The Special Little Place on the Edge of the Lake
By Kate “Milkshake” Morrison
Morrison has been attending Camp Huronda since 2014, and her favourite part about camp is when there are tater tots for lunch and feta cheese at the salad bar. Kate has been an active member of the Huronda community for many years and loves to share her passion and drive for camp with anyone who will listen. She someday plans to be the director at Camp Huronda and looks forward to making more lifelong memories every summer she is there.
Eight years ago, if you had glanced in my direction, maybe you wouldn’t have noticed anything weird. You’d have seen a ten-year-old girl, with baggy hand-me-downs from her brother, messy hair that desperately needed to be cut, and a big smile. But if you looked closer, maybe you’d see that the baggy clothes were hiding a skeletal figure, the hair drew any attention away from the sunken eyes, and the smile was hiding the stomach aches. The headaches. The feeling that something wasn’t right. And, as it turned out, something wasn’t.
My adventure with type one diabetes (T1D) started one night in July of 2013 when my parents came to wake me up, saying we had to go to the hospital, and it couldn’t wait until the morning. I hoped it would be a short trip, since we were supposed to go on vacation the next morning. But once my dad and I got to the hospital, things happened pretty quickly. I don’t remember a lot from that night. What I do remember is hearing the words juvenile diabetes and seeing my dad start crying. I didn’t really understand, but if Dad was crying, I knew something was very very wrong. After that, it was a whirlwind of finger pricks, IVs, bloodwork, and definitely not a vacation the next morning. I remember worrying that my friends would think I was weird and that I would never be “normal” again. Diabetes took over my life pretty quickly. What’s special to me though, is that I was able to take it back.
“The Camp with the Bear Logo”
Throughout my first year of having T1D there were a lot of hospital visits, and a lot of angry feelings. I didn’t understand why it had to be me that got this awful disease and I was pretty frustrated with the world. After a few months of having diabetes, through my mom’s friend and my diabetes care team, I heard of something called D-Camps. I remember sitting next to my mom at the computer as we signed me up for two weeks, and my insistence on going to Camp Huronda because I thought the camp with the bear logo was the coolest. Little did I know that the camp with the bear logo would become the most important place in my life.
My first summer at camp, I was eleven years old. On the surface, Camp Huronda seemed like any other camp, with swimming, campfires, and questions like “if you could jump into a pool filled with any food, what would it be?” But what stood out to me right away was how on my very first day at camp, I heard kids in my cabin talk about blood sugars. And where they put their site changes. And the worst flavour of Glucerna that you could be given by the night nurses (vanilla, obviously). Not your everyday summer camp conversations. Camp very quickly became the most extraordinary place I have ever been in my life. At camp, I wasn’t weird. I didn’t have to hide my diabetes – I could celebrate it. Diabetes was such a normal part of life at camp, it was almost like nobody had it at all.
Not only was a camp a place that celebrated diabetes, but a place filled with people that encouraged one another to succeed. I did my first pump site change at Huronda, when one of my friends told me she wasn’t going to let me leave the Insul-inn (the on-site medical centre) until I did it myself. Being in that environment, where I could see kids my age that were going through the same thing, had a huge impact on me. Everybody at camp is living proof that diabetes doesn’t define you, but rather, empowers you. And at camp, it’s not just blood sugars and insulin all day long. Sometimes when I talk to people who have never been to Huronda, they imagine a bunch of diabetics all swapping tricks and learning about food. And don’t get me wrong, the little tips and tricks people have for diabetes management are always welcomed by me. However, diabetes is such a central part of Huronda, you don’t really ever have to think about it. Testing before hopping in a canoe, or being able to tap out of capture the flag unquestioned if you go low, or always having a buddy to sit with you when you need it really makes diabetes become a part of life rather than a hassle. Camp has this magic that makes diabetes not a curse anymore, but something to be proud of. A superpower. And everybody at camp, whether camper, counsellor, or med-staff, is their own type of superhero. Being in that environment has taught me, and so many other kids, that diabetes doesn’t get to decide what happens in your life. And just because you have to deal with something not a lot of other kids at school may have to deal with, there’s a family waiting for you at this special little place on the edge of the lake.
Before camp I didn’t really want anyone to know I had diabetes. I was ashamed, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. Maybe if I closed my eyes hard enough and didn’t think about it, diabetes would go away. Maybe if I skipped out on testing my blood sugar at school, or bolusing for a snack, I could pretend I didn’t have it, and I was just like everybody else. I think unfortunately that’s how it is for a lot of kids with T1D. At Huronda, however, things really changed for me.
Now, I don’t feel the need to hide my pump tubing or cover up my Dexcom. If somebody asks, I don’t get embarrassed. Diabetes isn’t something I hide anymore. People at camp taught me that I don’t have to.
I think the most magical part about Huronda is that the spirit of camp carries on long after the summer ends. I’ve met my best friends at camp, and even though I don’t get to see them all the time, they are some of the most special people in my life. It doesn’t matter how far away camp friends are, whether it’s one, three, or sixteen hours away. What brings the camp community together is everybody knowing that we’ll be back next summer, and we’ll sing Taps around the flagpole, and we’ll eat grilled cheese for lunch, scream our concordia cheers, have zap naps, and be together. It’s also nice to be able to have people to call and laugh about old camp memories, and to help keep you on track when diabetes gets tough. Camp is more than just a place, it’s a feeling.
Camp Huronda has, and will continue, to change the lives of so many people living with type one diabetes, and we all have some amazing doctors to thank for that. Not only did they discover the formula for insulin, but they made it so kids like me would have a shot. They’re the reason we’re able to sing those repeat-after-me songs and compete for Mr. Clean every day. They’re the reason we thrive. Without those doctors I wouldn’t have met my best friends, and I wouldn’t be able to say that someday I’m going to be running Camp Huronda (sorry Lauren, it’s inevitable). Every day that we all live, both at and away from camp, we have Banting, Best, Collip and Macleod to thank.
I think it’s pretty safe to say, today and every day, they’re the real D-Camps Champs 🙂