Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
A few years ago at a weekend diabetes camp, my bunkhouse kids were huddled up at the end of the night sharing their thoughts when a tween boy blurted out, “I know it was my fault that I got diabetes.”
“What?” quickly reverberated around the room. His peers asked why he felt this way, reassuring him that type 1 diabetes is not his fault. The kids’ feelings in the room were heartfelt and palpable. It made me wonder: without camp, would he ever have shared these heavy thoughts with anyone else?
Each time I volunteer as a camp nurse, I see situations like this that are turning points. Diabetes camp provides kids with important opportunities to process how chronic disease impacts their life.
Living with a chronic disease often creates a sense of isolation and exclusion. Camp underscores just how important having a sense of belonging and community is. Camp partly erases the issues kids with type 1 diabetes face for an entire week, and sometimes even changes a camper’s outlook for a lifetime.
Diabetes camp fosters change—even for the adults. It’s a moving experience to witness and facilitate the change, compassion, and acceptance that happens at camp.
Life in camp
We all speak the same diabetes language at camp. I haven’t found another place where the background noise always sounds something like:
“I’m so high.”
“I’m low again.”
“How many carbs are in a marshmallow?”
“Can I check?”
“I need sugar!”
“My finger won’t stop bleeding.”
“He ate 100 carbs!”
“I pulled my site out.”
“I almost dropped my pump in the toilet!”
“I hate peeing in Dixie cups to check for ketones.”
What’s more, all the kids are masters at converting pop lyrics into full-blown, hilarious diabetes songs at the drop of a hat. At camp, type 1 diabetes is everyone’s “normal.”
Still, while summer camp may be carefree for other youths, children with diabetes are always shouldering something more. Going to a camp where every child shares the same health experiences is profoundly affecting.
Help for parents
Parents who have a child with type 1 diabetes have certainly had their share of stress. Having a camp to entrust their child’s well-being to for a short time allows caregivers to take a breather and hit their ‘reset’ buttons.
Camp is often the only time parents can feel comfortable having their kids away from home for a few days. I’ve seen parents drop off their child and screech their wheels on their way to Las Vegas for the week, “checking out” and sleeping through the night for the first time since the previous summer’s diabetes camp.
Finding a camp
There are diabetes camps everywhere. Some families prefer returning to the same camp year after year, while others enjoy exploring new camps (while parents vacation nearby). Here are a few tips to help you find a good camp and get your child ready.
The American Diabetes Association Camps are located across the United States and are a great place to start your search for a local camp.
- Ask your child’s endocrinologist and Certified Diabetes Educator about local options.
- Get other families’ opinions about camps their children have attended.
- Inquire about camp scholarships.
- Camps give detailed lists about preparing for camp, what to bring, and what to expect.
- Camp eligibility usually includes kids ages 6 and up. This varies with each camp.
Camp fosters independence and builds new friendships. Children often come home with new skillsets and motivation to take better care of their diabetes. How many other fun activities can do all that?