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Facing fears of Covid and diabetes: Cara's story

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Cara Dillon

Diagnosed in 2007

When I perform regularly I'm used to the ups and downs, and how the physical exertion might affect my diabetes.

Musician Cara, who has had type 1 diabetes since 2007, had to cancel her performances and put her life on hold during the pandemic. Here, she talks about dealing with her fears around coronavirus and diabetes, and how she managed to get back on stage. 

Treatments

Preparing for lockdown

In January, I was in at a music conference in New Orleans with Sam, my husband and musical partner, when we first heard about coronavirus. 

When we flew back to the UK a few days later, there were people at the airports wearing masks. I felt like they were overreacting. At home in Somerset, Sam and I continued to perform the concerts we had in the diary. I was too busy with day to day life to give the situation any real thought.

We had a break between our gigs from mid-February until early March. That was when we started making plans. We bought some extra food, masks, gloves, and all the other things our family might need. I made sure I had enough insulin and other prescription supplies to see me through the next few weeks safely. At the time, I felt like we were preparing for the worst, but it turns out we were being perfectly sensible. All my family and friends thought we were completely mad!

Emotions

Self-isolation with diabetes

When coronavirus started to dominate the news, it all became terribly real and I was struck by sheer panic. Suddenly, there was another dimension to the virus. Reports about pre-existing medical conditions making people at risk of poor outcomes really hit home. 

I was different from the rest of the family because I have type 1 diabetes and asthma. I felt that I was the weakest link. It was terrifying. 

Sam and I talked a lot about what to do and we wrote to our childrens’ schools, explaining our concerns and asking if we could keep our kids at home. They were incredibly understanding and said we should do whatever we felt was the most sensible option. So, we took them out of school on March 11 and went into self-isolation. 

I’d been due to fly to Ireland and sing at my nephew's wedding, but I cancelled. I was heartbroken. It was a horribly anxious time.

I was very aware of how many people were suffering across the country, and I had never felt so far from my family in Northern Ireland as I did then. Knowing that my diabetes and asthma increased my risk of severe illness was all very surreal - when I looked in the mirror I saw a perfectly healthy person. To keep me safe, I stayed at home while Sam did all the shopping and anything else that needed to be done outside of our home. 

Work and coronavirus

When the UK finally went into full lockdown, I felt a huge sense of relief that something was being done to try to curb the spread of the virus. I had to cancel all my live shows. Life was very quiet, so we worked on the garden and threw ourselves into homeschooling, having lockdown themed nights and enjoying each other's company. It was the longest I'd ever gone without performing live in over 25 years, but singing and making music had never been further from my mind. 

When it became clear that coronavirus wasn't going away any time soon, we realised there was no way we’d be able to perform live for the foreseeable. Making the decision to cancel our Christmas tour was a real blow. To top it all, we didn't qualify for any financial help from the UK Government. It's hard even now to talk about it, but we've been left totally on our own, as have many others in the same situation.

Life with diabetes

Going back to work with diabetes

To lift our spirits, provide a distraction and connect with our fans, we decided to put on a socially-distanced concert. We filmed it in a local venue with a small crew. 

To be honest, the filming was gruelling. I had forgotten how intense live performance can be. When I do it regularly I'm used to the ups and downs, and how the physical exertion might affect my diabetes. I know how to plan for the adrenaline rush during the show which sends my blood sugar high and the inevitable hypos that follow. 

It was weird – and exhausting - being back in that zone. But it was amazing to be singing again. It really is the one thing I do that feels totally ‘me’. During the performance I was very emotional - most of the songs I sing are traditional folk songs written by emigrants who would never see their homes again. There I was, isolated and a long way from my home in Ireland, not knowing when I’d be able to return. 

We made the concert free to view on YouTube and Facebook. "Live at Cooper Hall" was broadcast on the August 13 and we were so nervous before it aired. We were completely overwhelmed by the response. Over 3,500 people watched the 75min concert live and it's since been viewed over 150,000 times. 

Staying positive

Since the concert, my main focus has been our three children returning to school. I know they can't stay off forever - they need their education and their friends. But them being back at school really does worry me. 

I know that, generally speaking, the risk is very low in our area. But ultimately, I really, really don't want to get coronavirus. I'm planning to keep limiting my contact with people as much as possible without going stir crazy. I’m going to keep as healthy as I'm able, both physically and mentally, and trying to enjoy the forced sabbatical. It's clear that the entertainment sector will likely be the last to return to normality and I'm in no rush to be at the front of the queue to test it all out. That means Sam and I have a very, very long wait before we can begin performing live and earning properly again. It's concerning. But I'm lucky that I’m in charge of my career and can makes these choices freely.

I sincerely hope that there's a successful vaccine in the not too distant future. But if there's one thing 2020 has taught me, it's to expect the unexpected and prepare for every eventuality.

 

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