Jennifer Beneke attended Diabetes Training Camp where she learned how to incorporate exercise successfully into her lifestyle, was counseled on additional self-management tips, and came away with a renewed sense of self.  

By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator, DiabetesCare.net

Before attending Diabetes Training Camp last summer, Jennifer Beneke thought she knew type 1 diabetes management as well as anyone. She had the disease for nearly 20 years having been diagnosed as a young girl. She had been on an insulin pump for nearly 10 years, and started using a continuous glucose monitor within the last year. Through it all, she felt she was doing ok, aside from figuring out how she could exercise and avoid lows.

She really struggled with this one aspect, and like many people with diabetes, she felt like she was left to her own devices to sink or swim. Through most of her diabetes experience, Beneke kept her diabetes to herself. She didn’t share she had the disease or talk about her management to people in her life. 

This form of isolation can be common for people with diabetes (PWD), and it can leave them without needed moral support or sources for additional knowledge.

While she was relatively content with her diabetes management, Beneke still felt like she was missing something, so she began to explore social media. She read diabetes online community (DOC) blogs, and did some communicating with fellow PWD through Facebook and Twitter.

While online, Beneke had read about Diabetes Training Camp (DTC) and filed it away as maybe an opportunity for another day.  Last spring, she learned that Diabetes Training Camp and DiabetesCare.net were collaborating on a contest in which one person would have a chance to win a scholarship to attend the camp at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

For the uninitiated, DTC is a week-long camp set up for teens and adults with diabetes who want to learn more about how they can balance exercise and their diabetes management with more precision. DTC attendees range from beginners looking to develop an exercise program all the way up to people who want to train for a major event like a marathon. The camp is also designed for campers to engage DTC’s team of healthcare professionals with questions or trouble shoot ongoing diabetes management issues. While exercise and diabetes management is the crux of the camp, it’s also a wonderful opportunity for fellow PWD to be in a place where they are the majority and they can get support and gain knowledge from fellow campers.

DTC was created by Matt Corcoran, MD. Corcoran is an endocrinologist who saw a void when it came to providers addressing exercise with their patients as well as patients gaining exposure to continuing education about diabetes management.

DiabetesCare.net did an interview with Corcoran a couple of years ago where he discussed some of these ongoing challenges in diabetes healthcare.  

DiabetesCare.net spoke with Beneke recently about her experiences at DTC and why this camp could be a good fit for anyone with diabetes who is looking for a shared learning, activity-based experience with people who “get it.”  

DiabetesCare.net: Why the decision to enter last year’s DTC contest?

Beneke: Exercise and weight are things I have struggled with for a long time. Exercise has always frustrated the heck out of me because as soon as I began to exercise, my blood sugar would drop. It was an endless frustration, and I didn’t have a lot motivation to stick with anything. So, when I read about Diabetes Training Camp, it sounded exactly like what I was looking for to give me some more guidance and to figure out how to manage that.

DiabetesCare.net: What was the DTC experience like?

Beneke:
DTC was more than I ever expected it to be. I went in thinking I really wanted some tools for how to manage blood sugars during exercise, but I got so much more out of it. I also went into it with the mindset, ‘I have had diabetes for 20 years; I understand it pretty well. There is probably not a whole lot else I can learn.’ Boy was I wrong. When I look back, I don’t know that I ever had any additional diabetes training since I was first diagnosed.

Over the years, I would get a little information about how pumps worked and updates on the new insulins, but I never had any sit down classroom review of what’s going on in diabetes management. By going to camp, I was able to learn so much and realize even things like using the exchange system for carb counting. I had no idea that wasn’t the norm anymore, and that most people had switched over to grams because it was more accurate. Also, I learned more about what actually causes blood sugars to drop and what causes my body’s response versus a person with a normal functioning pancreas.  I learned what mechanisms are broken in that system. I also received information about new treatments and their pros and cons.

One of the biggest things I took from camp was the amount of professionals that were there to help me, including an endocrinologist, nurses, dietitians, and trainers. It was the first time I have ever been surrounded around such professionals, and without the judgment. I could ask questions about fitness, food, my diabetes management, and it was never about someone saying to me, ‘you have been doing the wrong things, or making the wrong choices.’ They might say, ‘that was good for a time, and here is another thing you can try.’ It was a liberating experience and very comforting to ask any questions I had, and I knew they were there to support me to help me do better.



     A group shot of everyone from last year`s Diabetes Training Camp.

 

DiabetesCare.net: Is there anything post-camp in terms of keeping in contact with DTC or resources they provided?

Beneke: A few months ago, Matt [Corcoran] reached out to me. He asked how things were going. He knew I was in the middle of a transition of finding a new endocrinologist with my move from Kansas to North Dakota. He said if there was anything I needed to let him know.  I have been able to Facebook with dietitians from the camp and ask them questions. They are always willing to help you, post-camp.

DiabetesCare.net: Are you feeling much more comfortable about your diabetes management and exercising since going to DTC?

Beneke: Definitely. The most valuable thing I took away from camp was the change in mindset when I think about exercise and weight.  It was really a big eye opener, when Matt said to me, ‘exercise is not a way to lose weight; you have to look at it as a way to get fit. And losing weight has to come more from diet changes.’

That was something I had never really thought about before. And when you have that mindset that I’m exercising to get fit, and not for weight loss, it’s easier to not get frustrated, because you are still accomplishing the goal of getting fit.  

We also did talk through some ways that I could change my insulin usage. Whereas, my previous plan had been to completely turn my pump off during exercise; that was not really the best route for me and that I needed to be planning ahead.  I also didn’t realize how much exercise could affect my blood sugars later, and that it wasn’t all in the moment.  I’m now able to track my blood sugars better and know where highs and lows are coming from.   

DiabetesCare.net: Can you describe what the atmosphere at the camp was like?

Beneke:
There was a lot of camaraderie. Of course all the campers had diabetes, and a good majority of the staff had it as well. And so, whether it was in a classroom during a lecture, or outside together exercising, the group was full of people with that same common trait.

You would be sitting in a lecture hall, and pumps were beeping like crazy and no one was looking at you funny. I thought it was cool to see a person take out his meter to check his blood sugar a couple of hours after the meal. And suddenly, when other people noticed it, everyone began taking out their meters and checked too. It is kind of weird to say because we were at a camp of people with diabetes, and obviously we were talking about that 24/7, but many of us agreed it was the most undiabetic we ever felt.

Sitting down in a room where everyone else is in that same boat as you brings about that camaraderie and allows you to share things with other people and tips you have learned. We learned as much from each other as we did from the medical professionals. 

DiabetesCare.net: Would you consider going back to the camp?

Beneke:
Definitely. There is so much to continue learning about. Also, the amount of motivation and inspiration I came away with from camp; it encourages you to work harder.

DTC recently announced its new camp dates for 2014, which will be held June 16-21 at Franklin and Marshall College. Registration is now open and those who are interested can go here.