We sometimes get sent copies of letters from families saying what a fantastic time they’ve had. For me, that’s the most amazing thing. Sometimes people ask me how can looking after someone else’s children for a weekend be so much fun? But you have to experience it. It’s everybody being together, being helpful, looking after each other. It’s wonderful.
Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for November 2020, Catherine Brown
Catherine is one of our amazing type 1 events volunteers. She was diagnosed with type 1 when she was 4 years old and tells her story of living with diabetes, becoming a member and going on to support families at our events. Our type 1 events are not able to take place at the moment because of the pandemic, but we're running virtual events instead. Catherine was a panellist at our latest virtual event 'Life Beyond Diabetes', sharing her experience of living with type 1, staying positive and not letting diabetes get in the way.
Journey with diabetes
My date of diagnosis was 28 March 1966 – it’s the day my younger brother was born. My dad was with me in hospital because my mum was having a home birth. I’ve never really spoken to my parents about that time, but a few years ago my dad gave me his mum’s diaries. On that day she wrote, ‘Catherine in hospital. We are so worried about her.’ She was a fan of understatement!
My dad was an engineer and when I was eight, our family moved to Zambia. I went to the diabetic clinic at the local hospital until I was 13, when I was sent to boarding school in England. I’d fly backwards and forwards in the holidays.
One term, I’d changed from one type of insulin to another. When I went back to Zambia for the holidays, we discovered my new insulin wasn’t available there. My grandma asked her GP to prescribe my insulin, she went to Heathrow, found someone in the queue for the Lusaka flight, and asked them to take it with them.
My parents stood in the airport in Zambia waiting to collect it with a sign that said, ‘insulin here!’ I can’t imagine that happening these days!
I think throughout my teens, I couldn’t be bothered with diabetes. I always did my insulin. I always did my injections, but for the rest of it, I couldn’t care less. There was no blood testing in those days. You had to wee in a pot, then you had a little chemical experiment with a test tube and tablets. I probably did that once a year when I was at boarding school.
Looking back I think, as a teenager, who would go peeing in an empty coffee jar? And then have to come out of the cubicle and decant it. You wouldn’t want to do it, would you? So I didn’t.
I got married when I was 25 and as far as I was aware, everything was hunky dory. I got pregnant straight away. However, my retinas were quite fragile and I got high blood pressure because of the pregnancy. Basically, it made me go blind.
For a number of years after I had my daughter, I went through stages of not being able to see. I remember one day when she was a baby and my husband was holding her in his arms. I was standing there with them in a hug and he said, ‘Charlotte has just smiled at you.’
That memory makes me feel emotional because at the time, I couldn’t see her.
Over the years, I learned how to read braille and use a cane. I chose a career as a computer programmer, because I knew that was a job I’d be able to do if I was blind. But there was always this hope that my eyesight might come back.
In the end, I got very lucky. After my retina detached completely, I had a vitrectomy – a procedure to reattach my retina – and I got my sight back in my right eye.
Now, I can see fine. I can read. Nobody knows I’ve had problems with my sight unless I tell them.
Around 20 years ago, I joined Diabetes UK as a lifelong member. For a long time, I didn’t want to look at Balance magazine. I thought all I was going to read about was complications. I knew they could happen, of course, but I really didn’t want to read about it.
I’d had diabetes then for 34 years. I thought there must be parents out there who are so worried about their kids, what life would have in store for them. I could show them it was possible to be healthy and happy having had diabetes all that time. Of course, one of my eyes doesn’t work, but they didn’t know that.
Maybe it sounds a bit grandiose, but I wanted to offer a bit of hope. I’d lived around the world, had a child, got a career. I wanted them to know that would all be possible for their children. It might make them feel less stressed about the future.
When it came to the event, I had such a great time.
Part of it is because nobody says, ‘oh, you can’t eat that!’ Nobody says the most annoying thing in the world, ‘you can’t possibly be having a hypo because you’ve just eaten your lunch’. It’s just like one big family. Everybody understood. The kids had a great time, and we did, too.
I started out wanting to give back, but I quickly realised that I was getting as much back from the event as I was giving. I’m still friends with someone I met at that first event. Over the years I’ve met more and more people with type 1. Until then, I didn’t know any other type 1s. Suddenly I could talk about it properly – your fears, the things that have gone wrong and that are working. As technology has progressed, you get to see everyone’s tech, too.
We sometimes get sent copies of letters from families saying what a fantastic time they’ve had. For me, that’s the most amazing thing. Sometimes people ask me how can looking after someone else’s children for a weekend be so much fun? But you have to experience it. It’s everybody being together, being helpful, looking after each other. It’s wonderful."