By: Jenny Steinkopf, RN, TCHC Care Coordinator
National Diabetes Month is observed every November to draw attention to diabetes and its effects on millions of Americans. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. It can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and other health problems if it’s not controlled. One in 11 Americans have diabetes — that’s more than 29 million people. Another 86 million adults in the United States are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Encouraging, right? There are a lot of “bad” things about diabetes, but today, I want to share a “good” thing related to diabetes. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the best I have experienced in my life. You see, I am one of those statistics. I am the one in eleven. I have a high risk for blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and all sorts of other problems. I have diabetes.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was nine years old. No, my parents didn’t feed me too much sugar. I didn’t eat too much candy (although I probably ate my fair share…). I was an active kid. There was nothing I or my parents could have done to prevent it. But it happened, and it changed our world. The Tri-County Health Care team had their work cut out for them, but Dr. Lamberty, Jackie Vandermay, Lynae Maki and Sue Sigardson (physician, nurse, diabetes educator and dietitian at the time) were our saving grace as they taught my parents, siblings and I about diabetes and how to manage it.
Counting grapes, weighing meat, giving myself shots, measuring cereal, poking my finger with a needle and seeing the doctor frequently became all too familiar the summer before I started fourth grade. The next summer, my parents suggested I go to Camp Needlepoint, a camp they had heard about for kids with diabetes.
Camp Needlepoint was like heaven on earth for a kid with diabetes. It wasn’t just kids with diabetes, but many staff members had diabetes as well, including the counselors, doctors and nurses. I not only had peers with diabetes, but saw people older than me living with this crazy disease. One of my favorite parts about camp was the morning routine, which included breakfast followed by flag pole announcements. These weren’t just any announcements. They were very important ones, such as a counselor proudly announcing, “Jessica in Cabin 5 gave herself her own shot for the very first time this morning!” and everyone would yell, clap and cheer as if the Twins had just won the World Series.
The American Diabetes Association website states, “The purpose of Camp Needlepoint is to provide a fun and safe camping experience for children living with diabetes. We want to give kids the opportunity to meet other kids just like them as well as help them gain confidence and independence in managing their diabetes.” Camp Needlepoint does this like nobody else can. It was a place where it wasn’t abnormal to poke my finger to check a blood sugar, count my carbohydrates and take a shot before lunch because everyone at Camp Needlepoint did that! Activities, meals and snacks weren’t changed because a “diabetic kid” was there. I didn’t feel alone because everyone there knew what I dealt with on a daily basis. The week started out with a bunch of strangers and within a week, I had found a new family I didn’t know I needed. I was a “Trailblazer”, which included all kinds of fun and adventures. We played games, did arts and crafts, went hiking, swimming, kayaking, horseback riding and all sorts of “normal” kid stuff. We even did an overnight camping trip as a cabin that included sleeping in a tent on the beach along the St. Croix River.
I returned to Camp Needlepoint as a CIT (Counselor in Training) and Counselor when I was in high school. There I had the privilege of encouraging young girls in their independence and confidence in managing their diabetes. Camp Needlepoint creates a comradery that friends, family and health care providers simply cannot provide.
Living with diabetes is not always fun and there are some “bad” things associated with it, but much of life is all in our attitude and perspective. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to go to Camp Needlepoint to help me see some good come from what often seems like a bad thing. To celebrate National Diabetes Month, tell someone about Camp Needlepoint! You never know when there might be a nine year old girl with diabetes looking for a place to feel like a “normal” kid.