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Tyne Valley friends to start a type 1 diabetes peer support group

Diane Macfaden and Jane White, who between them have lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 100 years, have set up a new peer support group to reach out to people living with the condition across the region.

Jane (left) and Diane (right) on the banks of the river Tyne at Wylam.

A diabetes diagnosis in the 1960s and 70s

When Jane was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 54 years ago, it came as quite a shock. After losing lots of weight and feeling unwell, she went to the doctors who took a urine test and sent her straight to hospital.

“It was all a bit of whirlwind,” Jane says. “All of a sudden I was in hospital and put on a female adult ward, as there were no beds on the children's ward, and being told I had diabetes and would need to take insulin.”

Jane, 64, who was 10 years old when she was diagnosed, remembers being scared about what the diagnosis would mean.

She says: “I remember being told I could practice injecting insulin on an orange, but then it turned out they had none on the ward. I only had a short amount of time to get used to this new condition that I would have to live with for the rest of my life before I was discharged from the hospital, and we were left to manage it on our own.”

Jane, who grew up in Manchester but has lived in the North East since she was 18, continues: “My mum had died earlier that year, so it was just my dad and siblings there to support me. My dad was so worried about getting things wrong and I had to follow a strict diet so we could try and make sure we were getting the insulin right. We didn’t have the blood sugar meters then, just a crude urine test, so it really was guesswork at times.”

Diane, 61, from Prudhoe, recalls a similar experience when she was diagnosed in 1970 at the age of 9 years old.

She says: “I was admitted to hospital on 23rd December, just before Christmas, which was a difficult time to be diagnosed and be away from your family. I remember having to learn to use these big heavy glass syringes to inject, it was very overwhelming. I received good care, but it was still really hard to deal with as a child.

“Everything was so regimented back then and having diabetes was very restrictive as artificial sweeteners and sugar-free drinks had not been invented yet. We’ve come such a long way in understanding the condition now with better treatments, and more modern technologies.”

Going on the DAFNE course

It wasn’t until about 2006 that both Jane and Diane attended a new type 1 diabetes education course called DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating), which taught the skills to administer the right amount of insulin for the carbohydrate you eat, and it was through this that they met.

Diane, continues: “After attending DAFNE, which made a huge difference to my understanding of diabetes and how I managed my condition, I spoke to my diabetes nurse about wanting to meet other people living with type 1. She put a message out to others who had also attended DAFNE courses and I met Jane as a result.”

A diabetes support group for Tyne Valley

Diane and Jane have been friends ever since and they both agree, that getting to meet each other and sharing their experiences of living with type 1 has been so beneficial.

This is why the friends are working with Diabetes UK to set up a local community group for anyone living with type 1 diabetes across the Tyne Valley, in the hope they can form a support network for anyone affected by the condition.

Jane, who lives just down the road from Diane in Ryton, says: “Diane and I speak to each other regularly. Lockdown made it really hit home how important that support is for me. It made me want to do something for other people with diabetes and to offer that level of emotional support in our local community.”

Diane and Jane are eager for anyone interested in joining the group, who would like to meet others with diabetes or to get some support and information, to get in touch.

Jane adds: “Through the pandemic, we’ve all had so much less contact with others and when you’re living with a condition like diabetes, talking to others can be so important.”

If you’re interested in joining the group or would like to find out more, contact Jane and Diane via email:

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