How I Survived Fanny Packs & Summer Camps

Summer camp was one of the most cherished annual events of my childhood. My mom recently shared her memory of overhearing a conversation I had with my cousin Shannon on the eve of our departure for camp. I was only 5 but I was clearly ready for the experience. Mom said she was stunned  when she heard me proclaim, “I can’t wait t to get out of here! Freedom from our parents! Hooray!” She had been worried about my readiness and thought I’d be so terribly homesick that I wouldn’t make it through the week. In fact, she had left her schedule flexible to accommodate what she thought would be the inevitable phone call.

She couldn’t have been more mistaken. I said goodbye to my parents and never looked back. The minute I got a taste of independence there was no chance I was going back. I really liked camp and everything about it. From that summer on I begged my parents to let me return and they did.

My older cousin, Katelyn, had attended the king of all summer camps—Kamp Kanakuk (yes, they use k’s for everything). It was a 14-day Christian camp in the Missouri Ozarks with campfires, rope courses, and even a waterslide! Shannon (who is younger than me by 11 days) and I decided we were ready for the big leagues so we made the pitch to our parents.

They told us we could go but not until we turned 13. So, when the time came we gently reminded them of their promise and made sure they registered us in time. (Kamp Kanakuk was one of those in demand places that filled up several months in advance!)

We were all registered to go and anticipating an adventure-filled experience at the new camp when tragedy struck—at least in my young teen mind, that’s what it felt like. In the spring of that year I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was a disorienting time in my life. I felt distraught and desolate in this new life and regime and felt overwhelmed by all the changes I knew I was going to have to get accustomed to. I was also ashamed of the diagnosis and refused to speak about it.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Two months later my parents received medical disclosure forms from Kamp K. My pharmacist father meticulously explained my diagnosis, medications, and overall schedule of dosing. He assured me this was no big deal. A week later the camp’s nurse called to inform my parents that an additional form would be required and would need my signature along with my parents. This did not seem like “no big deal” to me.

There was also a long list of requirements for campers with medical conditions, but the thing that upset me the most was that I would be required to wear a fanny pack at all times. A fanny pack (!) to carry my my diabetes supplies and snacks. I was 13 and hadn’t even spoken publicly about having my diabetes and now I was going to be forced to have a scarlet letter strapped around my waist that screamed, “I’M THE SICK, WEIRD KID! LOOK AT ME!” I shouted angrily to my parents that I would not be attending camp and I ran to my room in tears. This seemed like just one more painful reminder of what I thought my new reality was going to be like—segregation from all the other normal kids.

I called Shannon ito giver her my distressing news. I just couldn’t imagine having to wear the fanny pack at all times and knew it would make me feel completely out-of-place. Shannon has always been the calm, sensible cousin and so in typical fashion she spoke reassuringly to me and tried to calm me down. She told me that no one would even notice—they’d be so distracted by all the fun camp activities. But  I told her my mind was made up and I wouldn’t be going. It was final.

Read the rest of my blogpost at DiabeticLifestyle.com here

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You want me to go to Camp NEEDLEPOINT?

I had only had diabetes for two months when my parents forced the idea on me to go to diabetes camp. My Mom, who I considered a strict parent, approached me to talk about going. Though she was broaching a topic, as my father always says, “What Mama wants, Mama gets.” I remember her going on and on about how she thought this was going to help me better cope with having diabetes. I told her I wasn’t interested in listening to her ideas. Besides, I had two beach parties planned that last week of August that I cared more about then going to a place that she told me was called Camp Needlepoint. Camp Needlepoint? Though I love my mother dearly, I thought she had lost her mind. The last place that I wanted to spend a week of my summer vacation was at a place where I wore a Camp Needlepoint t-shirt and had to sit in long educational sessions about what diabetes is, how I should be treated, and the serious complications that I would get if I didn’t listen.

My Mom was the Mom that would constantly remind my brothers and I that her job wasn’t to be our friend, but to be our mother. She trumped my opinion on camp and brought my Aunt Roxane for reinforcement. They packed my bags as we departed Baxter, MN for the long 4-hour drive to Hudson, WI where they dropped me off for my week at camp. I had never even met another person living with diabetes, except for my little brother. I didn’t want to be the sick kid or the kid that everyone threw sympathy votes at. I made my Mom promise me that she would pick me up at the earliest time possible on the last day of camp. I sulked off to my bunk bed in the platform tent and just cried. This was not the life that I had thought for myself.

A young girl, around my age, walked into the tent and crawled up on my bed.

Nicole & I

“Hi, my name is Nicole and I’m from Babbitt, MN. Where are you from?”

I choked up my tears and said, “the Brainerd Lakes area.”

“Cool. I come to camp every year and just love it. We’re going to be the best of friends.”

Nicole seemed so normal. Her blonde, bouncy curls followed her as she went to set up her bunk. She seemed nice, pretty, and the girl at school who all the guys would want to date. But wait, she has diabetes, just like me? She seemed so happy and didn’t even ask me about my diabetes when we met. Another girl was sitting on the bottom bunk eating Starbursts. I looked again, and yes she was eating candy. I remember back to when Brittney shoved the piece of cake in my face on the day I was diagnosed and announced to my friends that I couldn’t have sugar anymore. I said to Breanna who was eating the candy, “Aren’t you going to get in trouble for eating sugar?”

Breanna looked up at me and said, “Just because you have diabetes it doesn’t mean you don’t eat candy.”

I will be forever changed by camp. There were kids as young as five and up to eighteen years old that had type-1 diabetes. For once in my young life I didn’t feel so alone. That week I didn’t learn how to live life with diabetes, but instead to live life despite having diabetes. The kids around me were going through the same daily struggles as me and they were living life to the fullest. I learned to rock climb, sail, be a better artist, and sharpen my acting skills in the Camp Finale Play. Nicole and I called each other twin sisters separated at birth. We even slept in the same bunk bed at night because we couldn’t be separated. She would tell me who her dia-

Nicole and I with our "diacrushes"

crush was at camp (guy with diabetes who we were crushing on that day) and then I would give my thoughts and then report on my own. When the last day of camp came around my Mom was there promptly at 10am. Her and Nicole’s mother had to practically pull us apart. That week Nicole taught me that I could still be me, even if I did have diabetes.

To find out more information about finding an American Diabetes Association Camp near you click here.