If you have been reading through GraceMark Musings, you might see a pattern of what is important to me. Well, I think it shows there are a lot of things that are important to me to highlight (wellness, patient advocacy, type 1 diabetes awareness...and the list goes on). One of the top priorities for me, as a person who lives with diabetes and works with others who want to live their best life with diabetes and as a human being, is being in community with others.
Nothing replaces the feeling of being around people who can relate to your life. In the dark times and the best of times, being able to share tears of joy or celebration with people who exist in the same world that you do is a special gift. This is why I love to participate in conversations and events that keep me connected to the T1D community, whether online or in-person. One of the most gratifying things about the work that I do is the increased opportunities to connect with my T1D peers. Staffing/speaking at the 2017 ADA Family Retreat in Orange County was definitely one of these opportunities.
The American Diabetes Association closed their office in Orange County, which was a disappointment and a shock to our local community. However, with an active and engaged community board stepping up to team with ADA personnel from other SoCal offices, there was still a family retreat event this year. Unlike last year's trip up the mountain, this year our trek took us to the Outdoor Education Center at Irvine Ranch. We had an intimate gathering of (mostly) newly diagnosed families, some more experienced families, and staff that were excited to greet each and every person in attendance. We had extended families, siblings, single moms and dads, and multiple perspectives and cultures in our group, bringing new questions and answers to the table. We shared stories, like that of a counselor who recently completed a trek on the John Muir Trail, and the counselor who is training his own diabetes alert dog.
If you asked the kids what their favorite part about the weekend was, I'd bet they would tell you it was the zipline experience. If you asked the parents what their favorite part about the weekend was, I'd bet they would tell you it was sharing with other parents of children who live with T1D; the ability to let loose the tears held back around their friends and family who don't quite understand all that their family is experiencing. Watching new friends of all ages being made in our tight-knit gathering was pretty neat. There was some sadness in welcoming very new members to our "club", with diagnoses as recent as just 12 days prior to the retreat, but the sadness cleared to reveal a happiness that comes from the belonging to a supportive group who is there alongside on the journey.
As for me? I love it all, the big things and the small. I love the sigh of relief a parent has when they realize their child is in safe hands with the T1D staff, or that they can comfortably inject their child at the table without judgment. I love seeing the inquisitive child walk up to every adult and child in their midst to ask "Do you have diabetes? Do you have diabetes? I have diabetes too!" I love reuniting with counselors and volunteers and doctors from events past and meeting new ones. I love that I am still learning about my own diabetes as I teach others what I have already come to know. I loved addressing the parents and guardians about finding their own type 1 diabetes caregiver confidence and helping them build plans and strategies for enlisting their own family, friends, and others in providing a safe and stable community for their child, wherever they may go.
In addition to all of the warm feelings of community participating in this weekend experience produced, it also brought to mind how important it is for us to support a variety of diabetes organizations. They each provide a unique service and resource to our community; without ADA, there would have been no family retreat. With the group gathered at family retreat, I was able to introduce many to Children with Diabetes, an organization most attendees had not yet heard of. By the end of the weekend, many parents were telling me that they planned to join in CWD Anaheim and/or FFL in Florida. Seasoned families talked about the benefits of getting involved with the PADRE Foundation, and teams were formed for the upcoming JDRF One Walk in Orange County. It was a reminder of how each of these organizations is vital in their own way and has no competition in the other. We are a team, a community, a family and we come together to support each other in every aspect of living well with diabetes.