The Chickasaw Nation’s Camp for Adults
People with type 2 diabetes gather for five days of fun and good health
It’s after dinner at the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health Diabetes Camp, and the 50 campers are in the pool, doing aqua aerobics. It’s their third exercise session of the day. After their workout, they’ll check their blood glucose levels—for at least the fifth time today—before getting a diabetes-friendly snack. After a day full of informational sessions that cover everything from Diabetes 101 to complications, healthy meals, and fitness, the campers might take in some entertainment, such as a historical acting troupe performance. But, after a full day of fresh air and exercise, they’re as likely to turn in for the night, even though it’s not even 9 p.m.
Welcome to diabetes camp for adults. In a world where kids with diabetes are able to find the companionship and camaraderie of camp (such as at American Diabetes Association Diabetes Camps®), adults diagnosed with diabetes are often left to navigate the tricky care of this chronic condition on their own.
Not so within the Chickasaw Nation, which has high rates of diabetes among the people it serves in its clinics and hospitals across Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Nation Department of Health first decided 20 years ago to offer an adult camp for people with type 2 diabetes. The camp is free and open to anyone with diabetes who receives health care through the Chickasaw Nation. It’s held every June at The Inn at Treasure Valley Casino in Davis, Okla. Campers are allowed to bring one guest, who will follow the same schedule, finger sticks and all. Some bring spouses or other family members, and some, like Voyn Boggs, 65, of Milburn, Okla., bring friends with diabetes.
“I learned more there than I learned anywhere,” Boggs says of the camp. She’s attended twice now and brought a friend who also has type 2 diabetes. Boggs was diagnosed more than 20 years ago, but she says each day at the Chickasaw Nation diabetes camp teaches her things she hadn’t learned from her doctor or diabetes educator, or didn’t know how to incorporate into her daily life. “All of it was good, and you learn so much, but we have a good time.”
When campers arrive for their five days of camp, staff members (physicians, nurses, diabetes educators, and other providers from the Chickasaw Nation) test campers’ A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol, check their feet and teeth, and screen them for any issues. The staff will carefully monitor campers throughout the week—while teaching campers to do checks themselves—and track progress. And that progress is real and measurable, even in the short time the campers are together, says Shondra McCage, MPH, CHES, Diabetes Care Center program manager for the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health. “By the end of the week, 50 percent [of campers] have reduced the amount of medication or insulin they need,” she says. “You see some make some drastic changes, and then you see some that just might make a little bit. But generally everybody, across the board, does make some improvements. Then we encourage them to make follow-up appointments with their primary care providers.”
Sessions run the gamut from the basics of counting carbohydrates (something Boggs says she wasn’t doing before coming to camp) to how living with diabetes affects feelings and relationships. Kidney disease? Covered. How to make the most of your pharmacy? Covered. The camp also values culture: Because the bulk of campers are citizens of the Chickasaw Nation, their heritage is celebrated.
Building up self-esteem is important to the campers and staff, says McCage. The confidence and support campers gain during the week will stay with them well after camp is over. Many campers stay in touch with each other—Boggs says she keeps up with another camper who lives in her town. Working together can make diabetes management seem like an easier task, McCage says.
“It’s a sense of pride to see that the work they did through the week did pay off … and there’s a better understanding with the supporter or family member,” McCage says. “These people make friendships and build relationships. We see a lot more self-confidence by the end of the week.”
To learn more about the Chickasaw Nation Diabetes Care Center, call (580) 421-4532.