Helping others with type 1 diabetes
Leah Kwait-Blank, 37, has had type 1 diabetes since she was two-years-old. She now helps others with the condition as an administrator for the online DRWF HealthUnlocked forum.
Working as an Administrator for the DRWF HealthUnlocked forum has taught me to become better at giving advice and I have got to know a lot of different people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I wanted to make a difference for people who have diabetes and be a role model for people with the condition.
When I started using insulin and taking daily injections, I used long needles and vials of insulin. Now, I get insulin pens of two types and screw on small needles. Once the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) I use gets approval for a pump to work with I plan to look into getting an insulin pump. My hope for the future is that scientists may figure out a way to create a robotic pancreas that acts like a human pancreas.
Having diabetes has made things very interesting in my life. I don’t drive because my doctors say they think it would be very dangerous for me if I got behind a car’s wheel, although, as I have diabetic retinopathy, I would be very nervous to even try.
Dietary education for people with diabetes is very important. Before I learned about carbohydrate counting, I probably ate too much and my blood sugar levels were too high. I can now control my blood sugar levels - unless there is a special occasion where food is served unexpectedly.
Doing exercise of any kind hasn’t really been affected due to having diabetes, although I no longer go swimming as it makes my blood sugars go low very fast - even if I have juice or a snack beforehand to try and stop this from being a problem.
The advice I have for parents and their children with diabetes is this: don’t give up! Just keep trying to get their diabetes under control as much as possible. Some days are harder than others, but you just have to keep going.
Visit the DRWF HealthUnlocked forum at: https://healthunlocked.com/Drwfdiabetes
*Personal stories do not necessarily reflect the views of DRWF
Stewart Wells - Beating type 2 diabetes
How a healthier lifestyle helped DRWF supporter Stewart Wells, of Blisworth, Northamptonshire, reverse his condition.
In 2016, at the age of 64 and weighing more than 19 stone, I decided enough was enough. If I did not change my lifestyle, I was faced with increasing problems related to my diabetes, including being very lethargic and getting less able to cope in old age.
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2005 and prescribed metformin and over time, following a gradual deterioration, additional medication was added to my prescription.
Diets had always been a problem for me and whichever one was chosen I ended up putting more weight on than I lost. I wanted to eat “my food,” so I decided to adopt a 1,500 calorie a day diet. I could eat anything I wished but only up to that limit. For example, if I wanted fish and chips at 1,200 calories I would limit myself to a low calorie breakfast, have no lunch and have fish and chips in the evening as a main meal. I also included a non-alcohol policy and kept a food diary. From March to June, my weight dropped to 16.6 stone. To continue losing weight I increased my daily calorie intake to 2,500 and added two gym sessions per week, in addition to aqua aerobics three times a week, dog walking and dancing (as an avid rock and roll fan). By September my weight was down to 14.5 stone and I was eating well!
My body fat percentage had dropped to 16.9 and a check-up with my doctor showed a drastic improvement in HbA1c levels - at 44, way below the “diabetes” level. I was over the moon - this meant no more medication. The task was completed but what surprised me was the other benefits that I gained, including: being less tired, less snoring (much to the delight of my wife), my manners have improved, and my dancing has improved. There was one downside - the cost of a new wardrobe!
I am very proud of what has been achieved and I know that my family are too. I want to thank my wife Gill for all the support she has given me. I would not have achieved it without her. To other people with type 2 diabetes I recommend taking the plunge - and change your lifestyle. Diets can still include curries and fish and chips - but remember to keep to your calorie targets. Keep a diary - it’s a must. It not only controls your intake but you start to educate yourself on each item of your diet.
Type 2 diabetes can be beaten and there are real benefits to both yourself and your family.
Laura Hepburn - Diving to success - despite diabetes
When I was 13 years old, I learned to scuba dive. It was pretty much the first thing in my life that I ever felt I was any good at, which sounds strange because it’s not a competitive sport, but it does take a certain teenage mindset to wake up eagerly at 6am on a Sunday morning, carry more than 30kg worth of kit on your back, plunge yourself into cold, murky, British water, and spend the next hour barely being able to see your hands in front of your face.
The diving bug soon led me to pursue a career in oceanography (marine science) as I passionately wanted to spend my life working at sea and diving for marine research and conservation.
Fast forward four years to my first year at college and an unusually warm spring - a heatwave in fact. I had been guzzling water and noticed that I was getting really tired. With lots of coursework, exams, evenings out with friends, a weekend job and the ongoing heat I didn’t think much of it; until one evening I left college to catch the bus and the next thing I remember was my mum feeding me orange juice on the doorstep to our house. To this day I still don’t remember getting off the bus and walking home - this was my first hypo (or hypoglycaemic episode - low blood sugar).
Mum’s diagnosis (supported by my significant, recent weight loss) was quickly confirmed by my GP, and that evening I was sat in a hospital bed being shown how to test my blood glucose levels and take my insulin injections. The nurses were all impressed with the way that I seemed to take the diagnosis in my stride, but I had learned a lot about diabetes at college and knew that if I wanted to live, I was just going to have to get on with it.
I knew that I would have to inform my dive club about my new condition, so I phoned my diving instructor the next day to book an appointment; I couldn’t bear the thought of being out of the water for a few weeks. They told me that you couldn’t scuba dive with type 1 diabetes and that I would have to find a new hobby. What she didn’t realise was that she had also just informed me that I also needed a new dream, a new ambition, a new career, and that all the work I had put in until that point had been for nothing. That was my breaking point and, to this day, remains my worst diabetes-related experience. Neither waking to sweat-drenched bedsheets with a hypo at 3am, nor personality shifting, hulk-making hypers (or hyperglycaemia - high blood sugar levels) ever made me feel worse than I felt at that very moment.
Since then, I have faced a number of other challenges with my diabetes: from convincing Brazilian customs agents that the hypodermic needles and cool-packs I was carrying were, in fact, not illegal drugs but essential medication (eventually overcome by translating my doctor’s note into Spanish); to dealing with a colleague that announced in front of a roomful of people that they think it is disgusting that I do my blood test and insulin at the table as it evidently makes people feel uncomfortable.
From my experiences I have learned that regular exercise (even just a walk/cycle to work and back each day), a continued diabetes education (carb-counting courses have been particularly useful), a great support team of specialist nurses, consultants, and dietitians (who you should never feel afraid to contact), and a strong belief that you can do just as much as anyone else (though you may have to take a slightly different route) has helped me to achieve everything I have so far set my mind to, despite living with type 1 diabetes. Oh, and by the way... I’ve just completed a PhD in Oceanography, where I spent six months at sea searching for hydrothermal vents in the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean.
David Adams - Feeling the benefit of regular exercise
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1993 when I was 35 years old, I was aware of the condition as my father has lived with it for 32 years. However it was still a shock as I was a relatively fit guy who had played rugby in my 20s and 30s.
Looking back I now know I wasn't as fit and healthy as I thought I was and I basically ignored the condition as I didn't think it was particularly serious.
I have always tried to eat a balanced diet but can be prone to a little over indulgence at times and over the next few years I moved from tablets to Novorapid and Levamir insulin injections.
In 2008 a friend suggested taking on the London to Paris rowing challenge, I hadn't done any competitive rowing since my university days, however I was keen to be part of the team and started to build up my fitness. I started to see some immediate effects on my diabetes, I was eating a very low calorie diet and lots of steamed fish and vegetables and as I lost weight I was able to reduce my insulin.
The rowing has led to a renewed interest in cycling and I have taken on a variety of cycling challenges including a 1000 mile ride to Poland to celebrate a wedding and a 700 mile ride to the South of France.
I now visit the gym at least 4 times a week and do spinning classes, rowing and swimming and I can confirm my diabetes is better controlled and I feel much healthier as a result.
I feel regular exercise if possible is very important for a diabetic.
Neil Nutburn - Life with a type 1 Diabetic
I was diagnosed back in 1966 when just 18 months old, I used to hide the fact I was living with type 1 diabetes and only told an employer once I had the job … how things have changed and now, with a broadened understanding, this is no longer the case.
I believe physical exercise has made a huge difference to my life and to the control of my type 1 diabetes. Karate is a TRULY physical sport and I used to train three or four times a week from 7.20pm through to 10.00pm. I won numerous competitions and always came away exhausted, so when people say that living with diabetes should prevent someone from doing manual work or physical exercise, I would beg to differ.
I closely monitor my blood levels before I eat and every time I get into the car to drive. This is also something that some people may not realise, I have to go through a medical check-up every three years to make sure I’m fit to drive. The DVLA will not issue a continuation of my licence if I am unfit.
My insulin regime consists of one injection taken at the same time every day as a base to work from. Throughout the day I then inject the required amount of fast acting insulin based on a calculation of what my sugar levels are, what the carbohydrate content of the food I’m about to eat is, and/or the exercise I’m planning to do. I take all these factors into consideration, do the maths and hopefully not get it wrong as my old school nurses once did! So many things to consider and that’s without even taking on-board how hot sunny days or freezing winter ones can also have an effect on sugar levels.
Having had this condition all my life, by now, I should really have a strict regime of what to do and when to do it without failing … this would be okay if I stuck to the really old way of eating roughly the same food, taking the same dosage and doing (or not) the same exercise but I’m not prepared to have my life ruled in such a manner. When out and about or engrossed in a project or work, I can get caught up in the moment as can anyone else and this is where I find technology helps immensely.
At 4pm every day, my phone reminds me to test my blood. Why then? I happen to know that my blood levels enjoy creeping up sometime between lunch and dinner so this is a good time for me just to check it, if it’s a little lower than I would like I can deal with it, if it’s higher, I can easily calculate how much insulin I need to take to ensure by dinner time, my levels will be back in line.
The other alarm is set for 7pm, again, if out and about or just distracted with what life throws me, this alarm is a reminder to take my long term (the base one) insulin, once again, technology helps me to gain further control.
Having been diagnosed with diabetes at such an early age, it has meant that I missed out on some things such as eating sweet foods when I felt like it. I did once eat the best part of two candy flosses at a fair and then spent three days in hospital, oops!
Nowadays I tell people that a little of something naughty is actually good for you and the way diabetes is managed, generally means we can have those occasional treats that we savour and enjoy it far more than if eaten regularly.
Diabetes … Yeah, my life has had its ups and downs as a result of having this condition but with reasonably good management, a continued education on how to handle it (after all, our metabolism changes constantly so there’s another factor to consider) and a real urge to grab a hold onto life to enjoy it to its full, it hasn’t been a detriment to the way I live but rather an attribute to having a better and healthier lifestyle.
Laura - Living with diabetes - The Ninjabetic Way
After living with type 1 diabetes for 11 years, I've come to realise that I'm quite proud of my condition. Diabetes doesn't control me or my life, but it has definitely helped shape me and make me the person I am today.
When people ask me why I'm testing my blood sugars or why the small box I have in my pocket has suddenly started beeping and vibrating, I happily tell them "I have Type 1 diabetes" and secretly hope that they will probe me for further information. I can be a massive show off at times, and I love to enlighten people if they ask me questions.
I get that warm fuzzy feeling in my tummy when I share some diabetes information and the response is "Oh I see... I didn't know that." It's a very satisfying feeling to impart diabetes knowledge onto someone. I feel that I have a little role to play in educating others about the way people with type 1 really live with diabetes, by dispelling the myths that are portrayed by the media and setting the record straight. In fact my friends are now so clued up on diabetes that they tell others about it!
Saying: "Yes I can eat this," is a personal favourite of mine, occasionally followed by a long and detailed explanation of carbohydrate counting (strangely people don't tend to ask again after that).
The way I see it is that I'm stuck with diabetes, there's nothing that I can do about it, so why not make the most of it.
Yes, diabetes has its disadvantages. Waking up at 3am dripping with sweat, feeling dizzy and wondering how long it would take to make a roast dinner followed by apple crumble, just to satisfy my hypo cravings. However diabetes also has advantages. I can't think of any other illness that requires jelly babies or haribo as life saving treatment! Saying: "Get me some jelly babies. STAT!" is possibly my favourite thing about having diabetes.
I think it's very important to have fun with diabetes. If your rabbit happens to chew through your pump tubing (as I heard happened to someone recently), it isn't the end of the world. I once dropped my lancet down the toilet twice in the same day and, after much shouting and running around with a toilet brush, I realised that I had to once again take the plunge and laugh it off.
I understand that diabetes is a serious condition and it can come with some serious complications if we don't take care of it, but no one is perfect 100% of the time... I've learnt that over the years. I've made mistakes... some huge life changing mistakes... but I've learnt from each and every one of them.
That for me is the biggest part of living with diabetes... accepting that I won't get it right every time, but knowing that I will get it right eventually.
Laura tweets as @ninjabetic1
Aidan Gordon Sutherland - Reflective essay
Before, when I thought about the term “diabetes”, I imagined an illness for overweight people that couldn’t be caught if you stayed healthy. Turns out I couldn’t be more wrong! Up until January 2010 I hadn’t suffered any more than a flu. Despite experiencing a few unexplainable symptoms I had no idea that this was about to change dramatically.
The symptoms I speak of were, to me, bizarre. Over a short period of time I had started to notice a constant and unquenchable thirst which would cause me to urinate frequently. This frustrated me a lot and was a massive inconvenience, as you can imagine, and affected my daily routine extremely. I couldn’t understand why it was happening. Had it not been for my mother - who is a nurse herself - noticing that there was something wrong causing this, I could have gotten a lot worse.
After my mum had realised what was causing these warning signs she told me there was a chance I had diabetes. This news frightened me, but I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of. Like most people in Britain I had very little knowledge of what exactly diabetes was. All I knew was I was still scared, and that I had reason to be too. My fears were to be confirmed when she took me to the hospital. They ran a couple of tests on me then told me I had diabetes. I couldn’t believe it. How did this happen? Why did it happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? I was so disappointed, I felt fragile and submissive. When I needed a pick me up to change my mood the doctors came to tell my mother and I that we had to stay in the hospital overnight - a first for me.
I woke up the next day feeling empty. However this changed in a way I find hard to describe. More and more specialists were coming in, just to see me. Doctors, dieticians and other consultants came to speak to me and fill me in about diabetes. News I didn’t want to hear, yet it made me feel better and more significant. I tried to listen and take in the information being thrown at me. lt was surprising how complex the illness is. lt was something very eye opening and underlined to me just how serious diabetes is and how little awareness we as a nation have of it. This is highlighted by the way people react when they find out I have the condition. lt’s always either “Does that mean you can’t eat sugar?” or “Is that when you need to eat sugar?” In reality it’s neither, I have to find a balance between the two like. Another question I am often asked is how I “caught” diabetes. They are then left surprised when I explain it was just pot luck. Without getting into too much detail, I explain that my pancreas - the organ that produces insulin needed to balance blood sugar levels - just stopped working.
The thing that surprised me the most about diabetes was the affect it has on the way you live your life and get on with things each day. I used to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. No set times for eating and no preparation for my meals with injections. Now however I have to take injections at set times every time I eat. This was more information I never knew about diabetes before. lt makes it hard to eat in public as I feel very self-conscious taking my injection around people. Also having to fit this into my day was very challenging. However I adapted to the sudden changes quite well and get by now the way I always did.