I support Diabetes UK because my brother Eddie developed type 1 diabetes as a small child and subsequently died from it in his mid 20’s. He would have been about 6 or 7 when he was diagnosed and I was 10.
I can remember both the shock and also how as a family we had to come to terms with doing things differently.
The British Diabetic Association (as Diabetes UK was then called) was really helpful providing support and practical advice which helped get my parents through those early days. It also helped knowing that they weren’t alone in trying to work things out.
Life with diabetes
From when he was diagnosed, Eddie had to give himself insulin injections every single day. I clearly remember the early days of learning how to inject himself, practising on an orange, disinfecting glass syringes and needles and the whole family having to get to grips with sugar-free chocolate which, in the 1970s, tasted pretty awful. We were lucky to be part of a local parent’s support group which helped everyone get through those first trying months.
His childhood wasn’t plain sailing – there were hospital admissions and limitations on what he could eat, but my parents were keen to keep things ‘normal’ and aside from my Mum’s habit of stuffing her handbag with sugar lump packets whenever we went out ‘just in case of hypos’, we all adjusted and nothing stopped as a consequence of his diagnosis.
Eddie was bright, chatty, funny, quirky – a really original thinker. He was passionate about the things that interested him and determined to share his enthusiasm with anyone who would listen and completely disinterested in things that didn’t.
He was an incredibly loyal and loving friend, and, like any sibling, an intensely annoying little brother at times!
Technology, science and research moved on – but sadly not enough. Eddie died from diabetes aged 26…more than 25 years ago. In the last couple of years of his life it was a struggle to control his diabetes and, while he was generally healthy, his hypos became harder to recognise and respond to, particularly at night (which we believe was a side-effect of the move to human insulin).
He died alone at home in his sleep while my parents were on holiday. We will always miss him.
I learnt to ride when I was very young and used to ride to school – which actually put me off cycling for a long time – riding in full school uniform (including school skirt and hat) with a massive bag of books was not a pleasurable experience.
I only took up cycling again about 5 years ago when my doctor suggested it following knee surgery as it’s easy on the joints. I was quite active before I took up cycling, but it really helped me to get fitness back and some strength back in my muscles.
I used to row a lot which wasn't a problem for my joints, but didn't help strengthen my knee muscles or improve mobility – whereas the cycling has done. I did try running (which to be fair i didn't actually enjoy very much) and that was a disaster for my knee because of the pounding.
My surgeon was pretty clear that cycling was a good thing to do to help me knee and so far I'd agree with him
I couldn't believe it when I managed 20 miles on my first ride with my local club. I had a big heavy bike and was by far and away the slowest in the group but I was well looked after and so delighted that I’d ridden that far. It was a beautiful evening.
And I was lucky enough to get a ballot place for RideLondon in 2018. Fundraising for Diabetes UK on the back of the ride felt like absolutely the right thing to do. I did it in memory of and to celebrate the life of Eddie and to aid diabetes research. I love a challenge. I’d like to think he'd have been proud to find me raising money for Diabetes UK – but I suspect be would be puzzled that I’d think a 100-mile bike ride was a good idea.
Cycling in memory of Eddie seemed very appropriate. I can actually remember helping him learn to ride his first bike (a family hand-me-down with fat white tyres and stabilisers), and cycling round the neighbourhood on adventures with a little gang of friends. As I recall the days were always sunny, roads were flat and pothole free, and punctures never happened.
Cycling has been a bit of a saviour during lockdown. While I miss cycling with friends having the chance to get out and enjoy the fresh air has been such a positive experience. I am working from home, and actually working harder than ever as I’m involved in planning for the post lockdown future. It quite often feels harder to get away from the work at the end of the day when it’s sitting in the next room - so making a commitment to myself to go out cycling helps me separate work life and home.
And my cycling experiences have been so different – the roads have been so much quieter with very few cars and you can actually get to see, hear and smell more when you are out so it is infinitely more pleasureable. The whole lockdown, and indeed the whole Covid experience has made me appreciate my cycling.
And I'm looking forward to the UK wide Cycle Ride and setting myself a target to see how far I can get in the month. I love the idea of people across the UK getting on their bike wherever they are to do something amazing for Diabetes UK.
Ruth's cycling tips - for indoor and outdoor cycling
Know your limitations – better to do a shorter distance and enjoy it than overdo it. You can build up distances over time.
Padded cycle shorts are a good investment for any sort of cycling.
Joining a cycling group can really help with motivation. I found that not only did I find new routes and places to cycle to, I also cycled further than I would have done on my own. The camaraderie is great and I’ve met lots of interesting people.
Above all enjoy yourself – and if you have a bad ride where everything feels like hard work don’t worry about it – it happens to everyone so don’t give up.
Take on UK Wide Cycle Ride
Next April, cycle across the UK virtually, your way. Choose from a range of distances and start pedalling towards a stronger, healthier you.
I can remember clearly my horror on seeing my first hill and the sheer exhilaration (and exhaustion) when I made it to the top. The sense of achievement was immense. I was so proud of myself - and that was it I was hooked.
Do you have a story about diabetes to help or encourage others?
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