CDN Retreat 2017: Connected, Empowered, and Thriving

Contributor
Steven Santoyo, the University Of Texas at Austin '19
steven

On March 11, 2011 at the age of 13, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). Growing up in Dallas, Texas, I never attended any sort of summer camps for children with diabetes. I knew two others in high school with diabetes, and in March of 2016, I tragically lost one of them due to complications with their T1D. Needless to say, it has been easy in the past six years to feel hopeless and alone, no matter how hard I try to keep going. When the opportunity came to attend this year’s College Diabetes Network (CDN) Retreat in Bridgton, Maine, something deep inside told me to apply.

In preparation for the retreat, I was incredibly excited for my first camp-like experience as a person with diabetes. I was not very sure what to expect, but I knew something like this was exactly what I needed. I would be lying to you, however, if I did not mention how anxious, worried, and nervous I felt about travelling alone for the first time. Not to mention, I had never been anywhere on the east coast prior to this trip. As a Texan, flying into Boston and driving for three hours in a van full of strangers to Bridgton, Maine sounded like the perfect dream and nightmare of events all wrapped into one. Somehow I knew that being 1,600 miles away from home for five days would be worth it.

Never in my life have I been prouder to be a person with T1D. For the first time ever, more than just two people understood me. To be exact, the thirty plus individuals in attendance at the retreat understood me. Every single one of them. These individuals were not only impacted by T1D in various ways, but they were also Chapter Leaders and advocates in their own communities in places like California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nebraska, North Carolina,  Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The love and support that I felt from each of them is a feeling that I wish for every person with diabetes to feel at some point in their life.

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The harsh reality is that life with diabetes is difficult, and we worked throughout the week to address ways we could return home with a better sense of how we could improve the lives of others impacted with T1D. We became aware of our abilities to become political advocates for the future of diabetes healthcare back in our home states. We thought of various ways we could “Stick it to the Stigma” surrounding the false and insensitive diabetes stereotypes often joked about in each of our lives. We learned more about the newest technologies and medication, including an inhalable insulin and an artificial pancreas. Most importantly, though, we bonded. We connected with each other in ways that I have never connected with any other group of people before. We woke up early, we stayed up late, and we loved every minute of it. We laughed, we cried, we opened up, and we rejoiced in each other’s shared empathy. Strangers one day, family the next. It was truly incredible.

The College Diabetes Network’s mission is “to provide innovative peer based programs which connect and empower students and young professional to thrive with diabetes.” During the retreat, the mission was accomplished. I was inspired to never stop advocating for every single person who has ever felt the pain, frustration, stigma, sorrow, and hope that T1D creates. It taught me that persons with diabetes come in all shapes and sizes. They come from every corner of the nation, and have all sorts of stories to share. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone at the College Diabetes Network for connecting me with 30 individuals who have changed my life forever. The truth is, life with T1D isn’t so hopeless and dark after all. This life is brighter than ever, and it was worth every mile to come to that life-changing realization. 

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Editor's Note: Like all of our resources at the College Diabetes Network, all aspects of the CDN Annual Retreat (from transportation to lodging to meals) are provided to students free of charge, thanks to the generous support of our donors and partners. Please consider donating to CDN to help us continue to offer and expand this impactful and foundational piece of our programming to students in the future. Thank you for your support!