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“I tell people to make a friend of their diabetes”

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Susan Ingham is treasurer of the Taunton local support group and recently received the Robert Lawrence Medal for living with Type 1 diabetes for 60 years. 

Susan Ingham
Age 65
Type 1 diabetes

I tell people, don’t fight your diabetes, because it will come back to bite you. If you have any concerns, there are people out there to help you.”

Susan's diabetes journey

  • Diagnosed aged four, one of three sisters with Type 1 diabetes.
  • Prescribed insulin, moving from two injections a day to four in 2005.
  • Found to have coeliac disease in the 1980s.
  • Background retinopathy.
  • Under-active thyroid.

Double diagnosis

I was born in January 1953, the second twin and third of four daughters. We lived in Market Drayton, Shropshire. It was during 1957 that my parents noticed that I was losing weight and was not really well. They noticed that my eldest sister was showing similar signs. Obviously they were very worried and looking for answers. In October, Mum took me to the doctors and asked that he test for diabetes.

The urine and ketone tests showed that I had it, so off I went to Shrewsbury Hospital. The following day mum took my eldest sister to the doctor and asked that she be tested too. When his nurse brought in a positive result he didn’t believe it, so he unpacked a new testing kit and did the tests himself. Same result. So my sister joined me in hospital. We were in hospital for six weeks, mainly so that I could put on weight as I'd lost so much.


Diet and childhood care

Our diet was strict; the protein and carbohydrates were weighed for all our meals. For our lunch and evening meal we had 2oz of meat or fish, or 1oz of cheese or 1 egg, 4oz of potatoes or 2oz of bread. We ate plenty of vegetables and one portion of fruit, and one pint of milk per day. Fried food was frowned on.

One memory I have of those early years was waiting in a packed corridor at the diabetes clinic at the old Shrewsbury Hospital, because the River Severn had come over its banks yet again and areas of the hospital were flooded.

In 1960 we moved to Scotland with Dad's work, living 35 miles west of Glasgow. We went twice a year to York Road Children's Hospital. It was here that I spent the Christmas and New Year of 1963/4 because my control had gone awol.


Moving to the adult clinic

But when my eldest sister reached the age of 12, the doctor told my mum that she was being moved to the adult clinic at the Western Infirmary. Mum insisted that if one of us was moved then both of us were to be moved. All the doctor seemed to repeat was my sister was too old for the children's hospital.

Mum was adamant about us being at the same clinic on the same day. We came to Glasgow twice a year; it would mean mum would have to come four times, which was extra train fares and she would have to find someone to be at home with other family members. She won. The next appointment came through for both of us to attend the adult clinic at the Western Infirmary.


School and work

As youngsters we joined in all the sporting events at school, played in the school's hockey team, joined the Brownies and Guides. We had been taught that diabetes was part of our lives, and it lived with us. It did not live our lives.

“We joined in all the sporting events at school, played in the school's hockey team, joined the Brownies and Guides. We had been taught that diabetes was part of our lives, and it lived with us. It did not live our lives.”

In 1968 Dad's work was moved to Leeds, and in 1970 my youngest sister was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. To date, the only one of my sisters not to be diagnosed with Type 1 was my twin.

I left school in 1972 and went to Leeds Polytechnic to do a two-year course in Institutional Housekeeping and Catering. I went to work as an Assistant Domestic Bursar at the University of London. There I was in the big wide world on my own, responsible for everything including my diabetes. My diabetes life went on as before; it was well controlled.


Coeliac disease

In the early 1980s I started to have episodes where I was getting hypos and diarrhoea at the same time. I dropped from 10 stone to less than 7. Something had to give. I did. I ended up in Southmead Hospital, Bristol twice, once for four weeks and later for two. At last I got a diagnosis - coeliac disease. Gluten-free diet from now on. I haven’t looked back.


Better control

Over the last 30 years I have moved from educational catering and accommodation to the licensed trade in restaurants and Inns. This had an effect on the diabetes control. Sometimes I worked very late nights followed by breakfast shifts. But with adjustments, control is there.

In 2005, having had hypos at work, I saw the consultant at the hospital and she recommended I move from two injections to four a day. Since then things are better, especially after going on a DAFNE course.

Today 60 years on, my diabetes is well controlled. Yes, there are side effects from having it so long. I sometimes lose my hypo warning signs but with readjustment they come back. I have background retinopathy, I now have an under-active thyroid treated with a tablet. Otherwise, I consider myself healthy.


My diabetes and me

I do what I want, go where I want. Diabetes is part of me, it lives with me.

When I speak to local groups I tell them to make a friend of their diabetes, don't fight it, because it will come back to bite you. If you have any concerns, there are people out there to help you. You are responsible for your diabetes.

 

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