Yesterday was amazing day! I had the pleasure of Speaking to a group of 40 + teenagers (GULP), counselors, and assorted staff at the Donovan McNabb Camp for Kids at Camp Green Lane, in Green Lane, PA.
Back in March Kate Nichter, ADA Associate Manager, Community Outreach and Camp Director contacted me. She wanted to know if I was interested in speaking to the teens about the funny and positive side of life with D.
I was excited and nervous. Not so much about the speaking part-I have big mouth. Lets face folks, teens can be tough, diabetic or not. But I was more than willing because t1 kids have a huge place in my heart, and said yes. I wanted to talk with them, not to or at them.
We agreed on a date (June 22, 2009) and a few weeks later I received my confirmation letter.
Cut to yesterday morning, and me driving through the beautiful and winding roads of Harleysville, PA. As I pasted rolling hills and farms that should be on the over of National Geographic, I started remembering my trips to Diabetes Camp in Spring Mount, PA way back in the day. After coming to a complete stop to let 2 wild turkeys cross the road, I arrived at the camps entrance (see pic) and began having serious camp flashbacks!
For just a second I was 10 years old and all sorts of excited to be getting away from “it all.” I’d be with other kids who didn’t know that my geek factor was high. They wouldn’t care about my diabetes because they had themselves.
And this one time, at Diabetes Camp, I ...Wait a minute, SNAP OUT OF IT KEL! – Your an adult, a Camp Speaker and guest for goodness sake, not a camper! Then I heard kids laughing in the distance, I looked around and the greenery was lush, the cabins were white with green shutters, & I swear I was at my old camp!
I called Kate and let her know that I’d arrived and we met in the center of camp.
We’d never actually met face-to-face, just via email and over the phone. It was great to finally put a face to the voice! I mentioned that some of my fondest memories in life took place at Diabetes Camp and that memories were flooding back at record speed!
She took me to big pavilion where I’d be talking to the kids. Then she mentioned that the group of 40, maybe 45 teens would be arriving soon.
Then I got a little nervous - I originally thought the number would be closer to 25. It wasn't the number of people, it was the fact that the people were teens! Teens can be intimidating, at least in large groups larger than 30.
BUT, I rolled with the number and said to Kate:- The more the merrier! To myself I thought- BRING THEM ON!
The kids began arriving and filling seats. Nobody wanted to fill the front rows. Me being me, asked them to move up to the seats in front, and started making small talk with anyone I made eye contact with.
Then it was time to get started!
I introduced myself and took a count of the campers who were on pumps verses shots (it was about even,) and brought up the fact that there is indeed a funny side to life with Diabetes. At first the kids looked at me like I had 3 heads. But then I started talking about the Diabetes Police; pump tubing, friends and family’s silly questions, and looks of recognition came to their faces. A few began to raise their hands and give examples.
And then I mentioned that perks that diabetes had its PERKS.
Yes, PERKS. Like eating in class, playing jokes on unassuming substitutes that involved eating in class (they all seemed quite familiar with that concept), getting to know what works for you and your diabetes & getting a medical pass to go to the front of all the lines at amusement parks because of Diabetes. YES, the latter is really an option, especially if the weather is hot and your insulin (either in your pump or in your knapsack) is in danger of overheating.
Medical passes require a Dr.’s note and some extra time at the ticket counter – but it’s totally worth it! THE KIDS WERE TOTALLY INTO IT!
I also wanted them to know that humor helps you deal: Look you can get mad, annoyed, and frustrated with diabetes but it’s not going anywhere.
And then a girl in with glasses raised her hand and said: Yeah – that will just make your blood sugar high!
YES, another friend in the crowd!
The conversation continued in earnest –I told them some of my Diabetes experiences and I wanted to know how they handled life with D. Many shared stories about friends and family. There was laughter, some wisecracks, and many examples of life with D!
Some kids were more than willing to share, and grabbed the mic and told stories about grandmom only buying them sugar free treats or popcorn, even when they explained the whole carb counting thing to her. Some told of friends getting worried when their gum wasn’t sugar free.
I told them of a time in Diabetes lore (which had actually been a nightmare/reality) not so long ago, when EVERYTHING was off limits and blood sugar monitors took 5 minutes to calibrate and came with a 30 page book of instructions. I spoke of blue fuzzy pills that needed to be dropped in urine filled test tubes that were grosser than gross and not accurate at all.
Everyone agreed urine testing was disgusting!
I gave the mic to one boy in blue who’d raised his hand and he floored me with what he had to say.
Boy In Blue: Nobody at school knows about my diabetes.
Me: REALLY -why?
Boy In Blue: Because I don’t want them too.
Me: Well, don’t they see your pump? I can see it from here. He quickly covered his pump & never broke eye contact.
Boy in Blue: No, I don’t want them to know.
Me: I totally get that (But now I've got to get this guy to smile and change his thinking-OH GOD) but keep in mind, girls like boys who are confident about who they are. Plus, your insulin pump makes you look like a real sensitive techno genius – and we totally love those types!
He laughed out loud, and said: Hmm, OK I’ll think about it!
Some didn’t want to talk in front of the crowd at all, but afterwards there was some really great small group and 1 on 1 conversations that became incredibly personal. The teens shared what really bothered them regarding D. Some shared “Boy in Blue’s” sentiments and didn’t want to tell their friends and classmates about their diabetes. They feared negative reactions.
I told them that everyone has” something,” be it family problems, diabetes, or a shellfish or peanut allergies. WE ALL HAVE ISSUES. Any of your friends allergic to peanuts?
Oh yeah, they chimed.
Me: OK, because nut and shellfish allergies can kill instantly. People with those allergies cant have any food that’s even prepared in the same bowl as something prepared with nuts or shrimp, because if their allergy is that severe, it could cause their throat to close. Every time your friends with those allergies go to a restaurant or to friends house they MUST bring up their allergy. Their life literally depends on it. That allergy is DEADLY- Diabetes doesn’t have to be. IS it pain in the ass sometimes? YES.
And then Camper in Black Tee said: Tell me about it!
ME: EXACTILY...I mean what if your friend saw you pass out due to a low or high blood sugar? Let’s take you out of the equation for a second and think about them. How do you think that mental image would affect them?
Camper in Pink: They’d be scared, it might really mess them up as adults.
Me: (God she’s so right on!) Yeah, so it’s just not about us .
Camper In Pink: I think I might tell my second best friend about D. My teachers and best friend know, but I think I might tell my second best friend, so she never has to freak. Plus, I wont have to keep running to the bathroom to take my blood sugars when I’m with her!
Me: AWESOME -Strength in numbers!
Camper in Stripes: Speaking of numbers – is your tee shirt (I was wearing my five humans “One Test at a Time” tee) about blood sugars?
Me: Yes it is.
Camper in Stripes: My blood sugar was just 301 and I don’t know why? I have to go check ketones now and drink lots of water. It’s annoying.
Camper in White Tee: You’ll be Ok – one test at a time!
Me: Your both right- It is annoying to have an unexplained high, but take it number by number because getting upset, only..
Camper In Stripes: Makes it worse!
We laughed and someone may or may not have mentioned Nick Jonas and total cuteness in the same sentence – Not me of course, but whatever.
Then it was time for lunch at the mess hall – grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
I spoke with various counselors whose real life titles included; nurses, dieticians, CDE’s, or folks whose family had been touched by Type 1 Diabetes and wanted to help in someway.
I was surrounded by people who whose lives had been touched by diabetes on every level-and I not to sound all sentimental- but I felt the love and compassion-big time.
If some one you love is interested in attending camp next year, here’s link with all the info.
American Diabetes Association/Donovan McNabb Diabetes Camp For Kids
Diabetes Camp is one of the best gifts you can ever give your child.
It gives them a feeling of normalcy, long lasting friendships, great memories, and the rare and wonderful opportunity to be just like everyone else.
I REALLY didn’t want to leave camp – I guess some things never change....