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Christine’s story: 100 years of insulin and 50 years of living with diabetes

Christine's story

Christine

Diagnosed with type 1 in 1971

Insulin has meant that I have had a life. I’m especially grateful to those amazing people who discovered insulin as it has enabled me to live a full and active life.

Throughout 2022, we’re celebrating 100 years since the first time a human was given insulin to treat their diabetes. We’re reflecting on this life-saving discovery with you, the diabetes community, and the things you’re proud you can do thanks to the diabetes discoveries of the past century.  

Christine reflects on just over 50 years of living with type 1 diabetes, how times have changed from urine testing and glass syringes to carb counting, building support networks and learning to dance with her husband!  

Diagnosis

My diagnosis in 1971

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on Valentine’s Day in 1971. During Christmas 1970, I developed a cold that didn’t seem to want to go away - it left me feeling very thirsty and I was drinking constantly. I remember having to go to the toilet during lessons at school.   

My mum took me to the doctor on my 14th birthday and asked him to check for diabetes. He asked a few questions and didn’t do any tests.  But eventually I felt so ill, I couldn’t go to school, and on 14 February 1971 my parents called for the doctor as I was having difficulty breathing. 

The doctor told my mum I was hysterical and prescribed tranquillisers, but after taking the first tranquilliser I fell into a coma. My mum and dad took me to Black Notley Hospital and my mum asked the duty doctor to check for diabetes. He did. That request no doubt saved my life.   

Life with diabetes

Learning to live with diabetes in the 70s

After three weeks I left the hospital with a urine testing kit, protamine zinc insulin (a long-acting combination of insulin) and a glass syringe. To test your urine for sugar you had to empty your bladder around 30 minutes before you needed to test. You add five drops of urine and 10 drops of water into a test tube, and then a tablet.  If there wasn’t any glucose present the liquid went blue: I used to love it going blue as that meant I could eat some foods like chocolate. 

I only had one injection at that time. It was so restrictive, as my day revolved around when I gave myself the injection, and how my body reacted to the insulin throughout the day. I had to mix short-acting insulin and the long-acting insulin myself.   

Food labelling was non-existent - there were no foods that were labelled as ‘diet’, so my mum would have to buy the specialist tinned fruit in Boots or make the food up from scratch.   

I remember having a crib sheet of food. It consisted of red and black lines. The red foods were forbidden. How times have changed... 

Carb counting and multiple daily injections 

I moved over to four injections from two injections a day in 2000. I love being on four injections.  If I had my time again, I’d go straight on four injections a day, as it gave me the freedom to move my mealtimes around.  It fitted in with life in the office very well. I could now go to lunch at either 12 or 1pm, and I could go out after work.   

A few years later I learned to carbohydrate count and this helped me work out what my insulin needs were. So fewer hypos and hypers.  

During the 1980s and 1990s, diet food appeared on the supermarket shelves, like diet fizzy drinks and diet yoghurt. It gave so much more choice and gave me confidence that I wasn’t eating too many carbohydrates. Food labelling has improved so much. This too has given me so much more confidence to try new things. 

Journey with diabetes

Understanding and awareness of type 1 diabetes

I feel that people back in the 1970s and today still don’t fully understand type 1 diabetes. 

Christine and her husband

I never used to tell people I had diabetes, as I was ashamed of it.  When I went out with my now husband I made my dad tell him that I had diabetes, I thought he’d give up on me – but I’m still with him 43 years later!   

I tried not to let my diabetes hold me back in my professional life, but it wasn’t always easy. The only person I told about my condition in my first job was my boss. By the time I was feeling more open about discussing my diabetes with employers, I still found very few people I worked with understood it, or how to treat something like a hypo if it happened to me at work.  

I’ve faced some prejudice in interviews because of my diabetes, and in meetings where people didn’t understand the impact of my condition on things like mealtimes. 

Diabetes UK and me

Finding support from the diabetes community 

One of my brothers also has type 1 diabetes, so I feel that I can share most of my diabetes issues with him. I'm the Secretary on the Chelmsford Diabetes Group, which has allowed me to learn so much more about diabetes - some of it scary, but some of it inspirational.  

I’ve met so many people that share the same condition. All of this makes you realise you’re not alone. This day and age you can join online communities, and get instant feedback if you have a diabetes-related question you need answering.  

Activity

Living a full life thanks to the discovery of insulin 

Insulin has meant that I have had a life. I’m especially grateful to those amazing people who discovered insulin as it has enabled me to live a full and active life. Everyone, whether they live with diabetes or not, has challenges in life.  

I think the diabetes has made me aware of food types and enabled me to keep my weight at a sensible level. I have always enjoyed keeping fit, and I made friends with a lady in 1985 who has shared my love of fitness classes. We’ve done them all!   

My husband and I have learned to dance, too.  We have gold medals in ballroom and Latin dancing, and we’ve performed on stage in front of an audience.  

And we love our holidays. We’ve flown over the Grand Canyon, we’ve seen Swan Lake being performed in St Petersburg, and we’ve cruised around the Mediterranean, the Aegean sea, Norway and the Baltic Sea. My most favourite holiday has to be Iceland: we saw the northern lights.  A true delight. 

Christine abseiling

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Christine and her husband did an abseil to raise money for us last year, to celebrate 50 years of living with diabetes. We’re making huge strides with our research getting us closer to a cure for type 1 diabetes.

We’re also continually looking to fund research into lessening the complications of living with all types of diabetes, and supporting and fighting the corner of everyone living with this relentless condition. We couldn’t do it without the support of people like Christine.  
 

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