By Lincoln Keck
Twenty years ago this summer I lost my best friend, Nathan, and made a new one, Ryan. My time that summer at camp, and every year since, has made all the difference in the world to me.
It was only a couple months before I first went to diabetes camp that I had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, missing the last few days of my seventh grade year because I was in the hospital. Medically speaking, everything about that experience was textbook and could be a case study in a journal, but what wasn’t typical is that for the past year I had watched my friend Nathan courageously battle Ewing’s Sarcoma.
Somehow in those moments when I was in the hospital and learning to give insulin to an orange or test my blood sugar, I realized that my treatment would help me be well, feel well, and live well, should I choose to accept it. My friend’s journey was different, but he was able to teach me lessons about myself through it.
Accepting diabetes was relatively easy for me, and surely something I was able to do because of how Nathan chose to live despite the challenges he faced. A blend of both of our journeys that we faced at a young age has shaped my life for two decades now, and I’m better because of it.
Cancer unfortunately took my friend, but diabetes has not taken me. Rather, it has connected me to the world in ways I never would have thought possible.
One of the big events that I still remember vividly is returning to camp one afternoon following the funeral. Interestingly enough I met my cabin mate Ryan down at the lake for some fishing, but it was more than that, it was healing. I don’t remember much specifically from camp that first year, but I remember how peaceful and calm that time on the water was, and how it sowed seeds for a new brotherhood.
During that first week of camp, Ryan and I became fast friends. It was a natural fit, because we each had our fishing poles and tackle ready to catch the big ones, and despite all the ‘locals’ (full-time camp staff and counselors) telling us the best bait was corn or leftover dinner rolls, we were both tying on and throwing topwater plugs and ten inch worms.
We caught fish after fish, big ones and small ones, in peace and quiet as well as in conversation, and we understood each other perhaps like no one else ever had. Of course we had similar interests and enjoyed similar things, but we also knew how each other felt and what the other was going through. There wasn’t a need to try and empathize and understand what the other was feeling or going through, we both knew exactly what that was. In a different sense, we both knew that about every other kid at camp, and that understanding continues to this day.
It’s been twenty years now since I said goodbye to the friend who helped me understand so much about life and happiness, and two decades since I welcomed another friend who has done the same thing in a different way.
Ryan and I haven’t missed a summer at camp together during this time, and we still seek ways to make that next return work out. We have both made it through college and graduate school, have been blessed with beautiful and loving wives, and have several little ones each running around to teach us new lessons about life.
Having diabetes hasn’t been easy, but it has made life good in ways that we may have never known otherwise; and it all started at camp!
I owe a special thanks to all the others who have played their important part in this life as well, and I hope you know how thankful I am for each of you.