A Mom’s Letter to Camp
Why children with diabetes—and their families—need Diabetes Camps
Dear Camp Needlepoint Staff,
We all have dates and events we remember, dates and events that become engrained in our heads and hearts, dates and events that we can rattle off without a moment’s hesitation. For me, they’re each one of my four children’s birthdays, the day I was married, and the year my first child graduated from college. My husband fully admits that he may not remember some of those dates, but there are plenty of events he does remember quite well: the fishing opener, the start of deer season, and when the fish house needs to come off the lake.
There is one date neither my husband nor I will ever forget.
Our 11-year-old daughter, Becky, had been laying in a coma for two days. When her eyes fluttered open, she was so dehydrated she couldn’t speak. She desperately tried to get out the word “Mom.” It broke my heart. The doctor came in and gave our family the verdict. Our little girl didn’t comprehend what he was saying. I broke down sobbing, and my husband stared blankly out the window.
My daughter may not have understood what exactly was happening to her, but she would never forget hearing the name of the disease that had made her so sick, put her into a coma from diabetic ketoacidosis, and almost killed her.
She had diabetes.
It wasn’t an easy adjustment. Shots and finger pokes weren’t simple for a girl who was deathly afraid of needles. I did her shots, but blood testing was worse. Something that should have taken under two minutes took, at times, almost two hours. Her father would hold her as I struggled to poke her finger. It was such a relief to get it done. But it was also a sad realization that we’d only gotten past this one test and in a few hours she’d need to do it all over again.
There were a million tears and a million “why me?” questions. I struggled to find an answer. How do you explain to your child that diabetes isn’t a result of something he or she did wrong and that you wish with everything in the world you could take it away? Her father and I were at a loss. How would she ever lead a somewhat normal life? How could people live with such a horrible disease?
My daughter soon learned that no one in our family had diabetes, no one in her school had it. And worst of all, there was no cure. My daughter felt so alone, but mostly afraid. She couldn’t say that awful D-word and contemplated suicide.
Worried out of our minds, we sought medical advice from the family pediatrician. He had a solution: “Two words,” he said, confidently. “Camp Needlepoint.”
Camp Needlepoint? His solution was to send our daughter to sewing camp?! He assured us they didn’t cross-stitch at camp and that it was where our daughter needed to be.
That summer, she attended Camp Needlepoint. Three hundred kids surrounded her, all living with the very same disease. They didn’t look any different. They went horseback riding and swimming. They made tie-dyed shirts and sang silly songs. She learned to give her first injection, and she learned that diabetes wasn’t the end of the world. Most of all, she learned she wasn’t alone.
About 16 years ago, my then 12-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1. Fifteen years ago, my husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. My son has also attended Camp Needlepoint; I’m still looking for a camp for my husband.
Through the support of the American Diabetes Association, I learned—and my family learned—that you can lead a full and active life with diabetes. I will be eternally grateful to Camp Needlepoint and its staff. I feel they literally saved my daughter’s life.
Within the last few years, my daughter has developed a complication of diabetes—retinopathy, nerve damage to the eyes that causes abnormal growth of blood vessels that can leak and form scar tissue, interfering with vision. She’s had multiple laser surgeries and needed a vitrectomy, a surgical procedure that removes the excess fluid and scarring, to save her sight.
The first two people to visit Becky after her vitrectomy surgery were two friends she met during her first year of camp. Several former fellow camp counselors made sure, for the two weeks she couldn’t drive, that someone was able to take her to work. Camp Needlepoint brought her these friendships, and I wholeheartedly believe camp is what gave her the strength, the courage, and the inspiration to go on.
Becky is an incredible person and has never let her diabetes stop her from her goals or dreams. And she is a perfect example of why children with diabetes—and their families—need camps like Needlepoint.
The rest of the story: Becky Barnett was a camper for six years, served on camp staff for six years in roles that ranged from counselor-in-training to assistant director, and now works for the American Diabetes Association as Camp Needlepoint’s executive director.
In 2015, the ADA will host 52 sessions of camps in 24 states nationwide.
Mark your calendars. Registration for 2016 American Diabetes Association Camps season opens Feb. 1, 2016. diabetes.org/camp.
Each year, the Association needs medical professionals and other trained volunteers and camp staff members to help run its camps. Find out more at diabetes.org/campstaff.
Your generous gifts help the ADA provide a safe and enjoyable camp experience, where kids get to be kids while parents enjoy a well-deserved break from the burdens that diabetes places on the family. To give, visit diabetes.org/camp.