As I eagerly found a seat for the First Timers Orientation, I heard the familiar blaring high alarm of a Dexcom. I laughed as every single person in the room checked to see if it was them. I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and reflected on my journey that brought me from California to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Florida for the week-long conference, Friends for Life.
"I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging."
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes the summer before my freshman year at UCLA. I was already nervous about college life, and my diagnosis only enhanced my anxiety. I looked forward to meeting other students with T1D and was shocked to learn there were no diabetes clubs on campus. Thus, I became the co-founder and president of UCLA’s first College Diabetes Network. Seeing how I could use my struggles to support other students inspired me to apply to medical school in the hopes of becoming an endocrinologist. While working on my application for medical school, I became a part of the CDN NextGen Fellowship Program and I was blessed with a scholarship to attend Friends for Life conference from Children with Diabetes.
In the First Timers Orientation, I had the joy of meeting two other girls from the NextGen Fellowship. Even though this was our first time meeting each other in person, it felt like we had been lifelong friends. As we prepared to bolus for breakfast, I realized this was the first time strangers were not fazed by the sight of me injecting insulin with a sharp needle. After sharing funny diabetes stories and refueling with some coffee, we attended various presentations and workshops. We learned about modern diabetes advancements, comforted parents coping with their child’s recent diagnosis, and heard inspiring speakers like swimmer Gary Hall Jr. who won Olympic gold medals despite being recently diagnosed with T1D. After the events, we escaped Florida’s humidity by visiting the pool. It was hard to stop smiling as we were quite literally swimming in a sea of people wearing pumps and CGMs.
"I realized this was the first time strangers were not fazed by the sight of me injecting insulin with a sharp needle."
As part of the NextGen Fellowship, my friends and I were had the opportunity to present about the importance of having a CDN at the conference’s exhibit hall. The exhibit hall consisted of endless diabetes-related booths. Walking around the hall, I was unable to hold all of the fun diabetes merch I kept receiving, like Dexcom shirts, stuffed animals wearing pumps, keto ice cream samples, and cookbooks. At our CDN booth, we shared resources with young adults who wanted to start CDNs at their campuses and soothed parents' concerns over letting their children leave for college. We also had the pleasure of having dinner with CDN Board Member Sharyn Lee where we shared stories about our CDN Chapters and laughed as Disney characters stopped by to take pictures with us.
At our booth, we had the pleasure of meeting Adrianna who, like me, had been diagnosed as an 18-year-old and was nervous about attending college. I eagerly began sharing all the information I wish I had known. Adrianna joined us for the remainder of the conference where we helped her prick her fingers, try on different pumps at the exhibit hall, and taught her how to carb-count her favorite meals. She was very grateful for our help, and I was overjoyed to see Adrianna become more confident in her diabetes knowledge. She told us that while she appreciated the doctor’s advice for managing T1D, nothing was as helpful as seeing someone else living with T1D demonstrate what to do. Adrianna will be starting a CDN Chapter at her college this fall.
"She told us that while she appreciated the doctor’s advice for managing T1D, nothing was as helpful as seeing someone else living with T1D demonstrate what to do."
While I enjoyed attending workshops and meeting leading diabetes researchers and scientists, I am most grateful for the opportunity to have met thousands of others affected by T1D. Helping a child prick their finger in the hotel lobby or hearing a “me too!” after sharing a diabetes struggle has only enhanced my desire to become an endocrinologist. This conference gave me a break from my medical school application and reminded me of what I’m most passionate about: serving others with T1D. As a physician, I hope to offer the same sense of belonging and support that I experienced at this conference. I will forever be beyond grateful for this opportunity that inspires me to become an endocrinologist who is not only knowledgeable but also a friend for life to my future patients.