My first summer as a diabetic, we decided I would return to a regular holiday camp (I had been there a few times before being diagnosed both in winter and in summer). It was in the French Alps, in Châtel to be exact. As I was now old enough, they were proposing all kinds of new activities, like hiking with mountain dogs, camping, rock climbing, etc. Not only were those activities new for my group age, it was also a first for me in the sense that I had never left my parents for so long since my diagnosis. But I wasn’t scared, I was incredibly excited. I felt like a grown up. I would do so many incredible things and on top of that, I’d be able to prove to myself, to my parents, to the world that I could still do anything I wanted with my life. But the owners of the camp rejected my application. Because where there used to be a blank in the space reading “Illnesses”, there now was “insulino-dependant diabetic”. They were concerned about being responsible for a sick child. While I do understand their difficult position, I was deeply hurt, and felt there was a great injustice done to me. I hadn’t asked anything to happen to me. Diabetes just… happened. Did it mean that I had to be separated from my brothers and my friends for the rest of my life? Couldn't I do the same activities as everybody else? My mum was furious and fought for me to be accepted. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t being treated with prejudice. She is, always was, and always will be, a lioness protecting her cubs. She took an appointment at the City Hall (this camp was organised and managed by the Council), where a lady from the mayor's office sided with us and vouched for a nurse to accompany me.
I need to make a little parenthesis here: I later learned that that lady from the mayor's office was diabetic too. She had decided to keep it private because she knew people had a different behaviour when they knew. She was not concerned about her diabetes affecting her professional life, she had learned to control it. What she couldn't control is how people's opinion of her would change. Even without meaning to discriminate, people take it upon themselves to "protect" you, to "keep you from harm", or just assume you cannot do your job the way you're supposed to because you "are weaker". She was single and lived by herself. The nurse she had hired to accompany me to camp was her close friend and they had an arrangement where the nurse would occa sionally drop by to check up on her. She was the first diabetic adult I met and she was functioning like a normal, healthy, happy person. That comforted me in the idea that I was still the one in control. I could decide to tell about my condition or to keep it private. It also helped me realise that I will be able to have incredibly strong friendships with people who would care about me and know what to do to help me, if I happen to need it. I realised I didn’t have to be scared about growing up. I needed my parents' help and support as a child, but I would eventually be able to cope on my own, and that was very important for me to realise.
To go back to the summer camp, I was finally allowed to go, the only condition being that the nurse would not leave my side for the duration of the camp. I was grateful to be able to go, but I was a bit concerned about being the odd one out. If the past year had taught me anything, it was that being a preteen in high-school sucks and that being a diabetic preteen in high-school sucks even more. I stood out, and even if I hadn’t been bullied for my illness, I could definitely see a difference of behavior. Some kids would avoid me, some other wouldn’t know how to relax in my presence, I would often be awkwardly stared at or whispered about in the hallways. Luckily, some other decided that I was still cool enough to hang out with and became my friends. I could only hope that it would be the same in summer camp, even though having a nurse shadowing me was not really going to make me blend in. I decided to face this new challenge with my usual bravado. I ignored the stares and the under-the-breath mean comments, and focused on being me. I eventually made friends and I could enjoy the activities prepared for our enjoyments. One of the biggest activity planned during those three weeks was to go hiking for about 6 hours, make camp at the top of the mountain, sleep there, hike down the next day. I was, like all the kids there, really excited for that specific activity. I mean, who doesn’t dream to sleep under the stars, at the top of the world? It sounded magical. However, as the preparations for the big day approached, the directors of the camp had a talk with me. They had decided not to let me go. They said that getting me out in case of an emergency would require a helicopter, and they didn't have that kind of insurance. I remember that the nurse displayed my past few weeks' records in front of them to show them that I had no reason to either go high or low and in any case, she would be with me, monitoring my sugars so she could react early if needed. They were unyielding. They had made up their minds, there was no changing it. And again, to be honest, I do not blame them. They just didn’t take a chance on me, because they had too much at stake and they didn’t know any better. I simply wish I had been able to go. Instead, I had been left behind in the empty chalet. They all left in the morning by foot and I remember I could hear their laughter and songs echoing all over the mountains for hours. And I was alone with the nurse in the garden overlooking the mountainside, passing time by painting an oversized papier-maché camp mascot. I felt cheated and wronged. But I couldn’t really do anything.