"It would break my heart to miss it..." ~Melissa
There is one terrible thing about the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp, and that is... well, having to miss it! We interviewed 19-year-old camper-turned-staff Melissa Boettcher, a six year CDF Camp veteran, when we learned she would have to miss Camp this year. Fortunately, due to a surprising turn of events she was able to attend after all! But we knew you would want to hear the memories, the messages and the wisdom she had to share.
Understandably, at age 10 when Melissa was diagnosed with diabetes, she did not fully comprehend the impact. Similar to others new to the disease, it was a major adjustment to learn to test regularly, control her blood sugars, receive insulin injections, and the other responsibilities that go with having t1d. Already an athlete, and leading a healthy lifestyle, Melissa found that she became even more conscious about eating nutritiously. Most of all, she found a new determination to become a role model for other t1d kids.
While Melissa felt very supported by her mother, father and her three brothers, there was another group of people who provided unparalleled encouragement and camaraderie - the friends at Camp. As Melissa puts it, "The relationships made there are ones that will last forever. Having those friendships and that support has become really important to me. They play such a huge role in supporting me; I really don't know what I would do without them."
"I don't think I can sum up my experiences as a camper. I love every single thing."
In fact, Melissa had so many wonderful recollections about Camp that even she acknowledged it would be impossible to get it all down on paper. Instead, she offered this perspective: "From the moment you get out of your car your first year of camp you immediately become part of this incredible family of people who understand almost everything you are going through. Being part of that family makes you realize that you are not alone; there are many amazing people who are in the same boat as you. Every year was more incredible and amazing than the previous.
The things I have experienced at Camp have definitely shaped me into the person I am today. I would say Camp has made me view myself not as having diabetes and letting it be a negative, but having diabetes and using it as a good thing."
"Camp is probably the only place in the world where wearing a fanny pack is cool." ~Melissa
Melissa focused next on the highlights, of which there were many. "I don't know if I can choose just one memory! One good one is when my 3-on-3 team won the tournament. Another one would definitely be campfire each year. Many of my favorite memories have been the little moments that have happened. Things such as the first time Kelsey and Claire greeted me on my first day at camp like I had been a camper for years; or the times when it isn't really a particular moment but rather getting to spend a week with some of the people you really love but only get to see that one week of the year." She also listed Brian Grant's visit as a truly one-of-a-kind, indelible memory.
"I wanted to make an impact on someones else's life like the one each and every staff member has made on mine..." ~Melissa
As Melissa grew and matured, she found herself inspired to become a staff herself: "All the staff at Camp have played such a huge role in my life and in me growing up with diabetes. While I have only been staff for one year, one of my favorite memories was getting to be involved in making the week happen. I was the camp photographer for the week last year and getting to photograph the memories that were made that week was amazing. Just being able to help put on Camp was a memory of its own."
We asked what it was like for her to transition from Camper to Staff. She replied, "It was way different. You get to see a completely different side of camp. Seeing the amount of hard work and effort that is put in by all the staff makes you realize how incredible the camp is and makes you very thankful for the staff."
"...the impact that camp has on each camper's life is incredible." ~Melissa
There is no doubt that Melissa has connected with CDF on a deep and long lasting level: "Since first attending camp as a camper and then as a staff member I have learned a lot about the importance of managing diabetes while playing a high level sport. Being able to play the sport I adore with so many other people my age going through the same thing was invaluable. One of the most important things I learned was that there is no such thing as testing too often (Test Don't Guess!). This is one thing that has definitely stuck with me since the first time I heard it as a camper, and has definitely helped me manage my diabetes more.
"Dream Big and use diabetes to make yourself stronger." ~Melissa
When we wondered if Melissa had any parting wordsfor this year's campers, she laughed heartily! "I think this is an awful question because I probably have too many special messages! Let's sum it up to say that I love everyone at camp and I hope they have an incredible experience again this year (as I know they all will)."
The suggestions she had for those newly diagnosed were both reassuring, and heartfelt:"I would tell them that everything will be alright. I'd tell them that they aren't all alone. I would also tell them to come to camp because the impact that camp has on each camper's life is incredible. Lastly, I would tell them to never be ashamed or self-conscious of being diabetic. I would say Dream Big and use diabetes to make yourself stronger."
As Melissa heads back to nursing school at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC this fall, we are completely confident that she will be dreaming big herself. She reports that while she does not know entirely where her nursing path will take her in the future, "chances are high that I will somehow end up working with kids with diabetes." We sure hope so Melissa as you are a real inspiration!