For many parents and kids with diabetes, diabetes camp is a saving grace. When everyday life can leave you feeling isolated, diabetes camp provides a comradery and a normalcy to life with diabetes, along with your typical camp experience including arts and crafts, bonfires, late night bunk gossip, and lots of singing!
We bring this up now because it’s that time of year again when parents need to start thinking about signing kids up for all kinds of summer camps.
When I was diagnosed at age 8, it didn’t take long before my diabetes clinic introduced us to the local diabetes camp, Gales Creek Camp. Since I was diagnosed in January, there was enough time to get me signed up for a session that very summer! This was especially wonderful in my “early phases,” because testing blood sugar and taking insulin became so much more routine than it was when I was at home with my concerned parents. Since the staff were trained doctors and nurses, neither my parents nor I had to do any of the thinking. Talk about a vacation!
All diabetes camps are a little different, but the basic principles of a fun camp environment mixed with staff trained in diabetes management makes for a perfect getaway for both kids and parents. I was able to experience camp, spend a week away from my parents, and have fun swimming, hiking, and hanging out with new friends and “cool grown-ups,” all while having my diabetes expertly managed. I’d wager that my diabetes control was actually better at diabetes camp because of the constant attention and adjustments from nurses and CDEs who were on-site 24/7.
The support aspect is also crucial. In my experience, some of these kids became very good friends that I spent time with outside of camp. Nowadays with Facebook, it’s even easier to keep in touch with camp friends and get the same “real life” support online, too. For many kids, this is their one and only chance to spend so much time with other kids with diabetes. We all know that diabetes can be an incredibly isolating experience, and it can be transformative to finally be among others who are going through the same thing. Diabetes camp was also a great learning experience. For instance, during my first summer at diabetes camp, a fellow camper who had diabetes longer than me, encouraged me to inject insulin into my abdomen (I was sticking to legs only until then). I was terrified of injecting in my stomach because I thought it would tickle! I didn’t realize at age 8 that you can’t tickle yourself, plus injections don’t really “tickle” anyway. But I didn’t know that… I watched this girl inject in her stomach, and then bravely did it myself. It didn’t tickle. And it didn’t hurt! I’ve been hooked on tummy spots ever since.
Does diabetes camp sound pretty good? In December, we introduced you to Lorne Abramson, President of the Diabetes Education and Camping Association. DECA is a great resource for finding a diabetes camp in your area — and they are all over the country! Not only that, but most of them are reasonably priced, or they provide scholarships for those in need, so there’s no reason not to investigate. However, many summer camps book up early, so it’s important to investigate and apply for camp asap. You don’t want to wait too long, especially for very popular camps or camps with limited spots.
Is your child shy? Unsure about sending your child away for so long? Some camps have “family weekends” or “day camps” where your child is exposed to camp life in small bursts or with you alongside. It’s a great way for both camper and parent to get used to the idea.
For those of you who have hit college age and are suddenly being booted out of diabetes camp, DECA has recently launched D-treats, a series of weekend retreats for young adults with diabetes. This year, they are hosting three D-Treats, in New York, Utah and Ottawa, Canada. Info is still TBD, so you’ll want to “like” their Facebook page to keep in the loop.
The United States and Canada aren’t the only countries with diabetes camp, although the concept may look different depending on which country you’re in:
One camp in Mexico is called Diabetes Safari, and it invites kids ages 7 to 18 to come to Oaxtepec for four days. It is a co-ed, bilingual camp in both English and Spanish. The founder of the camp, Dr. Stan de Loach, is a bicultural and trilingual diabetes educator and was one of the first diabetes educators ever certified in Mexico, as well as a clinical psychologist.
Over in Europe, Diabetes UK hosts several “holidays” throughout the year for children with diabetes, which are similar to US-based diabetes camps. Meals are planned and doctors and nurses are provide constant supervision. Camps are based all over the United Kingdom, and include activities like canoeing, kayaking and archery — sounds like fun!
In Germany, there’s a camp for teens with diabetes, and also one for youth and young adults sponsored by Bayer and Novo Nordisk. I’d imagine most western countries have something going in this area. If you’re looking for a diabetes camp in or near your country, it would be worthwhile to start Googling, and/or ask your local diabetes organization if they have any recommendations.
Diabetes camp was an amazing experience for me growing up, and I’m wondering: Who else has gone to diabetes camp? Or do any of you have concerns about it? Please talk to us.