Thanksgiving has always been an important holiday to my family. We drive to New York to visit my dad’s side of the family. There is a ton of delicious food, and it’s an opportunity to take a break from our usual routine while reflecting on what it is that we love most about our lives. I have so many fond memories from each of these trips. I could tell you about the hiking trip we took with my cousin Amy and her now husband Dennis; our times sledding in my Aunt and Uncle’s driveway; or the smile on my grandma’s face as we took her out for her birthday dinner the nights before we made our twelve hour drives back home. These are certainly my happiest memories from our Thanksgiving excursions, but the one I remember most clearly is our car ride home in 2004.
We were making our way down the mountain my Aunt and Uncle live on as a fresh bout of snow and ice blanketed the landscape. Ten-year-old me was sitting in the back seat, pounding two liters of Big Red and Coca-Cola. Road trip 101 is that the key to making better time isn’t to drive faster, but to limit the number of stops you take along the way. It’s hard to follow this rule when you have a child in the back seat drinking their weight in soda. That ride home went a little something like this:
“Guys, I’m thirsty!”
“Drew you just finished off another two liter”
“I can’t help it. I’m still thirsty”
“Okay, we’ll grab you something to drink when we stop again”
“Oh good cause I have to pee again”
“You just went not even an hour ago?!”
Wash, rinse, and repeat about sixteen times. My thirst was truly insatiable. My bladder was that of a squirrel’s, and to top it all off, I was a holy terror wrapped up in a ball of angry outbursts. It didn’t take long for my folks to realize something was up. Shortly after we got back to Kentucky they took me to see a doctor regarding what was wrong. That following Thursday, we had our answer.
I was admitted to Kosair Children’s Hospital, playing a Doctor Mario-themed Tetris game, when a young, dark haired doctor came in to deliver the news. The news that I now have Type 1 Diabetes. I was only half listening at the time because he had just handed me a groundhog Beanie Baby by the name of Punksaton-e-Phil (yes, I still have him). When I looked up and saw my folks crying I didn’t understand why. “What’s wrong guys? At least now we know what’s wrong. Now we can do something about it!” I said, trying to be reassuring. They were floored. I didn’t understand it at the time, but my reaction to my diagnosis was atypical. I never rejected the hand I was dealt, or got upset that I suddenly had to take a shot with every meal. When people referred to me as “the diabetic kid,” I would fire back with, “I have diabetes, but I’m not a diabetic.” It was a mildly inconvenient addition to my daily routine, nothing more; but that mentality didn’t last very long.
Like most people with diabetes, I started seeing an endocrinologist shortly after my diagnosis. Unlike most people with diabetes, I was lucky enough to see Dr. Mike Foster. It was Dr. Foster who ensured that I was taking the necessary steps to control my diabetes, empowered me to do so, and introduced me to Camp Hendon. It was Camp Hendon that revolutionized my relationship with my condition and helped to shape me into the person that I am today.
Without camp, I never would have met Cheyenne, my best friend of almost fifteen years now; I never would have found my place in the Type 1 community as a den leader; and most significantly, I never would have found the loving support network that I call my camp family. Now when I say “family” I mean that quite literally. They’re a community of people that understand me in a way that no one else possibly could. They understand the late night food binges when my blood sugar takes a nosedive. They understand the debilitating nausea, and irrational rage towards even the most insignificant things that comes with DKA. They understand it, because they live it too. That kind of understanding is indispensable, life changing, and fosters a sense of belonging I could only find at camp.
Nowadays, I proudly call myself a diabetic; but more so as an extension of who I am rather than my sole defining aspect. I am a diabetic. I am a diabetic martial artist. I am a diabetic graphic designer. I am a diabetic den leader to some of the best diabetic campers that anyone could ask for. If I had to pick a most important lesson that I learned from camp, it would be this: At its worst, diabetes has the potential to keep you from doing what you love, if you let it. At its best, diabetes is a badge of honor that says, “Yes I live with this condition. Yes this condition makes my life harder. And yes, I did just accomplish something great despite having diabetes because I refuse to let it limit the size of my goals!” Thank you Camp Hendon. Thank you for teaching me how to be a happier, more confident diabetic person. I’ll be thinking of you next Thanksgiving.