My experience with diabetes was limited to a grandfather with type 2, who had to avoid certain foods. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, because frankly, I’d choose grandma’s bran muffins over a sugary snack any day! So, when the Diabetes Canada application appeared for Quality of Life funding, I didn’t think much of it. It seemed like a good cause – sending kids with diabetes to camp for a week – how can anyone object to that? But what I didn’t realize was what a life altering event - something as simple as a week at summer camp - could be to a child and his or her family.
On a hot summer day last year, I made my way to Christopher Lake. I know it was hot because I had to decide between air conditioning and satellite radio in determining which car to take. (Who can even imagine the need for air conditioning these days – yikes! But I digress…) Each year Diabetes Canada sets aside one day for sponsors to visit the camp and learn what it’s all about, and I was lucky enough to attend on behalf of the ASR. It started much the same as so many of these visits I had done over the years. Corporate staff sitting around a table, chatting and trying to get a better understanding of how their money was being used. We took a tour of the grounds, saw inside some cabins and even met a few campers. Just a regular day. By then it was lunch.
And at lunch my eyes were opened to the everyday reality of diabetes.
A large poster board was hung, with every menu item being served listed along with how many grams of sugar/carbs etc. indicated next to it. Campers started arriving, each with a piece of paper and a pen, some with calculators, looking up at the board and doing calculations - children, as young as seven or eight, having to perform math before a meal at summer camp. Once their calculations were complete, they started filtering into a room with several tables, each with a nurse. They proceeded to prick their fingers to test their blood, and then compared those numbers with the ones they had previously calculated and determined how much, if any, insulin they would need to inject so they could eat a specific amount of food. The nurses assisted the younger campers, but all were encouraged to perform the tasks independently.
This process took up to 45 minutes to get everyone through. I felt guilty lining up with the campers to enjoy a shared lunch – what did I need to think about before enjoying a meal? How much fat content I should be eating? I mean, I’d hate to put on 5 pounds in the summer. Or I could make sure there weren’t any onions in the salad, because – ew, onions. But seriously, I didn’t have to give a single thought to what I put into my body, how much I ate or drank or when I had my last snack or meal. Because I was fortunate enough to be born without diabetes.
We learned of campers who had medical emergencies in the night during the week, but with a pediatric diabetes specialized doctor on staff, it was ok. The campers could go to bed at night knowing that, even though they were at a camp, an hour from the nearest hospital, they were well taken care of.
My son had attended sleep away camp for the first time that year. I was worried sick. What if he wasn’t having fun? What if he hadn’t made any friends? What if his allergies started acting up and he needed to take his Benadryl? Five days is a long time for a 10-year-old to have no contact with any member of his family. Imagine what could go wrong!
I wish I had attended Diabetes Camp before sending my son off. I wish I had realized that my worries were unfounded. And I wish I had been more grateful that my son could attend any summer camp he chose because he had no medical restrictions.
Today, I am grateful that the ASR Quality of Life committee selected Diabetes Camp to receive a grant because each and every one of those children deserved an opportunity to enjoy a care-free camp, and each and every one of their parents or caregivers deserved to know that their child was safe. I’m also grateful for organizations like Diabetes Canada, and their volunteers, who help improve people’s lives every day.
If you know of an organization that could benefit from an ASR Quality of Life Legacy Grant, please encourage them to apply. Applications can be found here.
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