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Friends for Life Canada

The last weekend in July a long holiday weekend - dawned sunny and warm. The mood at Toronto's Marriott Eaton Centre was happy and festive as nearly 350 kids and parents from across Canada joined together for support, sharing, and education at the 2nd annual Friends for Life Canada conference.

Families traveled from across Canada and as far away as Texas and the UK to participate in this event. More than 50% of the participants were brand new to CWD conferences, and they were delighted to learn that, at CWD, learning is a family affair. The conference schedule featured programs all day Saturday and Sunday for parents, grandparents, adults with type 1, and children of all ages. Sessions were interspersed with snack breaks and meals perfect opportunities to discuss information that had just been presented, and also great opportunities to ask questions of the conference faculty.

Friday evening kicked off with registration, a reception, and a warm opening keynote by Tom Karlya (aka Diabetes Dad) for all of the participants and sponsors at the conference. The reception featured some yummy hors d'eouvres and a first opportunity to visit with the sponsors and exhibitors to learn about new products and programs available to families with type 1 diabetes. Thank you to Julia Mattingly, Harold Sanco, Scott and Heather Kyllo, Mike Bassett, and Barbara Wagstaff for offering such a warm welcome at Registration. Another huge thank you to the conference sponsors, Animas Canada, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), OneTouch® Canada, and Roche Insulin Delivery Systems. CWD sponsors are conference partners in every sense of the word they help bring the best information to CWD events, and they spend the entire weekend with us, available for questions and discussions with adults and children alike.

Ironman Triathlete Jay Hewitt opened Saturday's program with his keynote, Finish Line Vision. Jay shared the story of his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes and his commitment to 'taking the worst thing that ever happened to me and making it the best thing that ever happened to me.' He encouraged the audience to set goals that have a reasonable chance of failure, as that is the way to grow.

Pediatric Endocrinologist Henry Anhalt presented the late morning keynote, "CGMS and New Technology." Dr. Anhalt shared information about type 1 management technologies which are fairly new to most families, and he also provided a glimpse of what might be available to us in the future. This presentation sparked a lot of discussion and set the stage for many of the sessions which followed.

After a delicious deli lunch complete with portion sizes and carb counts marked on every item on the buffet table, all of the adult participants attended breakout sessions. Gary Scheiner presented his first of three sessions, Managing Hypoglycemia. For many families with type 1 diabetes, low blood sugars are a constant worry and concern. Gary, in his very functional and practical way, described the mechanics behind low blood glucose levels (the hows and the whys), and then shared ways to head them off or manage them quickly and effectively when they occur. CDE Dana Dignard presented Carb Counting Basics for those families who were either new to type 1 and carb counting, or needed some basic brush-up on their techniques. Both sessions were excellent!

Following afternoon snack break, Gary Scheiner continued with Making Sense of Sensor Data, while Psychologist Jill Weissberg-Benchell presented a session about Managing Transitions in Childhood. While there were only a handful of conference participants currently using Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM), most families indicated that they were interested in finding out more about this technology. Dr. Weissberg-Benchell presented a comprehensive overview of the cognitive changes that occur during each stage of childhood. She then discussed why diabetes management needs to be done a certain way (and presents certain challenges) during these different stages of cognitive development.

Saturday evening was a special occasion the Friends for Life Family and Friends Banquet! Master of Ceremonies Tom Karlya welcomed everyone to the evening, and shared what an amazing experience it was for him personally to be sharing this weekend with all of the wonderful FFL families from across Canada. Laura Billetdeaux presented the Friends for Life slideshow a compilation of photos from the past year of CWD conferences set to music. It was very moving and emotional ... the Kleenex boxes were passed around. Finally ... the Family and Friends Dance! While the DJ spun some great tunes from across the generations, most of us (young and old alike!) took to the dance floor ... quite a few until the very end!

Sunday morning ... 8 a.m. breakfast seemed early after the evening's festivities, but lots of great coffee and a very healthy breakfast got the morning started on the right foot! The day was fully-scheduled with breakout sessions including discussion groups for CWD moms, dads, and grandparents, as well as families with celiac. Diabetes Advocacy's Barb Wagstaff facilitated the session Managing Type 1 Diabetes in School. As with previous years, it was a lively discussion with lots of challenges put forward, and a lot of ideas on the table. Natalie Bellini led a hands-on session about Infusion Sets and Sensors (with a special emphasis on why it is so important to rotate infusion sites), and Gary Scheiner finished up his trio of presentations with Strike the Spike, a very practical look at why postprandial highs occur and what to do about them.

Following mid-morning snack break, Dr. Michael Riddell led a sports-focused session on Pumps, Sensors, Exercise, and Type 1 Diabetes. Since many of the conference participants included children who were very involved in school and extra-curricular sports, this session had plenty of practical application. It was well-attended and the participants came away with some good ideas to try immediately.

Natalie Bellini led a discussion about Sick Day Management. During this interactive session, Natalie presented some basic concepts of sick day management, and then asked the audience to share their challenges with sick days. These were then problem-solved together, and everyone went home with fresh ideas for managing these sometimes very difficult situations.

Tom Karlya and Barbara Wagstaff facilitated the session, Advocacy Getting Involved. Tom, who has been a diabetes advocate for nearly two decades in the U.S., shared some basic principles of how to take those first advocacy steps, even when they seem intimidating. Barbara, a well-known advocate for kids with type 1 in Canada, shared her personal experiences as well. Barbara is known by many as the 'go to' person in Canada when a challenging situation occurs.

Following a delicious BBQ lunch (ok, it was an indoor cookout of hot dogs, burgers, chicken, beans, sauerkraut, ice cream, yum!), there was a bit of down time to visit the sponsors and exhibitors one last time before the end of the conference. Many thanks to the four sponsors and nine exhibitors who spent the weekend sharing their products with our CWD families!

One of the highlights of Sunday afternoon was a "Meet the Athletes" panel, moderated by Michael Riddell. Featuring Special Guests Jordan DePape, Mike Fisher, Claire Cashman, Lindsey Carswell, and Chase Pelletier, the discussion was very optimistic and positive, focusing on the concept of possibilities. Our kids with type 1 truly can grow up to do and achieve whatever they set their minds to and these individuals were proof of it. Parents shared with CWD staff after the session how very inspiring it was -- and the athletes shared how much they enjoyed telling their stories to the parents (and to the kids in each of their age groups throughout the weekend).

Parenting Your Teen With Type 1 was a definite favorite this weekend, with the room filled to capacity. CDE Natalie Bellini who once was a teen with type 1 herself led this very focused and practical discussion which overflowed well into coffee break time (so much to talk about!). Also during this hour, Dr. Weissberg-Benchell facilitated a discussion about Avoiding Diabetes Burnout, while Lauren Lanning and Barbara Wagstaff led the Moms Discussion Group and Tom Karlya and Scott Kyllo convened the dads for a similar discussion.

There were other discussion groups both scheduled and impromptu throughout Sunday. CWD Mom Heather Kyllo and CDE Mike Schurig led a discussion about managing celiac, while Jill Weissberg-Benchell gathered the grandparents for some conversation about their experiences and challenges.

The closing session of the conference was presented by CWD President and Founder Jeff Hitchcock. Jeff shared his family's very moving story, beginning with Marissa's diagnosis as a toddler ... and ending with his realization that 'life is about dancing on the beach, not achieving perfect numbers.' Dancing on the beach indeed ... Jeff also shared the happy news that Marissa recently became engaged to Adam in a story rivaling any of the best fairy tales. Bravo!

CWD kids always have their own special programming at our conferences ... and Friends for Life Toronto was no exception! The children grouped with others of the same age: Elementary for the 6-9 year olds, Tweens for the 10-12 year olds, and Teens for the 13-17 year olds. The 'younger than 6' crowd enjoyed two very fun days in childcare as well.

Under the leadership and guidance of leaders Jen Hanson, Lorraine Anderson, Marilyn Fry, Erin Randall, and Dana Mills, the elementary kids had a fabulous time with activities such as a Scavenger Hunt, Harold Time (fun exercise and games with Fitness Instructor Harold Sanco all the way from Washington, D.C.!), swimming in the really cool hotel pool on the 18th floor of the hotel, and meeting some great athletes and role models. The elementary children also made an art project called All About Me each of them beautiful and inspiring.

The tween program, led by Sarah Ketcheson, Whitney Gowanlock, Kim Babcock, and Nadine Ahrens was equally as fun and adventurous. The tweens had exercise time with Harold, chat time with Dr. Jill, an opportunity to meet the VIP athletes, and they also had swim time in the very cool hotel pool! The tweens also had a fun session with Natalie Bellini called Mall Food: What's In this Stuff? They later created some wonderful art projects out of food in a session called Carb Cars and Creatures.

The teen program, led by Alanna Landry, Jim Vail, and Lorelei Domaschuk was a great mix of discussion, presentation, and exploration ... leading to a weekend of fun and learning! The teens explored new technology (thank you to Jeff Hitchcock and Jim Vail for leading the discussion), and also spent time discussing exercise and sports with the VIP athletes as well as Fitness Instructor Harold Sanco. On Sunday, the teens and staff headed for a day at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Last but not least, the "Under 6" group had a weekend of great fun with leaders Alanna and Mark Chambers, Virtue Bajurny, and Anna Kiff. The children had their own mini-Scavenger hunt, joined in some of the Harold Exercise Fun, they built a fort, watched movies, and had some creative crafts time.

CWD dietitian Mike Schurig once again spent months pulling together some great, healthy menus (and portion sizes and carb counts) for all of our meals. He created a wonderful gluten free buffet at each meal for those who needed them. It always amazes the hotel management and dietary staff that we spend so much time and effort on this particular facet of our conferences ... but it is probably the most important thing that makes families feel safe about spending the weekend at a CWD event. So, kudos to Mike for another job well done, and many thanks to Dana Dignard for the hours of assistance!

Scott Kyllo the man behind the technology similarly spent months working on the AV and IT details of this conference and every moment of the conference running back and forth between meeting rooms to make sure everything was set up perfectly. Scott, thanks so much for all you do, and for your great sense of humor while you're doing it!

CWD would not be able to hold conferences at all if not for the continued and consistent generosity of our sponsors. Many thanks once again to our sponsors including Animas Canada, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), OneTouch® Canada, and Roche Insulin Delivery Systems; and additional thanks to the folks at AMG Medical/Dex4 for supplying all of the glucose products to head off low blood sugars. The generosity of these companies in supporting CWD events and families, as well as their passion for helping our kids and everyone with diabetes to lead a full and healthy life, is extraordinary.

Finally, a big hug to the many people who helped out with this conference. You know who you are. We couldn't do this without you, and you have our most sincere thanks.


GSK, which is marketing the OmniPod in Canada, was a new sponsor to Friends for Life Canada
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Kids signed the FFL Canada quilt square ...
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... and made fast friends.
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Jay Hewitt shared his Finish Line Vision during the opening keynote address
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Harold helped our kids learn that exercise can be fun (if not painful the next day)
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Even the very youngest of our kids were in great hands
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Laura was happy to dance during the banquet
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Andrew learned he could eat like he did before diagnosis -- and he was very happy!
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The teens posed for a group photo before heading off site on Sunday
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Just some of the CWD faculty and staff
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