Ramona, 50, was initially diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2009. She changed her diet and lifestyle, losing seven and a half stone. Ramona has recently been re-diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, but she’s determined not to let this new challenge derail her pursuit of a happy, joyful life.
Ramona Joy Mulligan
Type 1 diabetes
“Living with diabetes is very psychological – you have to manage yourself no matter what’s going on.”
Ramona’s journey with diabetes
- Diagnosed with Type 2 aged 41.
- Transformed her diet and started exercising.
- Lost 7 ½ stone in four years.
- Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged 50.
At the time of my diagnosis I was very unwell, and I weighed 17 1/2 stone.
I had been ill just before Christmas 2008. I was having flu like symptoms and had two inner ear infections and throat infection. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was working in recruitment, which is a pressurised industry. I think I worked myself nearly to death. I had blood and urine samples taken and had medication for my infections.
The doctors told me they were concerned about my blood glucose levels and they wanted to send me for a blood glucose tolerance test. When I went back to the surgery I met with my nurse. She gave me the results. She said ‘I’m really sorry but it looks like you’re developing diabetes. We’ll diagnose you with pre-diabetes for now, but we’ll have to bring you back for more tests.’
Obviously, that alarmed me, and I thought if it was pre-diabetes I can beat it. We talked about changing eating habits and becoming more active because the most I did at that point was walk the dog. I cut down my portions, watched what I ate and got a little bit more active. I lost a stone and went back feeling very positive two months later in March 2009.
But the nurse said they were going to diagnose me with Type 2 diabetes. I was absolutely devastated. I couldn’t stop crying. I had lost my close friend Jimmy to diabetes complications, and I had almost lost my mother a couple months earlier. She had slipped into a diabetic coma and was rushed to hospital.
I just broke down and cried. I said: ‘I don’t want to die this way. I came here for a second chance at happiness. I’ve got a wonderful life, I don’t know what to do.’ I felt like I’d let myself down. I knew over the years that my cholesterol levels were borderline and I kind of ignored it.
I had a wonderful nurse. I’ll never forget her. She literally grabbed hold of me and said: ‘Ramona, you don’t have to die this way. All you have to do is change your eating habits become more active and you can still live a long healthy happy life.’
I’ll never forget that because that’s what made the difference right then and there. That was a pivotal moment for me. I immediately changed my mindset and thought, I am going to beat this.
I have little or no energy since I’ve been re-diagnosed in June 2018. The new insulin took a while to kick in and I was gaining weight, which was difficult to accept because I’d maintained my weight loss for quite a few years. I enjoyed being at a healthy weight. Now I embrace it. It’s okay to gain a bit of weight as long as you’re eating a healthy diet, staying active and keep taking your medication. I look at it as a new challenge.
Friends and Family
My mother was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with my brother 28 years ago.
I didn’t know she had diabetes when she slipped into a coma. She’s a special case and has been in a hospital bed since 2008 when she lost the ability to walk because she lost the use of her knees. She couldn’t have a replacement because she was overweight. She manages her diabetes well and no longer needs tablets or insulin.
My husband, Kirk, is a wonderful support to me. He’s naturally tall and fit and has an active job. We have a little Westie called Alfie and we keep fit by walking him every day. We go on forest holidays with a dog friendly cabin and a hot tub, and do lots of walking! He’s very supportive and loving. It’s been so helpful – he’s my rock and keeps me sane.
My employer Adecco was major sponsors of the 2012 Olympics & Paralympics and they helped place athletes into work before and after the games.
I met Seb Coe at a networking event and asked him what we could do to make a difference. He said: ‘Volunteer, help the youth and promote sport. Become a 2012 games maker – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and you’ll never forget it.’
It really inspired me. I did volunteer for the games and worked at the beach volleyball and the Paralympics. I saw humanity at its best and it inspired me to start running.
Diet, nutrition and exercise
When I was diagnosed I saw a poster advertising Activity for Life. It was those three words that really grabbed me. I discovered it was an NHS led programme in Lancashire. You went to your local gym and met with an NHS nurse where you get measured and weighed.
I went to my local gym, Active Nation in Chorley in June 2009. At the time I weighed 16 1/2 stone. I set my mind that I would do the 12 weeks and would keep going. But I didn’t want to overcommit – some people go five times a week, but I thought I’d just go at weekends.
I knew what my work was like and that I could walk the dog with my husband. At the time I was networking with the Bolton Lads and Girls club. I did a series of workshops to help them get job ready, but then they asked if I would do a 23mile trek for them to raise money - The Three Towers walk. I was pretty heavy still, but I managed it.
It was my first go at doing something for charity and being active. Then I was asked to take part in the Great Manchester Run for the Bolton Lads and Girls club. It was 10k. I agreed to walk it for them as I couldn’t even run around the block at the time. I got to the ninth kilometre and asked myself what it would feel like to run. I ran the last kilometre with everyone cheering at the side lines. It felt amazing. I went up to the Diabetes UK booth and I told them how fantastic if felt. They had given me a blue wig to wear so I told them I’d do it again next year and run it from start to finish.
In May 2013 I signed up for my own place, but this time to raise money for Diabetes UK. I ran and powerwalked it from start to finish and raised about £150. Something changed in me. I joined parkrun, which is a free timed 5k that takes place every Saturday at 9am and since then I’ve done over 160 parkruns and also joined a running club. By now I had lost 7 ½ stone and had run several 5k, 10k, and half marathon races.
I did my first full marathon in Manchester, 2015. I set my mind to finish in under six hours and finished in 5.57.35 wearing my Supergirl suit. It was a wonderful sense of achievement and proved that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything.
After I lost the weight, I wrote to my gym, Active Nation and shared my story, thanking them for their support. They asked me to support them by becoming an ambassador with the aim to inspire others to become active. They introduced me to another member, Nick Else, in 2017 who was a Swim 22 competitor and we kicked off a national campaign called ‘Have a Word’.
He inspired me, so I joined up to take part in Swim 22 in February 2018. The challenge is to swim 22 miles in 12 weeks, so you have to do a couple of miles a week. I was only used to doing 10 laps, but a mile is 32 lengths (25m pool).
It was tough. When I swam my first half a mile, I cried because that was a big distance for me. When I swam my first mile I just got up and danced, I thought this is just amazing. When I swam my first two miles, all in one go, I had a huge sense of achievement.
I kept swimming. I took selfies and shared it on my Facebook page to try to encourage people to try something different. It was a new thing for me and you can exercise your whole body and it’s a fantastic way of de-stressing from all the pressure of work. I felt a huge sense of achievement, every time I did a big distance it felt amazing. Especially when I completed the challenge!
Diabetes UK and me
I am a Diabetes Voice and work closely with the Diabetes UK media team campaigning and raising awareness. I am a Diabetes UK runner and have taken part in the Great Manchester Run five times between 2011 and 2015.
I have also appeared in local and national newspapers, magazines and appeared on BBC Breakfast as well as BBC Radio twice. I have made two appearances in the Houses of Parliament with Diabetes UK for the launch of the Richmond Report in 2014 and State of the Nation Report in 2016.
I delivered a speech and shared my story with MPs, Jeremy Hunt and the NHS. I asked them to support programmes that I benefited from, such as NHS Activity for Life as well as education programmes like DESMOND and DAFNE, making them available to everyone in the UK, so we can save people from dying young, reduce the number of amputations and risks of heart attack, stroke and blindness. This way we can tackle diabetes and obesity (as a country) and lead happier and healthier lives. This was an amazing experience for me and I received a standing ovation from the audience and a letter of thanks from Chris Askew, CEO of DUK. In 2016, I was presented with the DUK Inspire Award, which was a huge honour.
“Staying healthy is a mindset really. It’s just a case of thinking, okay I might have a young family, stressful job, health condition, but when can I steal a little bit of time for me? I think it’s important to give back to yourself and to look after yourself. It’s not only beneficial to your health in terms of your body, but also your mental health. Just give it a go and see how you feel. Set a goal and when you achieve that goal, you’ll feel so proud of yourself.”