I was 10 years old the first time I went to camp. It was a day camp and I did not have a good experience. The activities were great but the way they handled (or didn't) a camper with diabetes made any of the good parts fade into the background. The staff didn't know much about diabetes and didn't ask questions. This resulted with them with me singled me out a lot. Not because they were trying to make me feel bad, or different, but because they didn't know how to handle any of it.
Instead of going back to that day camp, I asked my parents about overnight camp. They tell me that threw them off guard, but they called their local JDF (now JDRF), who connected them to Camp Nejeda a residential camp in New Jersey for children with type 1 diabetes. My first summer at Camp Nejeda I arrived late because my dad was sick and couldn't take me, and we had to find an alternate way to get to Camp. If you've ever been to camp you know how important those first few hours are! So, there I was, my first time away from home, first time at Camp Nejeda, and late. I was very fortunate that Frani C. was my counselor that summer. She made everything ok, I felt safe with her, and comfortable as well. She called my gluten-free food "Phyllis Food" which took the stigma out of needing special food. She remains one of my favorite people. All wins in my book, but it doesn't end there! that summer I learned to give myself my own insulin injection. I was late to the party with that but one day a wise nurse told me that she wasn't going to do it and I had to. You may think that harsh but she somehow knew I could and would and didn't give me the option not to.
That first summer I learned to give myself my own insulin injection. I was late to the party with that but one day a wise nurse told me that she wasn't going to do it and I had to. You may think that harsh, but she somehow knew what I was capable of and didn't give me the option not to. At Camp we played sports, swam, did arts and crafts, went canoeing, horse back riding, all the things people associate with the camp. We also had educational classes focused on nutrition and diabetes. We didn't like those as much but we attended in cabin groups so there were some parts to it. We also managed our diabetes together.
There are so many reasons I loved attending diabetes camp. It was the first time I was surrounded by people who got it and understood immediately what I needed not just the medical staff, but the counselors and other campers as well. Camp Nejeda is also where I started to formulate my diabetes-self, the stepping stone to how today, so many years later, I still associate myself with my disease. It was at Camp where I learned skills to handle the emotional and psychological impacts of living with diabetes.
The magic of diabetes camp doesn't end when I stopped going. The friends and connections I made then are my friends for life Thank goodness for social media and email both help to stay in touch and getting support so much easier than sending a letter in the mail (though I do miss those days!) .