By Kevin Connelly
It’s not easy being a teenager.
It’s even harder being a teenager moving to a new state.
It’s impossible to imagine being a teenager, and just as you start adjusting at a new school, you’re told you have Type 1 diabetes.
Meet Cameron Gumble.
His story is one of stubbornness, acceptance and trust.
A few years ago, Cameron’s parents struggled to get their son to leave his room. Last week, he qualified for The Vindicator’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior championship.
Although Cameron’s journey to get to where he is now didn’t come easy, the Gumbles learned more than they could’ve ever imagined along the way.
Cameron was born and raised in Wisconsin, but that isn’t too hard to guess after meeting his parents, Joel and Joyce. They left in 2008, but the accent remains.
Cameron, 17, is the youngest of three children. His brothers are Addam, 25, and Kyle, 19. What Cameron lacks in age, he makes up for in height.
Cameron’s first major growth spurt started when he was 13. It was the family’s second year in Ohio and Cameron was slowly getting acclimated at Austintown Middle School. As he was getting taller, he was also getting leaner. Joel just figured his son was losing weight because he was stretching out, as he put it. They weren’t aware that could be a possible symptom of diabetes instead of just a sign of puberty.
Cameron’s parents then noticed he was laying on the couch more, and sleeping in every chance he could. Again, symptom or puberty?
Then he started buying gallons of water to drink. That was the first sign that this wasn’t just puberty.
“After a few months of that, I was like. ‘Something’s not right,” Joel said. “We kind of knew what it might be, so we took him to our family doctor and the first thing he did was check his blood sugar.
“It was almost 400.”
That prompted an emergency trip to Akron Children’s Hospital, where Cameron was admitted for three days to monitor his vitals and diagnose him with Type 1 diabetes. Joel and Joyce got a 72-hour crash course on diabetes. Reality set in abruptly and hard.
“It was only our second year here, so we didn’t have any good friends or family to kind of bounce stuff off or help out with anything,” Joyce said. “It was very shocking for everyone.”
While Joel and Joyce were doing their best to learn what adjustments needed to be made to help their son, Cameron was doing his best to push everything to the side and ignore what people were telling him. Including his doctors.
“He did really well at first and I think he had it in his mind that if he took the medicine that it was going to go away,” Joyce said. “He knew that he was told it was a lifetime thing, but I don’t think it resonated.
“He treated it at first and I think he thought that if he just ignored it, and didn’t take the [medicine] and just continued on with his life, that it would just go away.”
That wasn’t going to happen.
With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, which is needed to convert sugars and other foods into energy your body needs on a daily basis. If it goes untreated, a person’s body can go into convulsion or a coma. Despite active research, Type 1 diabetes has no cure.
However, it can be managed and that was the next step for the Gumbles.
After the initial shock passed, and the first couple difficult months were behind the Gumbles, they were hoping things would start to turn around.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Joyce recalled. “We were just trying to do our best and he just wasn’t responding very well.”
There have been six incidents the Gumbles have experienced with their son, most of them happening when he was around the age of 14 or 15. The scariest one hit Joel hard.
He was home with Cameron and Kyle. Suddenly, Cameron just hit the floor.
“To see your son collapse to the ground and go into shock is pretty tough,” Joel said. “You know, you’re standing there, hands shaking, but you have to inject him with his insulin.”
While Joel put his crash course knowledge to the test, Kyle called 911.
“We had quite a few hospital visits and ambulances to the house for different things,” Joyce said. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
Not even Cameron can pinpoint when he realized his diabetes was something he had to take seriously, but his family believes that scare had a lot to do with it.
“I just didn’t want to talk about it, or really do anything about it,” Cameron said. “I guess I just realized this is what I had to do.”
What he had to do was accept.
Accept that dealing with diabetes is a daily requirement. Accept that his diabetes wasn’t going away. Accept that he could still live a normal life with it.
Cameron used to play football. Rather, he loved football.
The onset of the diabetes made him feel tired and not want to do anything, so he quit football.
To help fill that void, he started to play more golf.
“Golf was really the only thing he wanted to do anymore,” Joel said. “And obviously we wanted him to get out and still be active, but we had to be careful with how he, and we, managed it.”
If Cameron checked his levels before he left for golf, more often than not he would be fine for a four-hour period. The only concern would be if his blood-sugar level got too low, but he carries glucose tabs with him in his golf bag just in case.
Sending Cameron off for four hours wasn’t the first time the Gumbles had to learn to trust their son, but it was a necessary step. With diabetes, it’s ideal to stay on a regimented eating plan, with a certain amount of carbohydrates per meal. But Cameron is a teenager and at that age you’d rather eat vegetables than map out a plan for the day.
“He’s out golfing, he’s at school, he’s with his friends, you know, it’s hard,” Joel said. “He just had to learn to take his daily readings more seriously.”
Every morning Cameron takes long-acting medication that slowly runs through his system throughout the day. However he also must carry around an insulin pen, if a situation were to arise. Sickness, stress, too much exercise can all cause his levels to fluctuate.
“I’m pretty good about doing what I need to do now,” Cameron said. “I still don’t like it, but it’s whatever.
“I have to live with it.”
This fall, Cameron will begin his senior year at Austintown Fitch High School, where he’s a member of the varsity golf team.
But first he gets to put his skills to the test in the Greatest Juniors championship on July 27 at Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club in Howland. Even though golf isn’t his passion, it seems he understands — at least non-verbally — what it does for him in continuing to live a normal teenage life.
His real passion is for cooking. In fact, Cameron has plans of returning to his roots after he graduates high school and attending The Art Institute of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for culinary school. He’s also looking at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute.
Either way, Joyce has her concerns about Cameron going off on his own. Joel has come around on the idea more than his wife, but both are worried at how far he would be from family — about an hour for either school, since an aunt and uncle still live in Wisconsin.
“I just love cooking,” Cameron said. “It’s a good way for me to understand what I’m eating and it’s fun.”
Sending a child away for college is the ultimate sign of trust for any parent. It’s just magnified for the Gumbles.
“As a mother, I just want him to be happy,” Joyce said. “It’s just hard to forget where we were a few years ago.”