Cameron Shephard's mom first suspected her 7-year-old daughter might have diabetes during a Carnival cruise in the Caribbean.
On the ship, Cameron kept refilling her soft drink cup. She couldn't seem to quench her thirst.
"She just kept on drinking," Lisa Shephard said. "Every time we’d turn around, she was just drinking, drinking."
Lisa was worried. As a part-time school nurse, she knew some of the symptoms associated with juvenile diabetes, but she kept second-guessing her instincts. It was hot on the cruise, she told herself, and Cameron was simply loading up on unlimited soda.
"I just talked myself out of it time and time again," Lisa said.
But when the Shephards came home to Ridgeville, Cameron kept drinking — in class, in the middle of the night. She couldn’t get enough water.
When Lisa finally took Cameron to the doctor, they found out she'd lost 18 pounds and her blood sugar topped 800 milligrams per deciliter. That was dangerously high compared with normal levels, which hover around 100 milligrams per deciliter.
Cameron was immediately admitted to the Medical University of South Carolina's Children's Hospital and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Her body had stopped producing insulin.
"I had no idea what it was," Cameron said. "I was really confused and scared."
That was six years ago. Since then, Cameron has suffered from eight hypoglycemic seizures, including one at school, but she has largely learned to live with the diagnosis and she doesn't let it hold her back.
"I can’t even remember before," she said. "It’s just life."
A member of the varsity tennis team at Ashley Ridge High School and an honors student, Cameron, now 13, was recently selected to represent South Carolina at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Children's Congress this summer in Washington.
She will meet with U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and U.S. Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, both South Carolina Republicans, in late July to discuss the importance of federal research funding for diabetes.
"I’ve had it since I was 7, and I play different sports and I can still be active, but we do need support," she said.
Lisa explained that some federal money has already been set aside to fund diabetes research, but she doesn't want to see that funding disappear.
"I don't think there will be a cure in her lifetime. I'd be very surprised if there was," she said.
But new technology could make Cameron's life much easier, Lisa said. For example, an abdominal implant that releases insulin as needed into the bloodstream could reduce or eliminate the need for Cameron to check her blood sugar levels up to eight times a day. But that device is still in development, Lisa said, and the Shephards don't live close enough to a clinical trial testing site. It may take 10 years for that product to come to market.
"It would be a game changer," Lisa said. "It really would."