Being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes came out of the blue for Rob, but he was determined to learn as much as he could about his condition so it wouldn’t hold him back.
When I got diagnosed with diabetes aged 53 in 2004, it really came out of the blue. I was a really fit guy who ran marathons and although I’d lost weight and had been feeling tired, I put it down to how much exercise I was doing.
One of my first thoughts was that I was going to die. My next door neighbour had Type 1 diabetes and died after having a major heart attack. He was my age and a friend from childhood, but over the years he’d lost both of his legs and his eyesight. I remember thinking, ‘I’m not going to go down that route.’
I was working at the time and that was quite difficult because even though I informed my employer when I was diagnosed, they had very little understanding of diabetes. I was a sales representative so I was driving a lot of the time, but it became a real challenge because I was feeling so tired. HR got involved and tried to make changes to my job that would help me, but they didn’t understand diabetes was a lifelong condition that wouldn’t just go away.
I was really worried that I was going to lose my job as I couldn't perform as well as I used to. I eventually got another job, where there was less driving, but felt I would have liked more help and understanding from my employer.
Learning as much as possible
I got involved with Diabetes UK four years ago because I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about diabetes. Getting access to information about managing my diabetes – including new diets and how things can affect my blood sugars – has had a major impact on my life, as well as my family’s. My wife, Catherine, constantly reads food labels when we’re in the supermarket and eats the same diet as I do now. We keep away from junk food.
I also wanted to make a difference and help people with diabetes. I do a lot of work with Diabetes UK Cymru by being a media spokesperson and writing to members of the Welsh Assembly to get them to back Diabetes UK’s campaigns. I also talk at a lot of events about diabetes.
In 2017, I started running a peer support group in a GP practice in Cardiff, which is unique in that it helps to both educate people and give them a support network. People get diagnosed by their GP and are given medication, but they don’t often get to chat about it, or talk to other people with diabetes.
Alongside that, knowing enough about diabetes is so important. We get a lot of support from dietitians, podiatrists and pharmacists who come to the service to educate people, as well as give them pointers on where to go for the right information. Sometimes people just don’t know what to do when they’ve been diagnosed, and there are so many conflicting views, so we give them the right signposts.
After nearly 14 years with diabetes, I’ve got no complications or long-term conditions, which is wonderful.
My lifestyle is as varied as it can be and I still do as much as I possibly can, even though I’ve got diabetes – even scuba diving, which I’ve done for the last 25 years and I’m now an instructor! I’m getting older now, so marathon running isn’t quite on my agenda, but exercise is still very important to me. I’ve just completed Velothon Wales – a 90-mile cycle in the mountains and valleys in Wales.
I want to live a long and healthy life, and I’m determined to do that. There’s no reason you can’t do that if you look after yourself and control your diabetes well by making sure you eat the right things, taking your medication, and having all your checks.
My advice to other people with diabetes is to make sure you learn as much as you possibly can and understand what the condition is all about. But don’t let it change your life.