Today we share another insightful post from our “Guest Dad Blogger” and long-time FIRST member, Mark Klafter, father of Adam Klafter, affected with epidermolytic ichthyosis (formerly known as EHK). In this post, Mark shares why he and his family have been attending and participating in the FIRST National Conference since 2002, and why it’s not too early to start planning for the 2016 Conference in San Diego!
Twelve months?…52 weeks?…365 days?…525,600 minutes? How do you measure a year? No matter how you look at it, we are now a little less than year away from the next Family Conference to be held in San Diego, California. For those who have attended a prior event, the anticipation and excitement has likely begun already. For the many new families who have discovered FIRST over the past year, as well as those who have been a part of this community for longer, but never attended a conference, NOW is the time to start planning.
Why do I need to go to a Family Conference, you ask? What’s so great about it, you wonder? And, why do I have to start planning a year in advance, you say scratching your head? Let’s start with answering the first two questions.
It’s almost impossible to truly explain why it’s such a worthwhile event. The conference is simply the greatest experience you will ever encounter for you, your family, and for anyone affected by ichthyosis. How many of you struggle to find a doctor that really knows and understands the condition? Who wants to meet someone else with your exact type of ichthyosis? And wouldn’t you like to shake hands with or hug that person you’ve been texting and Facebooking with, trying to solve that endless list of questions and challenges? Well, all that can happen at the magical place called….the FIRST National Conference. The conference is your opportunity to build those connections with so many other people who share your experiences every day; to ask an endless number of questions, and get just as many great answers in return. It’s a place to meet and consult with the brightest and best medical minds in dermatology, who dedicate much of their lives to all things ichthyosis. It’s an opportunity to feel safe, a place to feel accepted, and a time to be supported at a level you’ve never experienced before.
Just over 13 years ago my youngest son was born with EI (otherwise known as EHK). Like many of you, it was quite the surprise, and changed our lives forever. Three months after he was born, I boarded a plane alone and headed to the 2002 Family Conference in Seattle. I’ll admit, the experience was a bit surreal. It was even overwhelming to a degree. But two and a half days later I went back home armed with knowledge, confidence, and friendships. Most importantly, I left the conference knowing everything was going to be okay; that my wife and I COULD do this and that our son would grow up to be the ridiculously awesome 13 year old he is today. We’ve never missed a conference since then. San Diego will be our 8th consecutive one, and far from our last.
Now, the “Why?” Why do you need to start planning this far in advance? Well, there is a lot to consider. Who from your family will attend? Are you going to travel just for the conference, or make a vacation out of it and visit other areas? How will you pay for it all? Ahh, yes…that’s the tricky one. The #1 reason I hear from people as to why they didn’t attend, or haven’t attended is due to financial reasons. But that’s why planning ahead is critical. I believe every family CAN experience the conference regardless of financial situation. I searched online for the cost of airfare to San Diego from a dozen random cities, large and small, around the US. The average airfare is approximately $375 per ticket. It’s not cheap, I’ll admit. But we’re one year away. You would essentially need to save $1.03 per day, if you started saving now. The hotel is usually about $119 per night, and you’re there for at least two nights. That’s another $0.65 per day you need to save. When you break it down, it all seems a little less daunting.
So how do you get to the point where you’ve saved enough for the trip? And for more than just one person perhaps? Here’s a few suggestions:
- Start a change jar for all your spare change every day.
- Find one thing you spend money on regularly that you can either cut back on or cut out all together. Skip the grande mocha latte and brown bag lunch for a while.
- Walk instead of driving if you can. Figure out how much you’ve saved in gas money and put it right in the jar!
- Raise the money through a small fundraising activity.
- Get the whole family involved. Perhaps you or the kids can walk the neighbors dogs, babysit, hold a bake sale or have a neighborhood car wash.
There is an endless number of ways you can do it. And you’d be amazed how people are willing to help when they know what you’re trying to accomplish.
There are even financial aid opportunities offered by FIRST that can help a limited number of families with conference expenses. But no matter what path you take to get to San Diego, you have to act NOW. Don’t delay! It’s an experience you don’t want to miss. Plus, now there’s only 525,595 minutes left.