This year the Friends for Life (FFL) conference was incredible. I have so much to write about, so strap in for quite a fun-filled, two-part post!
My family was in sunny (and at times, not so sunny) Orlando for eight days from July 1–9. We got in pretty late Sunday evening, so the real fun started on Monday. Since that was when most of our friends were arriving, we pretty much spent the day hanging out and waiting for people to get in. One of the best parts of the day was Louis getting in from Australia. It had been two years since we last saw him, so this was particularly exciting for us, especially those of us who met him when he had initially been diagnosed.
Louis returns to Friends for Life.
The rest of Monday was pretty low key. We helped a bit in setting up the Sports Central part of the conference, but generally speaking we were so excited to see one another that we just hung out and chatted.
Tuesday was one of my favorite days of the conference. Since sessions didn’t start until Thursday this year, we had plenty of time to kill early on. Tuesday my friends and I decided to get the Universal Studios Park Hopper so that we could go to the regular Universal Park and then to Islands of Adventure to see our favorite attraction, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Now, two of the best perks of having Type 1 diabetes are Guest Assistance Cards and Fast Passes! (Disney issues Guest Assistance Cards, while Universal uses Fast Passes.) If you have diabetes and have gone to theme parks and not used a Guest Assistance Card or Fast Pass, you are missing out. Since we’re Disney/Universal regulars, we know the spiel to give them. I’ve come to find that at both of these specific parks, they’ve become extremely good about understanding what diabetes is and why we use the passes. (To avoid the long lines in the sun so our insulin doesn’t go bad). Once we had our passes, we rode the same ride (The Mummy) a million times along with all the other good roller coasters at both parks before hitting up Harry Potter World.
For some reason, that day at the park my blood sugar was not cooperating. I was pretty high for the beginning part of the day, and then I started dropping consistently even after completely turning my basal rate off and eating snack upon snack. Here’s where being at a conference makes the entire situation so much easier to deal with. There’s something about saying “Hey guys, I’m 67” and knowing that no one will say “Oh…so is that good or bad?”
Instead you get a refreshing response of “Hey, I’ve got tabs if you need them!” or “OK, everyone! We have to stop for a second… Maryam’s low.” When we finally got to Harry Potter World and made our first stop at the Three Broomsticks for frozen butterbeers. They are the absolute best part of Harry Potter World and the perfect fix for a blood sugar that won’t come up. (I ended up having two because my friend Kara couldn’t finish hers!) The rest of our Tuesday was just spent sweating up a storm at the parks and then coming back to the hotel to order pizza and Chinese food.
One of the coolest parts of this conference was being a staff member — which is to say, sharing a hotel room with Kara, my best conference friend, and being next door to my brother Zakariyya, who was rooming with another one of our really good friends, Austin. Don’t get me wrong, I love the conference because it’s a family affair. But finally getting the freedom of having a room with only one other person, and knowing that we could stay up as late as we wanted, was pretty exciting. (Well, until the next morning, when we could barely open our eyes and get going.)
Wednesday was another relaxing day, and also happened to be the Fourth of July! There were some preconference meetings for staff (I was working with the elementary aged group this year). After that, there was the first-timers reception. A few years ago, the “first timers” initiative was started, and my dad was put in charge of it. Basically, anyone who’s coming to FFL for the first time gets a purple badge with “First Timer” written on it so that those of us who have been coming to the conferences for years know exactly who to go up to and make feel extremely welcomed! There were HUNDREDS of first timers this year, and it was incredible to see them all transform from having the initial look of shock to really feeling at home.
Maryam and friends at Universal Studios.
After the preliminary conference activities were done, some of us got to go up to the International Suite to watch the incredible fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. The coolest part of it was that we were so high up that if you looked across the entire horizon, you could see little flashes of fireworks going off in the distance. It truly was a magical experience.
Thursday was the day that the conference truly started. We had an early morning breakfast followed by a short keynote, and then sessions began. Working with the elementary group was so much fun, but really took a lot of work! It takes a lot to keep a group of 6–7 year olds entertained! The first hour and a half was the icebreaker session, so the kids all got to introduce themselves and talk about either their diabetes or the diabetes of their sibling.
One thing that was so funny to me was the blunt honesty of the kids. It was actually so refreshing! For instance, most of them had never encountered someone wearing a scarf (hijab) like I do, so they kept asking if they could take mine off, or if there was any hair underneath it! Their curiosity was so endearing.
Editor’s Note: Tune in next week, when Maryam reveals what has had the biggest role in shaping her life with diabetes…