If I was to be asked if I wanted to go to a diabetes camp when I was first diagnosed or even 5 years later, my answer would have been a flat out NO! Now, after being involved as a Diabetes Educator at numerous camps I feel that my decision back then may have been a hasty one. While I still think my answer would have been no, even with all I have learnt, I can see the immense power that these camps have to help children who have newly been diagnosed with diabetes, those who have had it for a while, those who are managing their diabetes well and also those who are in denial and want nothing more than to say that they do not have diabetes. Even these kids who don’t want to deal with their diabetes or talk about it, have generally developed close relationships with other children by the end of the camp. It’s pretty incredible to see the transition!
I know this seems like a lot for one camp to be able to do, but they can in fact do all of these things. The diabetes camps, run through Diabetes Australia in most states of Australia, and through similar organisations overseas, are a place where kids of similar age groups meet up with volunteer leaders who usually have diabetes or have a link with diabetes in some way, as well as diabetes educators, exercise physiologists and dietitians to have a fun camp and meet some new people. The main aim of these camps is fun, and to show the children with diabetes that it does not have to control their every move in a day; to show them that they can do all the activities that other kids are doing and that they can use their pump or insulin in public spaces.
These camps also give children, and adults at younger camps, the ability to see what other people are using. There are so many different machines out there in the world of diabetes and even just these are overwhelming sometimes. How do you know which one is best, most accurate, going to work the best for you? On top of all the other wonderful benefits of camps they give those involved the chance to discuss what they use with others. This does not only happen between health professional to children or between the children. The children get the chance to discuss these things with the leaders who use the same or different machines or techniques to them, or if they are super lucky, to discuss these things with a diabetes educator who also has diabetes and has used the machines, pens and needles; this is an anomaly and a fabulous find!
Camps give people with newly diagnosed diabetes the chance to talk to those who have had it for a longer time. To see that you can be a professional business person, a professional sports person, a professional in the health industry like myself, a young adult going to university and having fun with friends, a hippie, that person who passed you on the street the other day, that person who was whistling in the elevator. Camps make diabetes normal and try to impart increased independence and strength in the children and teenagers that attend them.
At camps it seems that people are more open to questions and to showing other kids what they do and how they do it. All of the kids are inquisitive when other children are doing things slightly differently and using different injection devices. It is really cool to see kids just go up and ask, what are you doing? And to see the unbiased response of the other, and the explanation that follows. Sometimes this explanation needs slight tapering from a health professional, but it is a great environment for children and teenagers to become comfortable with questions and work out how to answer these. These questions happen in day to day life and it is important for kids to be able to respond in a constructive manner. Even better, to respond to the looks that we sometimes get in a constructive manner. People are curious and when they see something they don’t know sometimes they make a judgemental face, but more often than not they are just curious about what is happening and just need a little explanation, or a smile and a shrug to show that it is not something bad that you are doing. You are just doing what you need to do to survive this next meal, or this coffee and piece of cake; Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t have that piece of cake, or that mars bar because you have diabetes! Everything in moderation is my motto, and as long as that is combined with insulin accordingly and exercise and some other good dietary habits, it’s all good. Camps give the children and teenagers the opportunity to discuss and develop ways of handling these situations on the outside, in normal everyday life. Similarly, it gives the campers the opportunity to compare stories and ideas about their diabetes and it shows them that other people have experienced the same things and thought the same things, and maybe some have even tried those things and can give you some tips for your trial.
The camps are not only about diabetes and instruments, as I said, they are a place to have fun, and forget a little about your diabetes; to play and interact with other kids who are like you. At diabetes camps people without diabetes are the minority. It’s one of the wonderful oddities of diabetes camps that I absolutely love. My diabetes doesn’t really bother me or get in my way at all, I have no qualms about testing while standing in line or pulling out my pump and bolussing while chatting to a complete stranger, I don’t care about answering random questions about the things I do, but at Diabetes camps, even now as a 30 year old, it’s nice to be surrounded by people that have to the same thing every day.
Additionally, they are a great place to meet diabetes educators, exercise physiologists and dietitions in a more fun and casual environment than you would normally meet them. Particularly for the kids camps, where an adult family member also comes, this is a really important tool as it gives them the chance to meet other health professionals and ask questions in a relaxed environment. Different educators, dietitions and physiologists have different areas of specialty and different personal experiences that they can share with you. Camps are an easy opportunity to find health professionals that you feel a connection with and with whom you are able to ask those silly questions that are generally important questions for everyday life; these are the questions whose answers sometimes make the biggest difference.
On top of all this, camps are a place to have fun. At ones I have been to the campers have participated in canoeing, rock climbing, flying fox’s, big swings, high ropes in amongst the trees, low strategy ropes, team building activities, archery, fencing and usually there is a disco party and a few movies.
If this piece of writing does nothing more than to have you think about camps again or encouraging your child to go to a camp, I would be proud. I know that sometimes you or your child might think that they are too good for camps, or they don’t want to hang around with those other DIABETICS or that they know everything, or that they don’t want to know anything, I have been this child, but think twice, because sometimes these are such a fantastic adventure in both knowledge, friendship and independence, isn’t that what everyone wants for their child?
Camps will give your child the opportunity to be more accepting and more independent, and it might just encourage some better habits in their management and some better health and long term outcomes for their future with diabetes, because they will likely always have diabetes, its best to accept this now and deal with positive changes later if they ever come about. The last camp I was at there were at least 4 kids who didn’t want to have anything to do with diabetes at the start, they were grunting to questions asked and answering with one word, at the end, these kids didn’t want to leave and they were taking the contact information from the other children and from some of the health professionals. Take my advice, from someone who didn’t go camping and didn’t meet other children with diabetes, go camping, you won’t regret it! And if you do, you don’t need to go again, one time won’t hurt you and it may help you so what’s the harm?
Pic: Diabetes Vic October Teenage camp 2014 (I’m in the back right corner)