Until Monday, October 25, 1999, I was a “normal” second grader. One afternoon, my mom picked me up from the bus stop and told me I was not going to ballet class. She brought me to an appointment at my pediatrician’s office where I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes by our family nurse practitioner. I was immediately admitted to Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital where I was poked, prodded and drowning in tears. After that first night, I decided I was a trooper. I decided I was over diabetes being physically painful and I accepted the needles. However, when I returned to elementary school the following week, I didn’t feel “normal”.
Everyone knew why I was in the hospital for a week. I didn’t like being in the spotlight. I especially didn’t like having to raise my hand when I felt low or high to go to the nurse’s office. I was tired of adults asking me if I felt okay.
<blockquote>I wanted everyone to forget I had diabetes. I wanted everything to go back to the way it was before.</blockquote>
However, a few months later, I started using an insulin pump which was a constant reminder that I was not normal. The overwhelmingly large, rectangular device that bulged out of my pocket made me even more self-conscious. One time on the playground at recess, a classmate asked me about my pump… and I ran the other direction. I was not comfortable in my own skin, and I wanted to hide my diabetes.
Then, the third year I lived with diabetes, I told my mom I wanted to go to sleep away camp like all of my friends. She said that our family nurse practitioner told her about an extraordinary camp where I would meet other children with type 1 diabetes. My nurse even worked there for a few summers! I was so excited to go to the camp.
Upon arriving at camp, I was my usual shy self. After meeting my new childhood best friend the first night, everything changed.
<blockquote>Camp was the first place where I felt “normal” since my diabetes diagnosis.</blockquote>
I was able to talk to other girls my age who experienced the same fears, struggles, and emotions. I was not singled out for feeling low, checking my blood sugar or having to count carbohydrates before lunch. I didn’t even feel the need to hide my insulin pump! I made some of my best childhood friends at diabetes camp.
My camp friends helped me through my difficult teenage years. They made me proud, and the real me revealed. The real me is fearless, bold and full of enthusiasm when opening up about living with diabetes. In high school, I was confident about my diabetes and shared my experiences with my friends. I felt supported! I even worked as a counselor at a diabetes day camp where I became aware of my own strength in being a positive diabetes role model. By the end of high-school, I decided I wanted to study nursing and become a diabetes researcher or educator.
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In August 2010, I left for nursing school at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, OH– 500 miles away from my dear friends and family. My plan was never to be in the Midwest or to end up so far away from everything and everyone I knew. CWRU was certainly the best choice for my aspirations. However, it was difficult, at first, learning how to manage my diabetes on my own. I was so far from home and had little support. I was still open to all of my college friends and my nursing class about growing up with type 1 diabetes. However, I spent four years opening up about my experiences but lacking a diabetes support system.
I graduated with my BSN in 2014 and continued my education by pursuing a Ph.D. in nursing science, also at CWRU. I was confident in the decision to dedicate my life to diabetes nursing and research. To gain RN experience while studying, I took an RN job at Camp Ho Mita Koda in summer 2015. That summer, I listened to and observed the psychosocial issues that campers of all ages faced. That summer was when I was certain that the Ph.D. in nursing with a focus on type 1 diabetes self-management in emerging adults was where my knowledge and work was unquestionably needed. Summer 2015 was also the summer that I met Paul McGuigen, a BSN, RN, CDE, and research nurse at a local pediatric hospital, Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. Paul had been coming to camp since he was diagnosed with diabetes. In fact, living with diabetes also inspired Paul’s career choice. [[We can’t wait to share more about Paul’s story with you on another blog post!]]
Like Paul, I have also been touched by Camp Ho Mita Koda to pursue my career path. I meet so many children at Camp Ho Mita Koda who remind me of how my journey began. I watch these children grow into confident, “normal” feeling young adults with type 1 diabetes, who advocate for and take care of themselves. After years of missing a significant piece of my life, I find myself at home with the diabetes community in Northeast Ohio. Camp Ho Mita Koda has given me the support system that I was missing for so many years.
<blockquote>Diabetes camp has guided my career path and my life journey. Today, I am a diabetes advocate and believer in diabetes camps.</blockquote>
So, thank you so much for the lives you touch, Camp Ho Mita Koda, you truly make a difference.
To support Camp Ho Mita Koda and the new nonprofit managing it, Camp Ho Mita Koda Foundation, please visit: <a href=”http://www.chmkfoundation.org/”>http://www.chmkfoundation.org/</a>
To contribute to Camp Ho Mita Koda Foundation’s first fundraiser, please visit: <a href=”https://rafflecreator.com/pages/15457/camp-ho-mita-koda-cash-calendar-raffle”>https://rafflecreator.com/pages/15457/camp-ho-mita-koda-cash-calendar-raffle#</a>
For questions, please contact Camp Ho Mita Koda foundation at <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>