...and so I went. This past weekend, I attended diabetes camp for the first time (as a counselor). The Orange County chapter of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), in cooperation with PADRE (Pediatric-Adolescent Diabetes Research and Education Foundation), hosts an incredible annual event for kids/teens living with diabetes, and their families. Hosted at the breathtakingly beautiful UCLA Conference Center in Lake Arrowhead, California, the weekend-long family retreat is an opportunity for families fighting the same battles to gather for fun, education, and fellowship while aiming for the same goal: to live/equip their child to live a healthy and fulfilling life with type 1 diabetes.
Samantha Markovitz, Coach and Counselor (Coachelor? Nevermind.)
With separate tracks for children's and adult programming, there was something for everybody in attendance. Kids had the opportunity to participate in a scavenger hunt, do arts and crafts, and dig into setting vision and goals for their lives, including but certainly not limited to diabetes. Parents listened to doctors, socialized with other families, and had the comfort of knowing that their children were being cared for by well-trained counselors, most of which who live with T1D themselves.
I had the opportunity to prepare a curriculum framework for the purpose of speaking with kids in each age group about their goals and vision for their lives. Developing and facilitating the implementation of this program was a great exercise in putting myself into the mindset of a child or teen with T1D, since that was not something I experienced in my own childhood/adolescence. Although we ran out of the time needed for my co-counselor and I to really dig in to the dreams and vision work we had planned, it was incredible to be able to impart the importance of having vision and setting goals in taking care of yourself in order to open up the possibility of achieving your wildest dreams. I encouraged them to not just think of what they can achieve despite diabetes, but what can be achieved because of diabetes. I know that so many things I have accomplished and hope to experience in my life were only revealed or made possible because of my experience living with T1D, not simply in spite of it.
We all gathered together to hear from awesome keynote speaker, Jake Windell. He shared his story about becoming Southern California's only firefighter with type 1 diabetes. The perseverance and determination (not to mention volume of work) it took to get to where he is today is incredibly impressive and inspiring. Jake was able to arrange for the Lake Arrowhead Fire Department to come visit camp, which delighted the kids, and even the adults. Secretly, I think everyone's favorite part of the weekend were the meals. Not only was it impressive "camp" food, but there were carbohydrate counts for each dish and condiment, complete with measuring cups beside each option for portioning. It was liberating to have that information at a glance instead of having to do research/guesswork while your food gets cold, which happens back home. It truly is the little things in life that bring us the most joy!
My own intention for the weekend, which I shared with my d-family with whom I traveled to camp, was to live in the moment for as much of the retreat as possible. Despite having decent cell service and wifi throughout the property, I made it a point to only use my phone for the bare minimum of communication. At night, I enjoyed the heavenly star display, which harkened back to my summers at Girl Scout camp, where we would identify constellations in the absence of city lights. During the day, I noted the sharpness of the crisp mountain air, at first tightening my chest and then allowing breath to flow freely. Being present is something I am continually working on, and, believe it or not, diabetes has been a key component in making headway on this goal.
Thanks to the ADA, families came together for a weekend away to take a pause from the sometimes lonely (and always challenging) task of providing a "normal" life for their children in the midst of the very abnormal situation of operating as human pancreas. I got a snapshot of the joyful experience diabetes camp brings to kids with T1D all over. We all took a collective breath of fresh air, coming back down the mountain a little bit stronger, as individuals and a community, standing united to stop diabetes.
Stop diabetes. (Shout out to two of my awesome/mischevious campers photobombing, in the back in black. What's up 13-17s!)