I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in January of 2007, a week before my 17th birthday. In the time between my diagnosis and my first summer at Minnesota’s Camp Needlepoint in 2009, I hadn’t encountered many people living with diabetes. The thought of being surrounded by other people with diabetes for an entire week seemed unreal. Immediately upon my arrival, everyone was very welcoming and friendly. The campers were excited to be back and meet up with friends from the past year. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a safe place where I felt normal. I didn’t have to explain my low blood sugar and how horrible it felt or that I immediately needed some sugar. Instead, as soon as “oh man…56” left my mouth, I was greeted by 5 different people with juice, glucose tabs, and snacks. Camp Needlepoint is a place where there is an understanding between everyone that doesn’t need to be taught. This camp emphasizes having a fun time while managing a chronic disease, which is a great lesson to be learned.
As a young adult with diabetes, I have been able to share my personal experiences with these kids at camp. My first year as a counselor I encountered Ashley*, who was newly diagnosed and relied heavily on her parents to manage her diabetes. Before our first meal, she watched as a fellow camper gave herself a shot of insulin in the stomach and asked, “do you always do that there?” Sensing her apprehension, I shared my story of how I overcame my fear the first time I gave myself a shot. With encouragement from fellow campers and our cabin physician, Ashley* gave herself that first shot. At the end of the week Ashley* proudly told her parents that she would now be administering her own shots. A lesson learned from camp is that everything does not always go as planned; the ability to improvise, be resilient and create a positive atmosphere can influence outcomes. No one ever plans to live with a chronic disease, but helping campers gain confidence in managing their health is the reason I return to camp each year and has served as motivation for a future career in medicine with a goal of becoming a pediatric endocrinologist. This will be my 6th year returning to camp as a counselor and I hope to come back to Greatest Place I know as a physician in the near future!