At the age of 2 years old I was diagnosed with Juvenile diabetes, better known as type 1. My mother—an angel to whom I credit everything I have achieved to this day—dropped out of her profession, goals, and school to take care of me. She also dedicated her ambition to give me everything life could offer. At the age of 8, she brought me to a country ranch for diabetes camp called Camp Discovery.

I remember how nervous I was, mainly to be away from her for an entire week. This experience, however, would change my life forever. Not only did this camp provide important life skills, but it also provided me friendship and bonds with kids just like myself that could not have been created any other way.

The first night in the cabin was hot. There were 13 of us on bunks trying to sleep. In the dark, a voice told us to get up and quietly meet up. It was our counselors. Each of them had a handful of water balloons and told us to follow them. We proceeded out of the cabin and, like mission impossible agents, we were running thru the woods towards the girls’ cabins. I was trying so hard not to laugh, but I was full of excitement and anticipation. We approached and were told to let them fly. Balloons flew thru the air, and the immediate cries of girls’ confusion and terror filled the night as we sprinted like Olympic runners back to our cabins. Quickly into the bunks we raced and were told to pretend we were asleep as the doctors entered.

We were caught and scared that trouble was soon to come our way. But the opposite occurred. The doctors turned on the lights and asked all of us to check our blood sugar levels. They commented on how they knew what we had just done, but their main concern was monitoring our sugar levels before we went to sleep. They taught us that night how excitement alone can be a dangerous thing—but something we could manage and should not worry about. I laid in my bunk still laughing with the purest smile, even to this day, I think I had ever had.

Camp Discovery

1988, Camp Discovery, My first year at camp

It was only the beginning. Every year I attended this Camp Discovery. I anxiously awaited all year for this special week to come. I was miserable not being there. It was where I learned to play the piano and sing in front of people. It was the place I learned to ride a horse. I learned to swim, canoe, and fish for crawdads. I learned to climb giant rock fences and how to shoot a bow and arrow. It was my very first campfire where I saw a guitar played; My very first movie theatre experience. There was arts and crafts and paintball battles…everything a kid could dream of.

It was camp. But I now realize it was also so much more than that. The true purpose and meaning behind this amazing camp was learning to cope and survive.

We had a regiment. Based off our weight and schedule, we were given a point system for snacks and meals. Some had more and some had less, but it was a system to teach us that we were all different yet very alike. We went to on topics ranging from emotion management, risks involved with drinking and drugs, and even sexual issues that would come later with having diabetes. There were times that a fellow camp mate would collapse on the floor and start to seize. We didn’t panic. We ran to their assistance until doctors came to assist. We were an army, united with a unique bond.

My closest friends I’ve ever had were made at this camp. I grew up with them. Even though I only saw them for 1 week a year, the trust we had is indescribable. For one week out of the year, I was a king. I was popular. Girls talked to me. Adults believed in me. I could have low blood sugar and cry without being ashamed. I could get angry and scream and have someone to scream along with me. I could laugh and smile and not be afraid. I could live. At the age of 17, it was my final chance for this Camp discovery. The end of this yearly ritual left me in tears for days.

Now I am 33 years old and so thankful for those 11 years of amazing camp experience. I want other children who are just like I was to have the same life changing experiences.

Type 1 is not a classification. Diabetes is not the promoted Type 2 complex that is highly marketed to the world. It is not a disease just for overweight and old people. It is not just a “can’t have sugar” issue. It is a day in and day out battle of the mind and body. Whether low or high, we must constantly stay on top of everything. It effects our self-esteem, our thought, our energy, our motivation and purpose for everything. One blood sugar reaction can affect us days later. Depression, anger, hopelessness, anxiety, and confusion are just a mild description of the effects of daily management.

The closest people around you have to be taught about your disease, and that alone is hard. Telling them you may lash out at them and say hateful things during an episode can be difficult to understand. Telling your partner you may not to be able to sexually please them at times if you sugar level is not properly in line is hard. When levels are unbalanced and your body begins to tingle in fatigue, your thoughts work against you. You feel like you are on the verge of insanity and suicide, but that too is just the disease working its course on your mind.

I am thankful for the people that created these camps statewide. I owe my life to them. I owe my happiness to them…my wisdom, my sense of humor and my ability to cope in intense situations. I owe them my courage and my strength. JDRF gave be hope and belief in life and the world. They gave me a place in this world that often times can make us feel like we are just a number. JDRF gave me a place in this world as an individual that could do anything, despite having an illness. I am alive because of JDRF.

If you or someone you know has a child with type 1 diabetes, please reach out and support a camp or effort in your community. Volunteer or donate and change a young child’s life by giving them the chance to attend a camp in their area.