I know I’ve commented in the past that my work with Growing Hope affords me with unique opportunities, one of which took place last week. I was invited to an open house at a summer camp in Madison Lake, MN called Camp Sweet Life. It is a week-long summer camp opportunity for youth who live with Type I Diabetes. I was made aware of this event by a friend, Cathy Van Hove, who herself has lived with Type I Diabetes for over 30 years. Cathy is active in diabetes education and was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of Camp Sweet Life. The camp was started four years ago by Doctor Rob Larson who is a pediatric diabetes specialist in the Mankato, MN area.
Prior to visiting Camp Sweet Life, I will admit I did not know much about diabetes. I knew it had to do with insulin and that usually people with diabetes seem to have to avoid sugar, but sometimes their lives depend on eating sugar. I never quite understood that. And, I can’t say I’m an expert now simply because of visiting this camp, but I certainly did learn a lot in the short time I was there. First of all, I learned that it’s not so much a sugar-thing as it is a carbohydrates-thing. Sugar is a carb, but so are lots of things, like bread and pasta. So, it’s not really a matter of being mindful of sugar, but being mindful of carbs in general.
I also learned that while Type II diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes and medication, both of which impact how well the body’s insulin is used, people with Type I diabetes can only manage their condition by taking insulin that comes from outside the body because the pancreas actually does not make insulin.
Obviously there is much more to say on the subject of diabetes, and I could have sat for hours just asking questions about this condition, but I will shift gears here because this blog post is not intended to be about diabetes but about Camp Sweet Life, the camp for kids with diabetes.
While there are other camps devoted to kids with diabetes, Camp Sweet Life is the only one in the state of Minnesota. As I mentioned previously, the camp was started four years ago and began as a one-day camp experience. Each year they have added one day to the length of stay. This year the kids stayed for four days and three nights. There are college-aged counselors who supervise the kids. Most of the counselors have diabetes themselves. And, there are nurses on site at all times. Each day the kids take time to stop and check their blood sugar levels. With the guidance of the counselors, they also then have conversations about why their blood sugar levels are where they are, and if they are too high or too low, they talk about what might they have done differently through their day to have a better reading. They also keep journals in which they record how many carbs they will eat at any given meal based on the menu for that particular day. These activities reflect what everyday life is like for a person with diabetes – having to keep track of a multitude of things that most of us take for granted because our bodies monitor these things, and make adjustments, automatically.
And, at Camp Sweet Life, the kids also just plain have fun. They swim, they play games, they were treated to a talk by NBA Hall of Fame-er Dominic Wilkins, who himself has diabetes. Later that week the kids were going to go horseback riding.
But, probably the most important aspect of Camp Sweet Life is that the kids have all of these experiences with other kids who have to live the same kind of lifestyle. Many of these kids are the only ones in their peer group, or maybe their whole grade, or maybe even their whole school, who have to stop periodically to check their blood-sugar levels and either have someone administer insulin to them or administer it themselves. Imagine a setting in which all kids present are checking their blood-sugar levels, and giving themselves insulin, all at the same time. And, they are having conversations like some kids have about the latest basketball shoes – “I just tried a glucose tablet for the first time – it wasn’t that bad.” “Do you like that insulin pump?” “I just got a new glucose meter.” And these kids are smart. Because they have to be so focused on their lifestyle choices and have to understand how different things affect them and why. Camp Sweet Life helps kids learn how to do this in a very supportive environment.
How does this pertain to Growing Hope, you may be wondering? Our hope is that there may be a farmer out there who has a connection to someone with diabetes who might want to use some of the wealth of his farmland to support the work of Camp Sweet Life. We would be so excited if we could be a part of helping this camp extend its reach and have an even greater impact on the lives of even more kids who are living with diabetes.
It was an amazing afternoon. And, they sent me on my way with a sugar-free Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen. Now what could be sweeter than that?