It’s National Diabetes Week here Down Under and what better time to reflect back on the many advancements that are helping to make our lives that much easier, even on the toughest of days!
Diabetes is definitely a hard disease to live with, I have my good days and my really frustratingly bad days! But, I find it helps to take time every now and then to appreciate the resources I have that help me to get on with my life.
Diabetes is a full time job. It can suck the life out of you, it’s unforgiving and unpredictable and sometimes down-right exhausting and depressing.
Managing diabetes can be a guessing game, there’s no neat mathematical formula to help manage it. Every day is different.
You can have a week of really great readings and then for no apparent reason, out of the blue, the dark face of diabetes raises its ugly head and you have a day of turbulent bloods that rise and crash without reason or warning.
Me and my diabetes
I have battled diabetes for nearly 30 years now. My husband actually recently corrected my math, because I thought it was 25. Yayks, where did the last five years go?
Some days I wish I could have a break from diabetes, but unfortunately there is no holiday when it comes to this disease.
It can be easy to blame a bad day on glucometers, or insulin, or the pressure of busy day-to-day life.
As difficult and frustrating and relentless as diabetes is, I count myself lucky to have access to all the medication and support I need.
I have access to Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) that can talk to my smart phone; and insulin pumps that can help take some of the guess-work out of diabetes.
Today, diabetes is on the global radar and in the western world, so much funding is being invested into research, medicine and technology.
I often reflect on what life with diabetes would have been like for people diagnosed a few decades ago, before the many medical and technological advancements we see today.
Let me take you back for a minute.
- It wasn’t until 1922, that the first ever life-saving dose of insulin was given to a patient.
Insulin was invented by Canadian researchers, Sir Frederick Banting, Charles Best and JJR Macleod at the University of Toronto in 1921.
Before then, diabetes was a death-sentence.
2. If you were a woman living with diabetes in the 1920s, you would have been encouraged by your doctor not to have a baby, because pregnancy back then was far too risky for both mum and baby.
That is unheard of today, there is no way you would hear a doctor say this. Lucky for me, because thanks to medical advancements, I now have two beautiful children.
3. The fist portable blood glucose meter was invented in 1978, by Stanley Clark, an electronics engineer, in Australia.
When I first read this, I got goose-bumps. This was just three years before I was born! To think I could have faced a very different childhood had I been born a few years earlier, that’s unbelievable.
This groundbreaking piece of machinery changed the lives of so many people with diabetes just a few decades ago.
4. Even more astonishing was that until 1967, people with diabetes weren’t allowed permanent employment in the Australian public service (Circle Magazine, Diabetes NSW & ACT).
I work in government, so I was surprised to think that 50 years ago, I may not have been able to get a job!
It’s hard enough to battle diabetes while at work, but I can’t imagine not being able to get a job because of diabetes. This is frightening.
Having said that, disease-based discrimination in the workplace still exists and there is still a lot of work to be done, but fortunately we have come a long way.
Living with diabetes is definitely not easy. But I count myself lucky to be living with the disease now and not decades ago.
The power of perspective
I had the honour of listening to the stories of people who have lived with diabetes for over 50, even 70 years, during an award presentation for the Diabetes Australia Kellion Victory Medal.
Imagine, being diagnosed at a time before glucometers, or just after insulin first became available.
After hearing the emotional stories of the many ‘veterans of diabetes’, I find myself reliving their stories in my head, whenever I’m having a bad day.
I think back to their voices and automatically find myself putting my problems into perspective.
When I get frustrated because my glucometer just wasted one of my test strips without giving me a reading and I have to prick my finger again, or …
… I have to prick my fingers five times before I get an adequate amount of blood, or …
… I just can’t seem to get my bloods stable no matter what I do …
I always put my frustration into perspective.
The most moving account of the hardship of diabetes, that I have ever read, is the story Eva Saxl.
Eva lived with diabetes in Shanghai during WWII. In order to survive during the Japanese invasion of China, she had to learn how to make her own insulin (beyond type 1).
Having to make your own insulin to survive, is unthinkable!
Most days I’m lucky if I can mix up the right amount of milk in my coffee. I couldn’t imagine having to work out the science behind producing my own insulin!
Eva not only saved her own life through her astonishing determination, but also the lives of 400 others like herself, until Shanghai was liberated in 1945.
Eva’s story shows the power of the human spirit. The strength of one woman even in the face of war. I learnt a truly inspirational lesson from this.
In an age where we have so much access to medicine and technological advancements, the human spirit can often get drowned out by all the negativity that seems to surround us.
It seems we are more vocal now that ever before, about how hard diabetes is. Perhaps social media has made it easier to do this.
I am not for a minute saying that diabetes is easy, it’s far from it, but I have learnt from my own experience that constantly focusing on the downs and getting consumed by the negatives, isn’t helpful.
If diabetes teaches us anything, it’s perseverance and resilience – these are admirable qualities not just for managing diabetes, but for other aspects of our day-to-day lives.
The human spirit is what keeps us going in the face of adversity and builds up our resilience. It can be something as simple as the support we get from a friend, a warm simile, or a friendly voice asking, ‘how are you today?’.
We can all do our bit to help pick each other up on a bad day.
There are many diabetes organisations working hard every day to, ‘improve the lives of people living with diabetes’ and let’s face it, sometimes it’s easier to rely on others to make our life easier.
But, sometimes it is up to us as individuals to improve our own lives and the lives of those around us who are also living with diabetes.
Sometimes, even on the most trying of days, it is up to us to make the changes we know will improve our own life and our health, no matter how much we may want to do the opposite.
I don’t class myself a ‘hero’ just because I’m living with diabetes, not compared to the likes of Eva Saxl anyway, but by supporting others who are having a bad diabetes day, I feel at least a stop closer.
Next time you’re feeling down about your diabetes, put it into perspective and realise that tomorrow will be another day.
The frustration will pass …
… your bloods will stabilise …
… and you will no doubt wake up to the news of another ground-breaking advancement that will make the next day even easier.
One thing we can all do is help those with diabetes who are living in parts of the world without access to life-saving diabetes products. Please visit the International Diabetes Federation’s (IDF) Life for a Child and donate to help save a life.