You might not know it by just glancing at the name “Children with Diabetes,” but the annual diabetes conference in Florida each year isn’t a kids-only atmosphere. At least, not anymore.
Everything began in 1995, when an Ohio D-Dad named Jeff Hitchcock founded the online forum that has become the thriving CWD community. His daughter Marissa was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 2, and she’s now 24 and recently married. But back in the 90s, Jeff wanted to find a way to help his daughter and other D-parents connect with each other. And they did. Oh boy, did they!
In 2000, a D-Mom named Laura Billetdeaux, who’d been a member of the CWD mailing group, invited folks to come with her family to visit Disney World. Five hundred people showed up.
Now, more than a decade later and with 54 conferences under its belt, Children with Diabetes just hosted its 13th annual international Friends for Life conference in Orlando, FL. This time more than three thousand people came from a dozen countries (!)
As mentioned, it’s easy to think this conference is all about kids, and a large part of the conference is. But as Marissa Hitchcock and other CWD children grow up, and as advocacy around supporting adults with type 1 increases, the folks at CWD have realized more needs to be done for us grown-ups! (Amy begged for this back in 2007.)
With the support of D-bloggers Scott Johnson and Kerri Sparling, more programming has been added to FFL that focuses specifically on adults with type 1. This year, more than 300 adults with diabetes — up from 200 folks last year — took the plunge and registered for Friends for Life, and about 75 were lucky enough to have their spouses along for the ride.
Scott recently talked about his thoughts on the evolution of the adult-involvement over on a Just Talking podcast, saying he’s been honored to be a part of the effort and see so many adult PWDs be a part of the conference.
Many others who’ve attended have written about the incredible experience of simply being able to connect with D-friends in person, but that’s only one side of the conference coin. Adult patients are now also part of the amazing roster of faculty that keeps getting stronger. We’re talking world-renowned researchers and scientists, famous athletes and singers, and parents and adults with type 1 — all of whom get it.
The addition of sessions on topics like parenting with type 1 diabetes, pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes, and the ever-present diabetes burnout were wonderful, but the CWD team is still looking for suggestions on how to make next year’s conference even better! You can send your ideas to Laura Billetdeux, who is now CWD’s official VP of Education and Programs.
For me, one of the best sessions was the one hitting on diabetes burnout hosted by Jill Weissberg-Benchell, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Memorial in Chicago, and Korey Hood, Staff Psychologist at UCSF’s Madison Diabetes Center. Our circle of support nearly overflowed the room, and we had the chance to vent extensively on issues like diabetes guilt and communicating emotional struggles to our loved ones without freaking the heck out of them!
Later on, I had the chance to sit down for a chat with Jill and with two other respected psychologists in the diabetes field: Dr. Bill Polonsky, founder of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego, and fellow PWD Joe Solowieiczyk who is Clinical Manager of Counseling & Presentations for Animas Corp. We talked about clever ways to deal with diabetes burnout (how about smashing your glucose meter?… provided you have another to spare!), how to offset diabetes guilt (ever heard of the Serenity Prayer?), and the best ways to communicate with your loved ones about diabetes (“the numbers don’t always make sense!).
Don’t miss their excellent insights and tips:
Clearly, adults are a part of Friends For Life now and some of the great minds helping PWDs in the trenches are a part of this conference. We’re excited about the inclusion and growth on the adult front, and can’t wait to see what happens in the future as many more adults and families join in on the helpful fun!