On July 6-9, 2022, I had the opportunity to attend the Friends For Life annual conference organized by the Children with Diabetes organization. This event is for people with type 1 diabetes and their caregivers to connect, learn, and broaden their T1D community! Open to people of all ages—particularly families with young children—it can be a lifechanging weekend that reminds you you’re never alone in the daily challenges of diabetes.

Here, I share my experience as an attendee for the first time at Friends for Life at 26 years old.

Creating my own community

Being diagnosed with T1D at any age is a difficult adjustment, but when I was diagnosed in September of 2017 at 21 years old, I felt like moving forward was impossible. My journey took a turn of events, and I was now different.

As a senior in college, my main goal was to be able to return to college and be with my friends. When I was first diagnosed with T1D, there was a learning curve, and new adjustments needed to be made to my daily routine. Within weeks of my diagnosis, I was taking injections for every meal, counting the carbohydrates at every meal, and having to think about what I was eating and how it could affect my glucose. A new relationship between myself and food had to be created.

It’s also essential to find and create a community of people who can be there for you—because life with T1D is full of challenges. I can’t imagine what life would’ve been like when I returned to college after my diagnosis if I didn’t have such amazing support from friends, family, and my doctor! Because of them, I was even able to graduate on time! After graduating, I knew I needed to give back to the diabetes community and advocate for those who needed my help.

Friends for Life 2022

Friends for Life was an eye-opening and life-changing experience for me. There were around 1,800 attendees who either lived with T1D themselves or were caregivers, supporters, or family members of someone living with T1D. Everywhere you looked, you could see people of all ages and backgrounds wearing insulin pumps and CGMs. It was clear that this autoimmune disease influences people of all ages, sizes, and colors. At Friends for Life, that sense of community is amplified, and you can be connected on a new level. I was inspired from the second I arrived.

On day 1, everyone bulldozes into the conference space, and you could see the pure excitement and passion from the families. Every person in that room is beyond grateful for this unreal community of people. Instantly T1D relationships are formed, the loneliness of the disease begins to fade, and strength is developed in all areas.

For a lot of these attendees, including myself, you don’t get to see other people and families affected by T1D often in your regular day-to-day life.

At T1D Exchange, a few of my co-workers have T1D, but we work remotely, rarely seeing each other in person. Other than spotting a CGM or pump on a random person on the street, I don’t get the opportunity to interact in person with others affected like I am. Diabetes burnout was a common factor discussed at this year’s Friends for Life conference. We often define diabetes burnout as feeling rundown and not managing your diabetes as you usually would be due to fatigue from management. It is common. One parent asked me how I personally handle diabetes burnout and if I had suggestions to deal with the fatigue. I made T1D a part of my career to help with the distress of diabetes and to feel like I am constantly a part of a community. Although this is not possible for everyone, it is just one of the ways that I chose to cope with my T1D. Devoting my efforts and most of my time to supporting the T1D community has been essential for me since my diagnosis.

Another piece of advice I shared is to remind yourself that you’re not alone. Even though only 1,800 people were down in Orlando this year, over a million people in America are affected by T1D. Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for many years, there are people in the community who can relate to what you’re going through.

Don’t be afraid to reach out through social media, T1D organizations, advocacy, or support groups. Tell your story and get involved. The beautiful thing about joining a community of people in a similar spot as you are is the support you instantly receive. It is powerful to know you aren’t alone.

T1D Exchange at Friends for Life

We were excited to be back in person at the Friends for Life conference this year after virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a team, we thoroughly enjoyed connecting with all the event attendees, partners, and sponsors. Our booth got a ton of traction, and we loved discussing all the initiatives and strides that T1D Exchange is making in the diabetes community.

As we continue to grow as an organization, we look forward to making even more of an impact on those affected by T1D. We want to thank Children with Diabetes for putting on another incredible conference and bringing together so many people that are all passionate about our vision of Better, Longer Lives for all People with T1D.

We look forward to being a part of Friends for Life for many years to come!

I remember worrying after my diagnosis that I wouldn’t be able to remember all the extra steps it takes to manage diabetes, but you get there through practice, time, and support. Each day living with T1D is never the same as the day before. There is no perfect recipe for living with this disease, but I appreciate all the new tips and tricks that are constantly shared throughout the community.

If you didn’t get the opportunity to come to Friends for Life or stop by our booth, I encourage you to reach out to T1D Exchange at admin@t1dexchange.org or visit us here to learn more.

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