Who would have thought that the girl who cried for her mom at overnight camp daily, would be the same person who is now the Communications Director for that very same camp? Not me, that is for sure.
Hi, my name is Madelyn Willis, and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five. It was 4th of July, and I had pneumonia. While other kids were running down the streets in their Gap American flag shirts, sparklers in hand, I had my head in the toilet. I remember my mom trying to give me Gatorade and water as much as possible, but nothing would stay down. As a 5-year-old, I had lost 12 pounds, and looked very unhealthy. I was always nauseous, never hungry, weak and even couldn’t see at times. Before I knew it, I was lying in a hospital bed. I remember seeing a few fireworks light up the small ER window, and my mom softly crying in the background. The doctor pulled my mom out of the room, and I just laid there, confused, tired and scared. At the time, I did not know what diabetes was, but I sure do now.
A few years down the road, my parents had the bright idea of sending me to “diabetes camp”. At the time, that sounded like the worst place on earth. I had this image in my head that all these weird kids would be there or I would constantly be stuck with needles like some science experiment. Of course, a few months later I found myself on a top bunk of a stone-walled cabin in the middle of Oklahoma. Where in the world was I?
I instantly became friends with some girls, but didn’t really think much of it. Our parents traded numbers at pick-up, and that’s all I really knew. I was SO happy to see my family, but I guess I could say I had fun. As the years went by, I found myself looking forward to camp every single summer, but didn’t even realize how excited I truly was. By the end of my senior year of high school, the last year you can go to camp, I bawled my eyes out at the thought of leaving this place. This wasn’t just camp, this was a home. In a few short years, my nightmare imagery of camp became my heaven on earth.
These people understood me more than I could have ever imagined. They understand the cold sweats you feel when waking up low at 3 a.m., or the anger you have when people asked for your snacks at school. It was the small things, but it was the one place on earth I did not feel like an outcast. Camp Endres showed me to not only take care of my diabetes, but to embrace it. That I should make it the one unique thing about myself, and advocate for those who can’t themselves.
It is now 17 years down the line, and I am still that girl who is obsessed with Camp Endres. Once I graduated from Oklahoma State University, the Executive Director, Kim Boaz-Wilson, offered me a position working for Diabetes Solutions of Oklahoma. Through this nonprofit, I am heavily involved with our Community Outreach and Camping program, Camp Endres.
When summer rolls around, I am also on leadership staff at all Endres sessions. Camp gave me so much in life, I pour everything into my campers now. I have several campers who have told me personally, “if it weren’t for Camp Endres, I would not be alive today”, and they mean it. I am telling you, this place is more than just a campground to so many people. It shows you that there is so much more to life than needle pricks and test strips. You are more than this disease, and there are so many people who truly want the best for you. Campers, staff and volunteers learn from others and how to not let diabetes hold you back in anything you do.
Thank you Camp Endres for giving me a family, a home and a life that is worth living for. You not only taught me to love myself, but love myself with type one diabetes too.