Recently, I started my own chapter of the College Diabetes Network at Mercyhurst University. Getting my Chapter off the ground has been a work in progress, but every meeting has given me optimism that I can make a big impact on my campus. In one of the numerous emails that I have gotten from CDN, I saw that they would be holding a retreat over the summer in which twenty-five Chapter members and leaders could bounce ideas off of eachother and CDN national could get feedback on their programs. When I saw the email, I immediately filled out an application hoping that I would get accepted. A few weeks later I received an email saying that I had been accepted to go on this retreat and while I was excited, I wasn’t aware of the impact it would actually have on me.
When May finally came around I was becoming more and more excited, but also scared at the same time. It was the first time I was going to fly alone and I wasn’t sure if my opinions at the retreat were going to be helpful because I was the leader of a new Chapter. The moment I arrived at the house, all of my worries went out the window. These were all people with the same outlook on the exact same disease I have. We all wanted to advocate and educate our community and even the world to hopefully improve the lives of others with type 1 diabetes. Over the next few days, there were constant meetings where we could voice our opinions to CDN national and other companies with new diabetes devices, products and therapies in the works. This was the first time in my life that a company was asking me how they could improve and what I wanted to see, instead of telling me why their product is the best and why I should buy it. We also had meetings to help us build our CDN Chapters where we could hear what other Chapters have had success with and learn about some upcoming programs being created by CDN national that will help us out. It was really cool being able to build off of each other and being able to get so many ideas over a short period of time.
While learning new things and giving feedback to the companies that were there was great, I think the best and most important part of this trip was getting to hang out with other diabetics. It felt like diabetes camp, but on steroids. I don’t often get to hang out with others who have diabetes that are also my age. In college, most people are pretty quiet about their diabetes so you don’t meet too many people unless you happen to see someone pulling out their insulin pen or pump in the dining hall. It was great sharing experiences with other diabetics that have gone through the exact same thing that I have. I thought I was going on this trip to improve my CDN Chapter, and while that happened, this trip was more than that. It was a vacation, in a sense, from my disease. I didn’t have to worry about feeling different and alone because there were twenty-four other people in one room doing the exact same thing as me. Whenever someone beeped, we got to play “Is that my Dexcom?”. This group of people reminded me that I am not alone, which is hard to do when everyone around you is telling you that you need to be independent.
Even though this trip was only four days long, I feel like I have made lifelong friends that understand what I am going through. Without fail, everyone there was crying laughing at least once a day. On the last night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room because none of us wanted to leave. We all felt so connected, like we had known each other for years. While we all may be from different parts of the country, type 1 diabetes created a strong bond between these twenty-five people that will last for years. I have learned so much about so many things in those four days, and I can’t wait to bring what I have learned back to my Chapter in Erie, Pennsylvania. I now feel like I am more prepared and ready to tackle any obstacle that is in my way next semester. If you ever get the chance to go on this trip, I suggest jumping at the chance because it has changed my life forever.
Editor's note: read more retreat 2018 recaps here!