My Experience at Friends For Life Orlando with CDN

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Maddie Walding, University of Iowa
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When I found out I had the privilege of attending the Friends For Life conference in Orlando this past March, I was over the moon. I have never been to a diabetes conference, despite having T1D for over 7 years. I could not believe I was going to represent such an awesome organization as CDN! They have been such a blessing in my life before and during college.

I always knew I wanted to make a difference in the world of diabetes. I love the idea of making others feel less alone living with such an all-consuming disease. The community is out there, you just have to access it. I started connecting with the T1D community on Facebook through support groups, which spilled over into Instagram follows. Ever since I discovered this community about 5 years ago, I have only wanted to grow closer to it. All these connections online eventually led me to the College Diabetes Network. They had all the resources I needed to get to college safely and easily living with diabetes.

CDN’s NextGen Leadership program gave me the opportunity to take my role to the next level (no pun intended). I could meet professionals in the diabetes space, connect with other young people with T1D from around the country, and learn more about the most current diabetes technology and treatments.

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Friends For Life was all I expected and more.

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The T1D community shined like no other time I had seen in my life. I saw little girls and boys running around with their pumps and sensors, comparing what stickers and patches they had on. It was a sight to make anyone’s heart a bit fuller. The camaraderie I witnessed, as well as experienced, throughout the week made me feel like I fit in more than ever. The other NextGen Leader in attendance, Melissa, doesn’t have T1D but even wore a sensor and insulin pump to feel a little more like the attendees!

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One of my favorite parts of the NextGen experience was networking with endocrinologists and Certified Diabetes Educators (CDEs) currently working in the field. I loved getting to discuss diabetes therapies and how clinics might improve to help families more, as well as discussing how my role as a person with type 1 might help in this kind of work. I had a particularly interesting conversation with a CDE and Registered Dietitian (RD) about helping kids who feel alone or angry with their diabetes. Our discussion sparked thoughts of mine that made me realize how valuable my experiences as a person already living with diabetes could be with those kids and teens working as a CDE in the future.

Exploring and working at the exhibit hall was also one of the highlights of my experience at FFL. 

There were representatives from every part of the diabetes industry. Everyone from Dexcom to Beyond Type 1 was there to share what they could offer to the T1D community, and boy did they deliver! I asked all of them so many burning questions about their organizations or technology, and none of them batted an eye. Having them all at my disposal to explore and hear from was so interesting. I even won a Myabetic diabetes clutch! I also got the chance to work the CDN booth representing the organization and all that we offer. During this time, we had so many parents walk up and express their gratitude to CDN for being there for their child when they need it. Even those with small toddlers with T1D were glad to know there was an organization already established and waiting to support their kids. I got to hear more from parents when CDN organized a Q&A session for those families whose teens may be off to college in the near future. We were able to put most of their fears to rest after hearing about our real-world experiences and the resources and support that CDN has established for their students. The “thank-you’s” I received after made my week so much more worth it. I knew they really appreciated all we do.

I also had the opportunity to meet with a mentor who was already working in the diabetes industry. He was a CDE who specialized in diabetes tech. I found his career to be so interesting, simply because it opened my eyes to all the possibilities of roles I could venture into as a CDE. I can work with pump and sensor companies, as well as in the clinical setting directly with patients.

I was blown away by all the fun, friendship, and connections CDN and Friends For Life provided me. I am already figuring out how I can go back next year. I encourage anyone who wants to work with diabetes and children to apply to CDN’s NextGen Leadership program and attend a conference.

Editor's note: thank you to Sanofi & Lexicon, the T1D Alliance, for their sponsorship of CDN's NextGen Leadership program.

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Maddie Walding
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Maddie Walding is a junior at the University of Iowa studying nursing. She is the University of Iowa’s CDN Chapter Vice President. She became involved with CDN when she heard about the organization from another student. She loves connecting with other type 1’s and supporting one another on campus.