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Melanie's story: joining forces with other peers at #TheBig1

Mel holding her daughter smiling

Melanie Stephenson

Diagnosed age 13.

Peer support and meeting other people with diabetes is so important.

After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 13, Mel took up athletics to take control of her diabetes, and hasn’t looked back. She has gone on to compete for Wales in the 100m and 200m. Now a Diabetes UK trustee, Melanie also writes her own blog and volunteers across the world.

Here Mel talks about her experiences with diabetes and what Black History Month means to her after a recent interview for our membership magazine, Balance. 

Journey with diabetes

Mel's personal experience with diabetes

  • Diagnosed 18 years ago, aged 13
  • Discovered athletics 3 years later, and found it a great way of managing her diabetes.
  • Competed for Wales in the 100m and 200m
  • Now speaks to people with diabetes about the benefits of exercise all around the world


Finding athletics

I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 18 years and for 15 of which I’ve also done athletics. Throughout my athletics career I’ve seen the incredible difference that physical activity has made to my diabetes management and I hope that telling my story, of how sport and volunteering has helped me fulfill my dreams, I will let others know that having a chronic condition is no hurdle to sporting success.

Strange as it may sound, being diagnosed with type 1 impacted me positively in many respects. It was a shock, but if that hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I’d have taken up athletics three years later. That gave me an identity outside the medical condition. 

I've been very fortunate that, after being diagnosed with type 1, I got into athletics, and it’s given me so many fantastic opportunities. It’s been such a positive influence on my diabetes.

I want to go to events like #TheBig1 to encourage people and share the knowledge I’ve gained along the way. I wanted to encourage people to engage with each other, and to realise that we all worry about such similar things when it comes to diabetes. Especially when it comes to sport. 

Diabetes UK and me


Nobody’s on their own with diabetes, even if it can sometimes feel like that. Peer support is a really great resource to people with diabetes. The aim of #TheBig1 is to bring people with diabetes together in a warm and friendly environment, where individuals can chat and share experiences, whilst learning more about ways of managing the condition from the speakers on the day.

It's always great to speak to young people with diabetes. We know with type 1 diabetes that sometimes people find the transition from paediactric to adult clinics a challenging time. Young people might sadly disengage with diabetes clinic and their condition, which can have long-lasting implications. It can be a really tricky time. And it’s because of it being such a tricky time, being a teenager or a young adult, we want people to engage with us and each other. 

To have an opportunity like #TheBig1, an event where they can meet one another, as well as healthcare professionals, is really fantastic. There was a great atmosphere at the event, which was full of people ready to learn and share information and experiences. Peer support and meeting other people with diabetes is so important, so it’s excellent that Diabetes UK can help do this.

The future

I've learnt so much already along my diabetes and sporting journey, but enjoy broadening my diabetes knowledge by attending events, talking about my experiences and meeting new people. 

Sometimes I've had to learn the hard way, and that's the reason that I volunteer for Diabetes UK; To share my knowledge and experiences, in order to make life a little easier for other people with diabetes.

 Becoming a Diabetes UK Trustee 

I am absolutely thrilled to have been appointed to the role of Trustee for Diabetes UK. It’s a huge privilege to be involved in supporting the charity in this way and representing the interests of people affected by diabetes. 

Black History Month

Black History Month is an opportunity to highlight what’s important and unique about my culture and history. I think people are becoming more aware of the challenges of being a person of ethnicity. So, for me, it’s an opportunity to show what can be achieved and also to highlight really important issues for our community. Last year, I spent a good period of time sharing resources, information and facts about diabetes and people of ethnicity on social media. However, I found it really hard to find these resources and facts when I was sharing content. 

I now work as a dietitian. It means I can support people from all walks of life and do something really tangible to support people from ethnic minorities. 

I have recently taken a job as a diabetes prevention lead, working to support people in the community to reduce the risk of being diagnosed with type 2. We’ve known for a long time that type 2 disproportionately affects people from ethnic minorities with lower BMIs and at a younger age. Working in Cardiff, a diverse community, my team is focused on providing culturally appropriate advice.

Black History Month is a crucial time to look at things like health inequalities. One area of that is in maternity care. Last year, I had my daughter, Alana. I planned my pregnancy with my diabetes team, who had been really supportive, and I was really well prepared. But there was this huge gap in knowledge and awareness when I was looking for more information. And a lot of the information I found was saying people with diabetes are more likely to experience pregnancy loss. Black mums are also more likely to experience pregnancy loss, but nobody was saying why, nobody was saying they were going to invest in more research, and it was a really scary time. 

Alana was delivered early, and I experienced severe complications afterwards. Chances are that was because of my ethnicity and my diabetes. I’m keen to push for more information, support and research in this area. 

When you live with diabetes, you really do need role models to help you see what’s possible. I’ve got to think of my daughter now too. I want her to be proud of her heritage.

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