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Sarah's story: managing my diabetes is easier using a Freestyle Libre

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Sarah Blake

Diagnosed age 34 in 2011.

In the end they prescribed Libre as I fitted the criteria. I was really relieved. It just helped so much, so quickly.

Sarah was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 34 years old. Since then, she’s learned to adapt to her condition and has had a child. Her uncle, cousin and sister all have type 1 diabetes too. Since having a Freestyle Libre her diabetes has been easier to manage and it's even connected her to others who also have diabetes.

Diagnosis

Symptoms and diagnosis

I didn’t have diabetes in my immediate family at the time I was diagnosed, so I didn’t know anything about it. I was on a walk and really thirsty when a friend asked if I was had diabetes. At the time, I was getting all these symptoms. My eyesight was going, but when I went to the optician, they asked if diabetes was in my family and when I said ‘no’, I was given contact lenses. I also started to notice I was losing weight. I lived with a nurse at the time. He said, ‘you won’t have diabetes, it’s really rare, but I’ll give you a test in the morning.’ But when my friend tested me, my blood sugar was 18. He started looking really worried and calling his work colleagues who were doctors. I didn’t understand anything at the time. 

Then, everything happened so fast. I was in hospital a couple of hours later. I think by the time I got to the hospital, my sugars were up into the 30s. I phoned my cousin who’s a doctor. She told me about an uncle and a cousin, who both developed late-onset Type 1 diabetes. They’d had it for years and I’d had no idea. My sister was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three years after me. It seems to be a bit of a family thing.

Support from others

I was lucky that when I was first diagnosed, I had good support. I was living in a shared house with two nurses. Then, two women from a small team I worked with were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the same time. I think my manager was a bit surprised at all the diabetes leaflets that were suddenly hanging around! I felt lucky that I had people to talk to about my diabetes.

Emotions

Living with diabetes

Learning you have diabetes is a big thing, but at the time you’re so focused on the day-to-day practicalities. There’s so much to learn that I think you just throw yourself into trying to understand it and manage it. 

The thing I liked about it was that I understood that if you were well controlled, the condition would get easier and you could have good health and fitness. It wasn’t something degenerative that was going to get worse and worse. I felt if I could start to understand it, everything was going to get easier as time went on.

Still, at the time, I felt confused. I can remember saying to the diabetes nurse, ‘will I still be able to drink red wine and listen to jazz?’ That’s what I was doing a lot of at the time! She said, ‘you’ll be fine.’ It is hard.

When you’re first diagnosed you feel vulnerable as there’s so much to learn. I got insulin before I even got a blood monitor, so I was in the dark with my blood sugars at the start. You do adapt. I think I was back at work and driving around a couple of days after my diagnosis. I felt – in a good way – the pressure to just get back out there and get on with stuff. 

Treatments

What has helped me most

My sugars were usually really well controlled, but a couple of years ago I was having more hypos and hypers. Because my HbA1c was still as good – even better at one point – my diabetes team were dismissive of those ups and downs. I wanted to change to a faster-acting insulin, but they thought I didn’t need it, even though there was one time I lost consciousness when I was alone with my daughter in the house. I was getting pretty worried.

My sister had a Freestyle Libre, so she could see her graphs and had evidence of her patterns. Because I didn’t have that evidence, I felt I wasn’t getting quite the same level of support when I wanted to try a different insulin.I had been telling my diabetes team I was worried about the peaks and lows. I was finger testing my blood sugars at that time frequently. In the end they prescribed Libre as I fitted the criteria. I was really relieved. It just helped so much, so quickly. 

The Libre provided evidence of post meal sugar spikes. When my diabetes team saw my graphs, they said I could try a different insulin straight away. That was what I’d been pushing for all along but until then, I hadn’t had the information to enable me to get it. Libre has also given me an understanding of the diet changes I could make to improve my blood sugar control. I haven’t made massive changes, but little tweaks have helped me. With the Libre, you can really see what’s impacting your levels. 

Another interesting effect of Libre is that there have been a few times that I’ve been out and people have come up to me and said, ‘I’ve got one of those as well!’

Life with diabetes

Working with diabetes

Since I had a child, I’ve been self-employed. I’ve been working from home a lot, but the drawback of that is that if you’re in a job every day, someone is going to notice if you don’t turn up. I’ve felt extra isolated, I suppose. 

I was on a diabetes course called Food Freedom, and I met a man there who said there was a sign he’d put in his window with the day of the week, and his neighbours would notice if he didn’t change that sign. There were two people on the course who’d been found unconscious by neighbours. I have amazing neighbours who have really helped me out. I think a lot of people, if they live alone, do depend on those things. I’ve also relied on technology to help me feel safer.

 

Biggest challenge?

Living on my own as an only adult in the house has been my biggest challenge. There are times when I’ve felt very vulnerable. When I was first diagnosed, I’d been living in a house with other people, so I felt a lot more safe. There was a period of time after I had a baby where I was the only adult living in my house.

Because I’ve always had a low HbA1c, people see me as a well-controlled diabetic and perhaps don’t realise what might be going on in the background. When I had a child, I subscribed to an alarm system. When I made a cup of tea in the morning, my family would get a message to say I was awake. I wanted to make sure that if something happened to me that the baby would be ok.

I’ve had some great support from the medical profession. They are not there when you go home though. I think there is an increased risk when you are the only adult living in a house and it is difficult to get this recognised. It’s been sometimes difficult to find the right support and I’ve had to be quite persistent. 

Food and healthy eating

Diet, exercise and active living

When I was first diagnosed, I had a holiday planned walking 500 miles across the Camino de Santiago in Spain. My diabetes nurse said, ‘Don’t cancel anything. You might still be able to do it. Let’s see how you get on.’ Everyone else was telling me not to go. My family and doctors were saying it maybe wasn’t such a good idea to do it on my own so soon after diagnosis, but my nurse was really encouraging. I carried on and did that walk. 

In terms of my diet, I eat a lot less sugar and starch now. I have probably increased unsaturated fats and proteins and fibre in my diet. I’ve not cut anything out or stopped having anything, but I’ve changed the ratios of what I eat and I tend to eat more of the foods that have least impact on my blood sugars. If I eat carbs, I eat them with more protein to slow the sugar release down. I find the Glycaemic Index useful to control my sugars. 

Since I got the Libre, I discovered my main spike was after breakfast. So I now have yoghurt and nuts first thing in the morning and then start eating other stuff a few hours after that. The Libre helped me devise that plan. The only way to reduce the morning spike seems to be to do it that way. 

I’ve always been pretty active, but in a way, I think my health has improved since I’ve had diabetes. I have better half marathon times since my diagnosis. Although there are risks with diabetes, I feel my overall health might have benefited. 

Diabetes UK and me

What I wish I knew before

I just had such positive people around me when I did get diagnosed, that it didn’t feel like the end of the world.

It’s quite strange to think that I had absolutely no knowledge of diabetes before. I didn’t even realise I knew people who had diabetes. Obviously some people are quite discreet!

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