Perspective/Type 1 Diabetes
What was the most joyous event that you and your family attended recently? A wedding or other life celebration? Perhaps going to a concert, sports competition, or amusement park? For us, it was a fundraiser. How could that be possible?
The event was the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) One Walk South Jersey, held October 16 on a local college campus. Our family—Casey’s Clan—was JDRF’s 2022 Family Team Champion for South Jersey, so in the Spring we had the honor of inviting other families newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and their supporters to attend the walk. Then, on Walk day, we greeted the assembled 1,500 attendees before setting out on the 2-mile walk.
My speech reviewed Casey’s diagnosis story and how, 18 months later, my now 7-year-old’s take-control, live-life-to-the-fullest attitude inspires me. I described his athletic exploits to illustrate how children with T1D can keep pursuing their goals with gusto, and I publicly recognized a dear friend with T1D, Stephanie, whose sharp eye for the symptoms of type 1 and her quick action getting us to the ER probably saved Casey’s life. I also spoke of how meaningful it’s been for us to advocate for people with type 1, thanked JDRF and a T1D community we didn’t even know existed until it came forward to help us, and promised to always be there for other T1D families, in return. Casey then accepted an award to Casey’s Clan from JDRF for being a top fundraiser and advocate for people living with T1D.
Casey held his award until bedtime, and proudly shared it with his classmates the next day.
Yet he had radiated joy from the moment we arrived at One Walk, hours before the award, until long after we left the event. It was a child-oriented, festive gathering, so his siblings had great fun too. His older brother Jaiden exclaimed afterwards, “That was so much fun!” Children could pose for photos with fictional characters who roamed the event: Deadpool, Wolverine, other superheroes, JDRF’s Rufus the Bear and Wawa’s Wally Goose. They could win prizes spinning the READ Preschool’s prize wheel, spray their hair blue (as did my boys and my mother) and enjoy the Wawa Foundation’s free, carb-labeled drinks and snacks.
JDRF’s One Walk was uncommonly special for Casey, however. He was, for once, among his own, many children and adults who live and breathe his medical reality every day. JDRF had presented a blue T1D Looks Like Me cape to everyone with T1D, so he saw people of all ages living with it. He bonded immediately with a just-diagnosed boy, Joey, from another top JDRF fundraising team. The two boys cut the ribbon to officially start the walk. Then, off they ran with their T1D capes flying behind them, past lines of applauding cheerleaders, the start of a special friendship. Casey stayed with Joey until the event ended. He can’t wait to see him again.
I likewise connected with Joey’s mother. You needn’t explain to another T1D parent what it means to care for a child with T1D. You share the same fears, fatigue and uncertainties, so there is instant empathy, rapport and support. We also shared the joy of finding a new T1D playmate for our sons.
In hindsight, JDRF’s One Walk was much more than a fundraising event. It was a celebration of T1D families, their strength living with a challenging disease and their teams’ months of advocacy and fundraising. The top six fundraising teams each had a tent, with a table, chairs and a plate-size chocolate chip cookie decorated with the team’s name. Team tents were lined up together so families could meet and mingle. Teams that had raised over $1,000 were V1P’s who proudly walked the red carpet lined by joyful cheerleaders, received a lanyard with a V1P badge, enjoyed a V1P photo op and had a choice of special drinks and snacks. It was easy to identify team members because we all wore team-designed t-shirts emblazoned with our team’s name. There was even a team t-shirt contest. Families and friends could also celebrate individuals with T1D by having JDRF place a poster for that person along the walk’s Mile of Hope, showing their name, photo, current age and age at diagnosis.
Most of all, the JDRF One Walk was a wonderful opportunity to gather with loved ones, visit with old T1D friends and supporters and form new friendships. For example, we were delighted to see Casey’s friend Avery and her family, who we first met just weeks ago, as well as friends Sara and Chris, our two super supportive JDRF contacts, with Chris being a T1D parent too. My speech had emphasized the importance of community, but I could actually feel the network of T1D support growing, almost magically, throughout the day. JDRF’s One Walk was thus meeting another of its goals—to support families living with T1D. It showed us not only that we are not alone, but also that, by moving forward together, we can leave a legacy for eventually lifting the burdens of type 1. No wonder it was such a joyous and unforgettable event for us, and for Casey especially.
Lisa Seitles and her husband Sam are the owners of READ Preschool and Camp Tuscaloosa. They have four children and are active members of the community.