What would you say if your parents suggested that you go to a diabetes camp this summer?
"NO WAY!!" seems to be the answer of choice. But what if you were told that you might meet your best friend, learn to shoot a bow and arrow, or learn skills to control your diabetes that will help you the rest of your life or even have a good time?
Like many of you, Dustin M. was not excited about going to a camp full of kids with diabetes. He never imagined that he would try things like kayaking, archery, rock climbing and volleyball. (There are so many things to do that you probably won't get to do all of them).
A diabetes camp is a great place to spend your summer. Everyone there (including the doctors, nurses, counselors and other staff members) know all about diabetes, and many of them have diabetes themselves. "Everybody is going through the same thing you are," says Dustin. "If you are having problems with your diabetes, someone is always there to help you." Some of the camps even have prizes like me waiting for you, or stuffed animals, bags, water bottles, and more.
Find a camp near you
To find a camp near you or learn more about diabetes camps, check out the following web sites:
What is Camp like?
The First Day: The first day at camp, everyone gathers in the rec. hall and the camp director asks, "How many people have diabetes?" When all of the campers' hands go up (including those of many of the staff members and counselors), you know you're not alone.
"There are very few times in your life when you will be with this many other people who have diabetes," says Steven L., 16. He has been going to Bearskin Meadows for the past 3 years. He has met kids and counselors from all over the world. "It is very interesting to learn how kids from other parts of the world treat their diabetes. I have learned a lot."
Something for Kids of all Ages
Diabetes camps are a good place to learn about controlling your diabetes. Younger kids learn the basics, like how to give insulin injections and how to test your own blood sugar. Teenagers at diabetes camp learn how to fine-tune their blood sugar control while hiking, fishing, or playing soccer. For instance, when everyone stops to test his/her blood sugar, the counselor can help you figure out how much food or insulin you need to keep your blood sugar in the normal range.
The counselors are the key to learning. Most of them started out as campers themselves. You can learn a lot just by watching what they do and listening to them. It's also nice to see older people who have managed to be healthy, happy and athletic with diabetes. "Seeing someone you look up to control their diabetes is very cool!" says Dustin.
Dustin is going to be a counselor-in-training and plans to be involved with the camp as long as he is able to. "I want to help both kids and other counselors learn more about diabetes and how to take care of themselves. You can have diabetes and still live a life full of excitement. I just want others to know that they are not alone and that being diabetic does not make you that different," he says.
I remember turning 10, being diagnosed with something called diabetes and then being shipped off to some weird summer camp. I thought things couldn't get worse! It was the summer after 5th grade. My parents suggested that I go to a camp for kids with diabetes (that means that they told me I was going) to learn more about the disease, how to control it and to meet new friends. Yeah, right!
I had never heard of such a place, and the last thing on my summer wish list was to go to a camp in the middle of nowhere, full of kids who I didn't know, who all have this weird disease. But, no matter how much I begged, my parents were intent on making me go. Turns out that this was the beginning of the best summer of my life.
Spending time with other kids who also have diabetes made me feel normal. It was amazing how many others shared my insecurities about being diabetic and who were also having the same control problems. I learned so much about how to manage my diabetes with diet, exercise and insulin. The tricks I learned at camp continue to help me to this day (almost 14 years later).
If any of you are considering going to camp or are going and are nervous about it, I encourage you to GO! You will learn a lot and have a great time! Who knows, you might even want to go back next year.
What to Expect
Can you do all the same activities other kids do? Canoe down wilderness streams? Backpack on rough mountain trails? Compete in team sports? You bet! In fact, these activities help keep blood sugar under control and keep you healthy and energetic. Besides, they're fun!
A typical day at camp might start at dawn, when everyone wakes up and tests their blood. Then, after the day's first insulin injection, everyone eats a breakfast that fits into his/her meal plan. Tests, insulin injections, and meals are scheduled between all kinds of activities: Outdoor activities like archery, backpacking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and sailing; team sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, street hockey; plus, dancing, performing arts, crafts and even radio broadcasting may be offered.
If you haven't had diabetes for very long, you might want to consider a "family camp," where other family members join you at camp and learn about diabetes, too. "When you're younger and you have this new disease, it's scary, and all these things are coming at you at once," says Darci S., who went to a family camp after she got diabetes. "If you're scared about it, family camps are really awesome because then you have your family there, but you still get all the education and experiences."
One of the best things about diabetes camp is that you learn the skills that are necessary to keep your diabetes under control. This is important both for your overall health, but also, when you want to go to some other type of camp, your diabetes won't set you apart from the other campers.
What to bring to Camp
Summer heat and perspiration can spoil your insulin and your infusion site if you have a pump, so take care with your supplies.
Bring more supplies than you expect to use:
- Glucose meter and extra test strips
- Extra insulin and syringes
- If you have a pump bring extra pump insulin, reservoirs, batteries, infusion sets, and tape
- Emergency kit: Longer-acting insulin, syringes, Glucagon, ketone strips
- Glucose tablets
- Medical ID
- All prescriptions, insurance, physician contact info
- Non-perishable snacks
Before you leave home:
- Label your supplies with your name.
- Record basal rates: These are often changed at camp in response to increased activity.
At camp (and always): Remember to fill out your log book.
Be prepared, and you'll enjoy the summer!