Friends for Life - Celebrating Life, Joy, Empathy and Strength
Last year at the Medtronic Diabetes Advocate Forum, my friend and fellow D-dad Bennet Dunlap looked me in the eye and said "You need to go to Friends for Life. It's a life-changing experience." Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when I took a break from my busy work schedule (I traveled over 100,000 miles last year), and took my sons Hayden (14, T1DM, celiac, egg allergies) and Hunter (8, egg allergies) to Orlando to attend the 14th annual Children With Diabetes Friends for Life Conference.
It's all about the kids. The kids set the agenda, the kids choose what to eat, the kids have fun, and, for a few days, the kids get to be the norm rather than the exception. Everybody around them “gets it”:
• Poolside low? No problem, the D-dad in the next lounge chair over offers his virgin margarita.
• Gluten in those pancakes? The chef’s happy to custom-make some gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles for you.
• Not enough to do at Disney World? Take a trip with Lenny the Lion to exciting destinations all over the world.
• Self-conscious about that pump or CGM? Nah, it's the latest fashion: everyone's got one.
• Carb-counting at a buffet? Where’s the Easy button, everything's marked already.
• Careless wheat-eaters contaminating the buffets? Nope: special guarded buffet just for the celiac-set (the yellow wristband folks).
• Lonely at dinner? Share a table with another D-family and share experiences and expertise.
• Scared to let your child out of sight just in case something happens? Relax, there are 3500 people around who are willing and able to help.
• Bored? Impossible: activities for all, from early morning 'til late at night.
There's something for everyone. Elementary, tween, teen, young adult, parent, grandparent tracks. Technology, art, medicine, social media, sports, inspirational, psychological tracks. So hard to pick a favorite, but mine would have to be the mind-blowing insights from top celiac researcher Dr. Alessio Fasano. I listened to him for three hours and could have listened for another thirty.
I was a little worried that Hayden - being a little bit shy like his dad - would struggle and be lonely. By the first morning those concerns were allayed - he had made friends and was off on his own. If he wasn’t in a session, he was eating with new friends or hanging out at the pool. He had his own room key (which conveniently acted as a credit card in all the restaurants) so he could come and go and eat as he pleased.
For me it was nice to take a break and be a D-dad: hang up the Medtronic hat for a couple days and really focus on the boys. Or at least try: while I was officially on a family vacation, there’s no clear distinction between work and home for me. So I ended up having dozens of opportunities to share and gain insights which will help me in my role as a product strategist. For instance, who would have thought this conference would be such a fertile recruiting ground for talent? At least I got to set my own agenda. Go for a morning run with a fellow D-dad? Ask questions in the Social Media roundtable? Participate in a focus group, discuss artificial pancreas development at the poolside, or field questions on connectivity at a CGM session? Sure!
Hunter's biggest frustration? Walking with me during session breaks. We’d hardly get 50 feet before stopping to chat with a new or old friend. Fortunately he’s easy to placate with a trip to the pool or a campfire marshmallow roast.
The sessions were fantastic, the faculty was outstanding, Disney and the organizers did an amazing job. Hard to leave. No wonder so many come back year after year.
Thursday night was the big Banquet and Ball. Little girls dressed as Cinderella and their dads as Prince Charming. Cutest thing you ever saw. Great dinner, fancy light-up dance floor, great DJ, photo-ops with the Disney characters. A magical evening. Fun was had by all. The next morning, in the quiet halls before the sessions started, I ran into Jeff Hitchcock, fellow D-dad and founder of Children with Diabetes. I told him if I were to describe the ball, the look on the little girls’ faces as they danced with their Prince Charmings, the entire zeitgeist of the conference, I could capture it all in a single word: Joy. He agreed, saying this is exactly what they aim for. The conference is a celebration of life; the joy of shared moments, empathy, and the incredible strength of the community. Indeed, Friends for Life.
Editor’s Note: Please join us in thanking Lane for sharing his Friends for Life experiences! And if you want to see more Friends for Life fun, check out Lenny the Lion’s photo album!