impossible for me to relay to you the excitement I felt of being out on the dance floor for a solid three hours with my friends. I'm pretty sure I would nothing but embarrass myself if I tried to explain the nonsensical conversations that were held during the evening, as well as my backwards logic as to why copious amounts of diet caffeinated soda was going to rehydrate me, as opposed to just plain water. This was the evening of the Tandem Diabetes Adults with Type 1 gathering.
Ready for the Adult Type 1 gathering
There was a casino theme with lots of gambling tables - roulette, blackjack, poker, craps, etc. There was also an open bar, which impressed me - what impressed me even more was the fact no one abused it. I danced until the bottom of my feet were black, and I had sweated to the point I couldn't sweat anymore. I didn't hold back and just let go of everything weighing on my mind. I felt free and for those few hours, life was perfect. Having the comfort level with a group of almost strangers where you can dance like a fool is nothing short of miraculous. My toes blistered and my calves hurt. My hair was drenched in sweat. For an evening - I was free. The fact I had diabetes didn't matter. Depression didn't weigh me down. I saw my friends, I saw a dance floor, and I saw a need to move my body to the music. I haven't felt a freedom like that in a very long time. Being an adult with two jobs, and bills, and loans, and medical expenses, and multiple chronic illnesses on top of all that has laid heavy burdens on my shoulders. I have never hid the fact I often find dark thoughts hard to shake. The ability to make me forget, even if just for a few hours, was the release I needed to recoup and recharge. For this, I am endlessly thankful to Tandem Diabetes for putting on a spectacular show. It meant a lot more than you probably realize. A lot.
There's nothing wrong with a bunch of
diabetics dancing to "Pour Some
Sugar on Me" is there?
Andy bustin' out some moves

Jay Hewitt and Kendall Simmons

The final day of the conference was predominately spent in the exhibit hall helping out at the YDCT booth. An inspiring day was spent with thousands of others just like me, who were interested in connecting with others just like us (again, more on this later). After the booth was torn down, we milled around the hotel a bit, sat in on a little of the closing keynote speakers (Jay Hewitt and Kendall Simmons), grabbed a bite of food, and headed to the pool area. I put on my sparkly swimsuit and bounded down to the water. It was a beautiful evening. I watched the sunset from the pool and admired the Florida stars from the water. I relaxed and once again let go to the heavy thoughts encroaching me. We spent a bit of time in the hot tub, but the heat and creepy guy didn't keep us in there for very long. We showered and sauntered over to the hotel bar, where we always seem to end up at night. We shared goodbyes to those who wouldn't be at the farewell breakfast and stayed up until nearly 3am laughing, talking, and reliving the events of the week. Final connections were made. Ridiculous conversations were had. Hugs and giggles were given freely.
Chris and Kim

Kim, Caroline, and Ginger

Chris, Dayle, Sara, Kim, and Jess
Kim and Kerri

Back: Sara, Chris, Jess, and Kim
Front: Dayle, ScottKJohnson, Brian
At the end of it all, FFL was everything I had hoped for and more. I reunited with old friends and made many new ones. I found comfort and inspiration from the other attendees. I achieved my goal of simply going and enjoying myself. It was with sadness in my heart I watched the conference end but also with hope as I thought about returning again for another year. FFL is really going places. If you've never attended before, I encourage you to strongly think about it - it is a time and money commitment but unbelievably worth it all. If you have attended before, I look forward to seeing you again and keeping in touch throughout the year. FFL served it's purpose in providing friendship and support for those connected to diabetes. It more than served its purpose - it has honestly changed my life. 

This is where part 2 ends. The third installment will come soon - remember: just because the conference has ended, doesn't necessarily mean the shenanigans have as well. Stay tuned for part three: after FFL is over. For now, enjoy a few more pictures I couldn't decide where to put so they ended up here....

Sweetly Voiced and her squishy baby

The exhibit hall during set-up

Beach-themed banquet hall

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" ~C.S. Lewis


  1. Many my socks really are bright. Yet I LOVE that picture. Good run down and glad you aren't run down (see I can do it too! OMG two puns in one. Fun!)

  2. I love this post so much I can't even explain. That T1D night was positively my favourite time and if it wasn't for your playful attitude on the dance floor there's no way it would have been that great. THANKS!

  3. I love your pictures but I am sooo awkward! ;)

  4. This post warmed my heart...particularly your description of the fun you had on the dance floor. I LOVE THAT YOU HAD THOSE MOMENTS OF FREE SPIRIT!!!!!

    It was a beautiful week in so many ways. My heart changed shape and softened in ways I never expected.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. C, you were ROCKING it on the dance floor sister! And I have to say, you letting go and relaxing into the moment helped everyone else there do the same.

    I don't tell you enough how much I appreciate you. Thank you for all that you are!