For five summers in a row, I spent two weeks in Massachusetts at diabetes camp. At the time, the camp was called Clara Barton Camp for Diabetic Girls and it sat on the grounds of Clara Barton’s birthplace in North Oxford, MA. The cabins were rustic, the pond was rumored to house snapping turtles, and the mess hall was filled with table-thumping girls of all ages, singing camp songs at the top of their lungs.
And every single camper was living with type 1 diabetes.
Going to camp is pretty awesome on its own, and being surrounded by diabetes peers and educated medical professionals keeps kids having fun while managing their diabetes effectively. While I was at camp, my parents said they slept soundly knowing that I was having an amazing time and also being closely monitored.
I talked with some folks in the diabetes community about their diabetes camp experiences and why they thought camp was a powerful psychosocial tool for families with diabetes.
Tonya said, “My daughter will be attending camp for the 3rd time this July. It is the highlight of her summer. This is how she describes camp to me, ‘Camp is awesome because everyone there speaks diabetes. You don’t have to explain anything to anyone. Everyone is poking and beeping and wears things on their bodies. And NO ONE asks what that ‘thing’ is on your arm, or what’s that noise, or why are you poking your finger and does it hurt?? It’s the BEST place on Earth!’ She gets some independence and sees that she is NOT the only one. We LOVE camp and recommend it to every PWD we know.”
Alison was as fellow camper at Clara Barton, and she shared this: “Being somewhere that made me a part of the majority rather than the minority was a priceless experience. ‘Sharing’ my type 1 status with so many amazing people helped to normalize my diabetes and made camp that much more enjoyable.”
“This is my daughters sixth year at Clara Barton, her first as CIT. Camp is her happy place,” said Julie. “It’s where everyone ‘gets it’ – the work, the struggles, the pride in overcoming. But it’s also just camp. Secrets are shared. Pacts are made. Bug bites and lack of sleep, too. A friend told us about camp right after she was diagnosed, and he said it best. ‘She’ll have a great time. And she’ll need the break from you and you’ll need the break from her diabetes.’ He was right. I know she’s safe (actually closer watch than when she’s home), but most importantly, she made lifelong friends who can share her journey in a way that I can’t. Truthfully, she would give up Christmas and her birthday before she gave up camp.”
Sherry has experienced diabetes camp as both the parent of a child with diabetes who attended camp and as a member of the diabetes camp medical team. “As a parent, it is such a joy and comfort to be able to send my child to camp knowing she will be well taken care of and have experiences and adventures that she might not otherwise have. As a camp nurse, I have to say that it’s something to behold seeing a mass of sun-kissed kids from ages 7 to 16 all bolusing for their meal or injecting their insulin together. It really is an incredible opportunity for kids and med staff alike. I am so thankful for Diabetes camp!!”
Diabetes camp was my first experience with any sort of “diabetes community.” Until camp, my PWD peers were people I sat next to in waiting rooms at the pediatric endocrinologist’s office, and I never talked to them. Camp let me connect with other kids who were living with type 1 diabetes, who were carrying snacks for emergencies and who also took injections every day. Being around other girls who wanted to sing, laugh, and play and who also took insulin and checked their blood sugar was beyond empowering for me. It showed me that it was going to be okay, this life with diabetes, and that I wasn’t alone. Diabetes camp helped set me on the path towards living well with diabetes, and I’m forever grateful to have been a “Barton girl.”
Penny, mother of a child with diabetes, summed it up like this: “I think it has empowered her, given her strength, given her relief, provided endless laughs and comfort and strengthened her ability to do what she needs to do to take care of herself. I think, if I had one phrase for diabetes camp, it would be life-changing.”
Thank you for a well-written article describing the impact of diabetes camp. It can be a magical experience and it can mean so much to children, parents and caregivers. It’s very important to get the message out to newly diagnosed PWD and their families about diabetes camping programs and the impact that they can have, both in the short-term and for the rest of their lives.
Dennis Pillion, PhD
Diabetes Education and Camping Association