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Leader of the Month: Julia Blanchette

Posted on 02 February 2018

Hello everyone! My name is Julia Blanchette and I am best known for being a diabetes nurse /aspiring diabetes star, a crazy cat mom and being overly involved in my community. I am currently a very busy 25-year-old who is trying to finish her Ph.D. in nursing science in Cleveland, OH (a place I never imaged ending up)! In my free time, I am the healthcare director at Camp Ho Mita Koda, a camp for children with type 1 diabetes. How did I end up here?

My journey began in 1999 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age seven. I was a very shy child and tried to keep my T1D a secret (as an adult, I am quite the opposite). Two years later, I attended a camp for children with T1D and became inspired to go into the healthcare field. I first attended diabetes camp as a shy nine-year-old. Diabetes camp was the first place where I felt “normal” since my T1D diagnosis. I was able to talk to others my age who experienced the same fears, struggles, and emotions. I was not singled out for feeling low, checking my blood sugar or having to count carbohydrates before lunch. I didn’t even feel the need to hide my T1D.

I even made some of my best childhood friends at diabetes camp. My camp friends helped me through my tough teenage years. They made me proud, and the real me revealed. The real me is fearless, bold and full of enthusiasm when opening up about living with T1D. In high school, I was confident about my T1D and shared my experiences with my friends. I felt supported! I even worked as a counselor at a diabetes day camp where I became aware of my strength in being a positive T1D role model. By the end of high-school, I decided I wanted to study nursing and become a diabetes nurse educator or diabetes researcher.

In August 2010, I left for nursing school at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, OH– 500 miles away from home. I never imagined feeling at home in the Midwest which was far away from everything and everyone I knew. However, CWRU was the best choice for my aspiration to become a diabetes nurse educator. I enjoyed my time at CWRU, but it was difficult, at first, learning how to manage my T1D on my own. I was so far from home and had little support. I was still open to all of my college friends and my nursing class about growing up with T1D. However, I spent four years opening up about my experiences but lacking a T1D support system.

I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree in 2014 and continued my education by pursuing a Ph.D. in nursing science, also at CWRU. I was confident in the decision to dedicate my life to diabetes nursing and research. To gain registered nursing (RN) experience while studying, I took an RN job at Camp Ho Mita Koda in summer 2015. That summer, I listened to and observed the psychosocial issues that campers of all ages faced. That summer was when I was confident that the Ph.D. in nursing with a focus on T1D self-management in emerging adults was where my knowledge and work was unquestionably needed.

I meet so many children at Camp Ho Mita Koda who remind me of how my journey began. I watch these children grow into confident, “normal” feeling young adults with T1D, who advocate for and take care of themselves. After years of missing a significant piece of my life, I find myself at home with the T1D community in Northeast Ohio. Camp Ho Mita Koda has given me the support system that I was missing for so many years. Diabetes camp has guided my career path and my life journey. Today, I am a T1D advocate and believer in diabetes camps. The magic of diabetes camp helps so many children learn about T1D and become themselves.

However, the diabetes camp journey has not always been so magical. Last spring, Camp Ho Mita Koda almost closed its doors. Since the spring, the Camp Ho Mita Koda Foundation has been managing the camp and honoring the dream of the camp’s founder. In 1929 Dr. Henry John, a pioneer in the use of insulin to treat T1D, founded the camp as a place to harbor self-management growth for children with T1D. I am thrilled that 10% of YXU’s sales this month will support sending children with T1D to Camp Ho Mita Koda!

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