Friends for Life 2006: Allison-Style
Ok, folks, I can finally sit at my desk chair for more than 5 minutes at a length, so now seems like a pretty good time to update with a little CWD Friends for Life recap. Now, mind you this will not do nearly as much justice to the event as ACTUALLY GOING TO IT, so people, puh-leeze mark this on your calendar so I can see ya'll in Florida next year!
I actually arrived in Orlando on the 17th, three days before the conference started. I spent the entire day in the airplane, as required when flying across the country and three time zones. The airplane ride was fairly smooth, and although some stormy weather around Orlando caused a detour into the Atlantic ("Hey, looks like we're going to Africa!"), everyone arrived safe and sound. Except for my glucose meter. Somewhere along the way, the meter vanished. I checked my blood sugar on the plane flying from Portland to Dallas, but I when I landed in Dallas for dinner I didn't bother checking because I could feel my low and decided to just eat. By the time I was ready to check my blood sugar in Orlando, ix-nay on the eter-may. Yikes. A couple from the U of O staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, Andrew and Patrice, and their baby daughter, Isobel, picked me up from the Orlando airport. Embarassed and frustrated that I had already lost something (and my meter no less!), I told Patrice I had to go to a pharmacy. Luckily, Walgreens had a BD Logic meter on sale for $10. Yes, a $10 meter is a bargain, but still. I had to actually BUY one. I had NEVER in my life PAID for a glucose meter up until that point. Quite possibly one of my most embarassing moments, I believe.
After dinner, Andrew and Patrice drove me down International Drive to the Renaissance Orlando Resort. I settled into the room and did some unpacking. I eventually ran into Marissa Hitchcock (I hope you don't need me to explain who she is), her friend from home, Kristen, and two very cute and hilarious Italian boys, Guilio and Sebastiano. The Italian boys (as they were henceforth known as) had also arrived that day and were completely jet-lagged, retiring early. Marissa, Kristen and I then spent about an hour looking for food. One of my few complaints about the place we stayed at was the lack of available food. They had one restaurant (which closed at 10), a bar (that stopped serving food at 10), room service that took FOREVER, and no restaurants within walking distance. Luckily, Brenda Hitchcock with her minivan and Wendy's with their late-night drive-throughs saved the day. After we returned, I went down to the lobby to hang out with my roommate Meghan and ELLEN!!!!!!!!!! That's right folks, THE ELLEN!!!! Live and in color! So exciting! And she is *exactly* the same in person as she is on the internet. Which is to say, totally awesome.
Tuesday, although not an official conference day, was quite possibly the best! Marissa, Kristen, the Italian Boys, Kathryn and Tim (Marissa's younger sister and brother), Kathryn's friend Megan, Kenny (another kids with diabetes) and I all went to EPCOT! I have never been to any of the Disney World amusement parks, so it was cool to go to Epcot since I had heard a lot about it. We went on some rides, including Mission: Space, a ride that's inside that Epcot ball, and this environmental ride where they have a pumpkin in the shape of Mickey.
I would like to take this opportunity to let you all in on a little secret. Some might see this as an abuse of diabetes, some people might see this as capitulating to the stereotype that people with diabetes are "disabled." I don't care. This was a brilliant idea. As soon as we entered Epcot, Marissa decided that since more than half of us were diabetic, and four of us were wearing an insulin pump, we needed to get a disability pass. Our "reasoning" is that people with diabetes can't wait in long lines outside because our insulin could get spoiled. But no one really asked why we had a pass, so we used for inside rides, too. Basically it's a "Cut in front of the line" pass for people who are disabled for one reason or another and either can't/don't want to wait in long lines. We got a pass that allowed us and our non-diabetic companions to go through the wheel-chair accessible entrance, essentially cutting to the front of the line on every ride. Bloody brilliant. I felt like a VIP.
Quite possible the best abuse of having diabetes since skipping gym class.
We also went to the World Showcase, where this promenade is divided up into different countries and you can visit stores and buy very touristy type stuff. We took a couple of pictures there. One is in France, and the other is of us in a Morrocan store. The Volunteer Reception was Tuesday night, but they ended up not having any dinner, so the Italian Boys and I had dinner at the hotel restaurant and they quizzed me for awhile on English and the American lifestyle. It's pretty interesting. It also reminded me of how absolutely nuts Americans and the English language really are.
On Wednesday, Meghan and I went shopping with the Italian boys because Guilio lost his luggage in Germany and had been wearing the clothes of random male staffers the entire week. So Meghan and I took them to the bank to exchange money and then to Target to buy clothes. That was an experience in and of itself.... When we got back, I had several hours to kill before anything actually started. I signed a couple of awards to the men who were going to be honored at the banquet on Thursday (Al Mann, the guy who started Minimed, and Dean Kamen, the guy who started the insulin pump). I also talked to some families, said howdy to Phil Southerland (a dude who biked across the country) and meandered around. I also chatted with Sebastiano for awhile and had dinner, and we walked around the Exhibit Hall. I saw my friend Noah from Oregon perform at the Novo Nordisk booth, said hey to Julie Defruscio who started Pump Wear, Inc. (they let me crash in their room during the San Deigo con last year), saw my friend Clare from camp briefly, finally met two more people I've known online for years, Gary Feit and Jill Gonyea from JDRF. I also re-met Jay Leeuwenberg (former pro-football player - I met him at Children's Congress in 2001) and his agent, Denny Dressman, who seemed seriously happy to see me.
I also went to the First-Timers Reception. One of the questions on the "Scavenger Hunt" list was "Find a person who wears two pumps." Obviously, the second pump is for Symlin, which many people who have kids don't know anything about. So I ended up explaining Symlin to several people throughout the course of the conference, leading me to believe that I was either a diabetes educator in another life or I'm simply struggling against my fate to become a CDE. Who wants to start taking bets to see how long I can fight it?
My diabetes educator, Gary, was also there, along with his 9-year-old daughter, Jackie, who essentially adopted me as her "big sister" that week. I think I spent more time with Jackie then I did with just about anyone else.
Thursday was the start of the actual conference. I went to the Young Adults session, which ended up being us Young Adults giving words of wisdom to Parents of Future Young Adults. The NIH Research Update, which I personally didn't really learn a lot from, but what I did personally note was David Harlan's comment that even with stem cells turned into islet cells, doctors will still have to face the problem of immune system rejection. With every single case of islet transplants either from cadavers or even from twins, the immune system always remembers the destruction of the beta cells and that is the issue that doctors are going to have to work on if there is going to be a cure. I thought that was interesting, and while it is depressing, it also reminds me how much our researchers really do need all the help with funding that they can get. Support research! Donate today!
During the snack break, I went to the Bayer station and picked up a copy of Kassie's book (::waves to Kassie::) IT'S SO COOL! Okay, granted, I'm not a parent and not even really close to being a parent, but it's still totally awesome. Way to go, Kassie. And then I went over and introduced myself to Lance Porter, from Diabetes Positive. One of the few diabetes magazines I have yet to be in. :-) So of course, I had to introduce myself. As soon as I told him about my website, Lance said, "You know, we feature people like you who are doing positive things. How about we take some pictures and then I can interview you later?" I was like "Great," thinking we'd arrange for a time to do a photo shoot later that weekend. Ha. Lance gets up and starts taking my picture, right there at the booth. Then he says, "Let's go outside and take some." So then I have an impromptu photo shoot in front of a bush in a hotel parking lot... Odd? Uh, very. I'll let you know when the article comes out.
After that, I spent a couple of hours searching to Tom Karlya. Why? Because he was my connection to my first interview of the weekend, and I couldn't do it without him. After bugging Julia Mattingly several hundred times, she finally told me Tom was in the ballroom talking to Laura. Turns out, since I hadn't been checking my email (no computer) and he didn't have my cell phone number, we never ended up connecting about the interview until an hour before it was supposed to happen. Thus I was fairly scrambled and nervous just from not knowing if it really was going to happen. But it was. Tom and the interviewee had arrived. At 5:00, Tom and I met up in the lobby and went up to the hotel room of former American Idol contestant, Kevin Covais, a.k.a. Chicken Little. He was the guest performer and his appearance was completely TOP SECRET. But my interview with Kevin went off without a hitch, he was very nice, and everyone at the banquet loved him. Interview coming to Diabetes Teen Talk sometime next month.
The banquet itself was great. Kris Freeman (Olympic skier) spoke about his experience. And then Will Cross spoke. That man is SO FREAKING AMAZING. The TOP of the FREAKING WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And he brought video! And pictures! Seriously, I was in awe. Unfortunately, I never actually saw him during the rest of the conference for some reason, so I never got a chance to ask him for an interview. But I will. Mark my words. I will get my interview with Will Cross.
After nearly losing my voice talking with some parents of a teen girl with diabetes during a very loud dance party, I headed up to Gary and Jackie's room to watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Which seriously is best watched with a 9-year-old Harry Potter fanatic.
Friday morning, I had a quick little photo shoot with Kevin (never got around to it on Thursday) and an interview with 17-year-old National Fencing Champion Harry Mahaffey. Very nice kid. His grandma was there, she's nice too. After I finished with that, I went to a young women's discussion group with Nicole Johnson Baker, Fran Kaufman, and Kelly Close and we talked about having babies. Which again, isn't something I'm planning on, but boy was it informative. We need to have an Adults with Type 1 diabetes conference or something. And Ava Grace is sooo cute. Seriously. The most adorable baby on the face of the planet. Totally takes after her mommy. My friend Clare gave her presentation on her trip to three third world countries to tour medical facilities and the state of diabetes health care. Very sad, but things are looking good with the passing of a U.N. Resolution. It would take an entire post to explain all of that so I'll just point you to the Unite for Diabetes website. Friday night was a pretty laid back night since the entire week was leaving me exhausted. I needed to save my strength for Saturday.
Saturday was an all-day Sea World Day. I went with Gary and Jackie, and despite the Floridean humidity, I managed to survive pretty well. After going to Guest Services to pick up our "disability pass" (we weren't the only ones, too, the Lannings were there picking up theirs as well), Jackie and I went on the Journey to Atlantis ride and got thoroughly soaked. The wet jeans and t-shirt, while uncomfortable, kept me nice and cool the whole day. I also ran into one of my new friends, Diamond, and her parents, who were also soaked but from the Shamu show. Snapped a couple photos together before leaving. We had dinner at Sharks, which was a restaurant with an aquarium of sharks inside. Our tables was right next to the glass wall and, I have to admit, it was rather unnerving eating seafood next to sharks. Actually, some were sharks and some were fish, but there was one shark that had it teeth bared the entire time and it kept swimming by us. It was kinda creepy.
Sunday was packing and flying home day. Meghan and I spent a little bit of time by the pool talking with Ellen, Crystal Jackson, their respective daughters, and a couple other parents. Then we all hugged and waved good-bye and took off. Had a very uneventful flight home (thank God) and arrived safe and sound.
So that was my exciting adventure in Orlando. I'm looking forward to next year, where I will hopefully meet even more people and see the people that I met this year.
I think this little anecdote sums up my entire trip, though: Friday night, I went down to the Teen Dance to hang out for a bit, and I ran into John Swanston, Nicole Johnson Baker's agent. He and I have emailed several times for work-related stuff, but had never met. He comes over and tells me how earlier that day, he noticed me sitting next to Nicole during the Young Adults Discussion group when he came to pick up Ava Grace. Later, he asks Nicole who that was sitting next to her. Nicole replies, "That's Allison." And he tells me that he replied, "You mean she's REAL?!?"
Yes, Ladies and Gentleman of the O.C., I am Real.