I was standing in a dimly lit ballroom, full of researchers in their weekend clothes, eating celery when I saw her coming towards me. Her being my friend and fellow PACer Sami, a backpack on and a big bag over one shoulder, a wide grin breaking on her face. We ran at each like you see in those slow-motion movie scenes, met each other in a big hug, then, smiling at one another, introduced ourselves in person for the first time. This is the funny thing about gutsy people meeting - we know each other in a way that others don’t, even though we’d never met face to face. And just like that, it was a gutsy friendship at first sight.


We were abuzz with excitement in the nerdiest way - surrounded by researchers and GIs - we couldn’t keep from smiling at the scene. The ImproveCareNow Learning Session was completely novel to me in how Sami and I, as the two C3N Project patient scholars, were included in a conference designed for researchers. It was sort of like looking over the fence into someone else’s backyard, and all of the researchers were more than welcoming and excited to have us there. In case it is not abundantly clear by the end of this post, I am a huge researcher groupie - like huge, I was geeking out the whole time - and was so thrilled to be a part of the Learning Session.


Sami and I begrudgingly discovered that we had been given individual rooms - a thought which would likely please someone else but not us - so we decided to remedy the situation and move her things into my room (because it would have been a tragedy to have lost bonding time!). The first night we stayed up way past our bedtimes sharing stories and showing off the things we had brought to put on our storyboards. Finally by 1:30 AM, we conceded that it was probably time to go to sleep since we had to rouse ourselves at 6 AM, so we climbed under the covers and said good-night.


Saturday was filled with so many incredible things that it’s hard to recount them all, for any words I pick cannot accurately describe my enthusiasm or the entire experience. Having been given access to the Twitter account so we could send real-time updates, I became (even more of a) Twitter addict, tweeting everything from that first breakfast (Chicago was so ready for me with all of the bananas!) to quotes during the opening remarks. As someone who has IBD, it was really humbling and phenomenal to see all of these dedicated researchers and doctors working to improve care in pediatric IBD. I have found myself over the years struggling to establish medical legitimacy for my disease, and yet amongst this group, everyone understood, encouraged, and believed in youth with IBD - it was unbelievable.


We got to attend a session with parents and it is something I will never forget. Their faces were bright with enthusiasm, their children so young and hopeful, but their futures unsure. There was relief in their faces when they saw me and the other patients - knowing that their own kids with IBD would be okay and happy and smiling and at school and living life. I had never thought of my parents in that way before - the uncertainty, the fear, the love for their children - and I was incredibly touched by their compassion and insight into what it is like when your child has IBD.


The patients and parents had set up storyboards on the periphery of the conference room, and I would peruse them with Sami at my side, the two of us falling in love with all of the children. There is something odd and unnameable about looking at a child and knowing some of the IBD challenges in his or her future - those nights when there’s nothing to do but cry, days in the hospital falling asleep to daytime television, and times when the very thought of leaving the house seems impossible. But I know too that there will be moments - bigger and greater than the moments of pain - where the world will open right up for these kids and they’ll be unstoppable. I wish I had met them in person - but that can be my next trip to meet my little IBD crushes.


For the last day of the conference, Sami and I had been asked to choose our ‘IBD theme song’. On Saturday night, Sami and I laid on our bed, exchanging song options until we had found the perfect ones. The big reveal of our IBD-theme-song-extravaganza had been saved for the very last part of the conference, and we handed over the songs on a USB stick.  But when it came time to announce the songs, instead they called Sami and I to the podium. We got up and began to laugh nervously as we threaded our way through the sea of chairs and tables. Sami went first and played ‘The Fighter’ by Gym Class Heroes and we began to dance at the front of the room. Upon introducing my song, I explained that it was an ode to my colon - and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ by Taylor Swift began to play. The researchers laughed and clapped as Sami and I began to dance again and we were laughing with them.


ImproveCareNow Patient Advisory CouncilIt was the conference I’d be looking forward to for so long, enjoyed so much, and was over way too soon. Before I could blink, I was sitting on a plane bound for Boston. All of my roommates were out when I came home.  I unpacked and called my parents, telling them all about the trip and the countless amazing things that had happened. The next day, I went to the gym and just before I put my headphones in, a certain song came over the loudspeaker and I couldn’t help but grin. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ was on and I briefly considered taking out my ostomy and dancing, but felt that the joke would be lost on my college peers. I put my headphones in, the smile stuck on my face, thinking of my weekend and the great things to come for all pediatric IBDers.



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