Camps for Kids with Diabetes: Should Managed Care Organizations Pay?
It will be 40 years ago this summer that I first went to diabetes camp – Joslin’s Clara Barton camp in Massachusetts. The camp was 5 hours from my house, and I was a scared 6 year old little girl. I had never been away from home. This would be the first time that I did not have my mom there to help me with insulin shots (regular and NPH) and urine testing. But, I was more scared of never learning how to take care of myself. I wanted to be independent and able to sleep over at my best friend’s house. I was going to camp no matter what.
Many thought that I was too young to go. Many thought my parents were crazy for sending me. Yet, as a family, we persevered, and with tears in my eyes, I showed up at Clara Barton Camp ready to learn and grow as an individual and family.
I needed to be independent. Independence leads to freedom. We all want to be free. Diabetes itself can be suffocating if not understood, respected, and managed. Even at the age of 6, I felt confined because I needed my mom to help me test my urine (no blood testing back then) and to give me life-saving insulin twice a day. Without her and the insulin, I could not live. I wanted to take charge of my life and feel empowered. Free to be a person with type 1 diabetes living a “normal” life (if there is such a thing) by doing things such as sleeping over at my grandparents, who lived four hours away, sleeping over at girlfriend’s house, and all the other “stuff” that young girls do. I wanted to thrive with my diabetes. It was time.
And did I thrive at camp. Wow!
For the first time in my life, I felt empowered with my diabetes. To this day, I still remember injecting an orange with insulin, and accidentally touching a test tube of urine with the sizzling Clinitab—ouch—hot! Step by step, and day by day, I learned how to take care of myself and my diabetes. I quickly realized that partnering with this condition was going to be essential for a life-long relationship. We had to work together.
It was so nice to be in an environment where everyone was testing their urine, giving shots of insulin, and counting calories (no carb counting back then). We were all trying to manage our diabetes, and that was fantastic. Even when someone had a high or a low blood sugar, we learned what to do and how to move forward. Without knowing it, we were receiving invaluable knowledge and self-confidence.
“We” was the key at camp. I was the only type 1 diabetic at my school and in my town. At camp, I realized I was not alone. There were many other kids (and adults) with diabetes like me. They truly understood how it felt living with diabetes. We could relate to one another. It was awesome. I still talk to friends from camp today.
Friends at camp and the amazing counselors and staff, shared the tools and skills needed to manage diabetes. Seeing others injecting themselves with insulin made it so much easier for me to do it, too. I was no longer “special” or “different.” Every single camper was a person with diabetes just like me, and that was pretty darn cool.
I left camp and slept over at my best friend’s house 2 nights later. To this day, I remember how proud and free I felt. I could be like other kids. I just had to take insulin, test my urine, and count my calories. I was a kid, too!
Every summer I returned (transitioning to an American Diabetes Association camp) as a camper, then a counselor in training, counselor, and this year an assistant director. Seeing the impact of camp on these kids every summer reinforces how important and fun it is. Kids go to camp with a varying levels of experience and confidence. But every single one leaves with hope, inspiration, and the necessary skills to manage his/her diabetes.
Camp for kids with diabetes teaches children how to manage their condition (blood testing, insulin giving, and carb counting). However, it, also, teaches them that diabetes is just a part of them. There is so more to each and every camper which they discover while doing all the same stuff kids without diabetes do—swimming, archery, ropes course, capture the flag, arts and crafts, etc. Camp is fun! Life is fun! Diabetes is just a part of it.
All this fun is wonderful, but you may be asking—why should managed care organizations pay for camp? Where is the savings short term and long term?
Let’s talk depression, anxiety, and fear. Living with a chronic condition is not easy. There are challenges along the way. However, if kids are given the skills and confidence to take care of themselves and their diabetes, this is going to help short term and long term. Kids leave camp after 2 weeks, but they take with them a wealth of knowledge, skills, experiences, and positive feelings. They accomplish so much at camp and often have a new perspective on living and coping with diabetes. This had such a wonderful impact on me as a child and adult, and I often hear the same from others. When people have the tools, skills, and resources to live with diabetes, management is so much easier. When life is easier, the chance of living with depression, anxiety, and fear is less.
Overall health is addressed at camp too. While at camp, the kids (and staff) eat healthy meals/snacks and stay active. This is something we want everyone to do at camp and home. Make the right choices, lessen the chance of diabetes-related complications, and participate in life. As a child and adult our choices affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Wow!
And do not forget about the families. Yes, the kids are the ones at camp, but the families benefit, too. When a child is managing his/her diabetes, this makes it so much easier for the entire family. The overall responsibility is still shared, however, for parents it is very rewarding to see your child step up and take charge. Parents and guardians want their children to engage and seeing them take charge reassures them that everything will be okay. Hope is instilled in all.
So as summer approaches, think about camp for children with diabetes. Camp was and still is an important part of my life. And I know the same is true for many kids. I am counting down the days to ADA camp!