Do all the good you can

The Midwest Creative
By: 
Macey Spensley
Express columnist

     Hi, Midwest Creatives.

   As you’re reading this, I’m deep in the Des Moines River Valley.

   Perhaps I’m helping a child deal with a low blood sugar. Or I’m cheering someone on as they try the zip line for the first time. Maybe I’m cooling off in the pool during a 90-degree afternoon.

   But I do know for sure that I’ll be bursting with joy at my favorite place in the entire world: Camp Hertko Hollow.

   I’m spending the week volunteering as a counselor. If you’ve known me for any period of time, or read my previous column, you already know how important Camp Hertko Hollow is to me. It’s a place of solace, genuine love, kindness. This year is my fiancé’s first year as Camp Program Manager, and I cannot wait to see him in action.

   With very little internet service and my time filled with camp activities and caring for children with diabetes, I won’t have any time to write next week. Instead, I want to share with you a short piece I wrote in 2021.

   2021 was the second summer in a row we couldn’t have camp due to Covid. The then director asked me to write something to share on social media to remind everyone why camp is so important.

   Rereading this again, every single word still rings true deep in my bones. As you read this, think of me and know my heart is filled with joy, and I’m working to do all the good I can. I’ll have even more stories for you by the time I’m home.

   You can’t prepare for a diagnosis of a chronic illness like Type One Diabetes.

   The symptoms came on slowly. I wet the bed once or twice – not THAT strange for a five-year-old. Then once or twice turned into every night for two weeks straight. The thirst came during that time. The stress of knowing I will probably wet the bed that night but feeling parched like the desert drove me to sucking water out of my toothbrush just to quench my thirst. My parents took me to the doctor after suspecting a urinary tract infection. A blood draw, a urine test, and a lot of tears later, we were on our way to Iowa City to learn how to live our new lives with Type One Diabetes.

   I am the youngest of four children, so our family was constantly on the go. Diabetes meant slowing that down a bit, learning about carbs and insulin and exercise and blood sugar and needles and everything you might need to know about manually functioning as an essential human organ. Every sick day at home meant my mom staying right by my side the entire day, no matter what. Every sports game of my siblings’ meant packing a giant go bag with every emergency planned for to make sure we had any supply I could possibly need. Every birthday party meant communicating with a friend’s parents to know what exactly we’d be doing and eating and when to plan out my insulin needs for the day.

   Being diagnosed at a young age has helped me in the fact that I’ve never known anything different. This has simply always been my life. I’ve watched as technology has evolved into more effective tools and the prices of insulin skyrocket. I’ve used multiple different insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, with a mixture of results. I’ve cried because I hated my a1c and I’ve cried because my hard work paid off and I lowered it to where I wanted. I’ve gone from pricking my finger seven times a day to checking my Dexcom on my phone a thousand times a day. I’ve thrown up from ketones and I’ve gorged on whatever I could find in the fridge during a 3 a.m. low blood sugar. I can look at almost any food and give you a pretty good estimation of how many carbs it has. If you tell me I can’t eat something, you will be the recipient of some pretty icy words.

   Throughout these last 19 years of Diabetes, one thing has remained the same – I don’t resent this disease. There are times when I'm angry, and I would do absolutely anything not to have to deal with this disease. But as a whole, I have never felt stopped by Diabetes. Only recently have I begun to truly understand that I am sick, and that I have lived a childhood as a sick child and somehow still felt normal my entire life. I know in my heart that I’ve only been able to reach this acceptance because of Camp Hertko Hollow.

   I truly don’t know how people deal with Diabetes when they don’t have a place like Camp Hertko Hollow. Once you drive into the valley, the energy changes. You become free. And you thrive.

   Camp taught me that my disease is normal. I might not have seen insulin pumps when I walked down the hallway at school, but the simple fact of knowing that other Diabetics exist, that somewhere they are also walking through school with an insulin pump on their hip, meant that I was never alone. I could call or text (or write letters to via snail mail like we did in the early days of camp) my friends and tell them about the nasty bout of ketones I had the day before, or ask them what their favorite low blood sugar snack is. We swapped advice for wearing our pumps with our prom dresses. Even to this day, we exchange advice on how to handle everyday situations with our disease, or discuss the pros and cons of each brand of insulin pumps. Our bodies destroyed our pancreases, but our bodies also created the strongest bonds with each other that I have ever known.

   It’s difficult to explain to other diabetics I meet, who have never been to a diabetes camp, what camp has meant to me. I want them to understand what these relationships with other diabetics have done with my own personal relationship to my Type One Diabetes. Camp can normalize diabetes. It can teach you how to live in the world with this disease a little easier. We learn tips from each other, like good places to put your Dexcom or how to dose for a certain type of food without a major blood sugar spike.

   During the times when I don’t like Diabetes and meltdown because it feels out of control, I just remember that this frustrating disease brought me the people who love me so strongly and unconditionally that sometimes I can’t hardly believe how lucky I am. And that, to me, is why Camp Hertko Hollow is my favorite place in the entire world.

   Camp Hertko Hollow is a nonprofit organization. If you are able, it would mean the world to me if you sent camp a gift to ensure they can keep doing the important work of caring for kids with Diabetes.

   To read more from Macey, visit https://maceys.substack.com/.

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