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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Life with diabetes

Living with diabetes can be difficult, but you shouldn’t need to put your life on hold. Here are stories from people who have learnt to adjust to life with the condition.

Shannon with her daughter on her shoulders, laughing in the countryside

ShannonDiagnosed with type 1 while 28 weeks pregnant with daughter Bronwen

Becoming a custody sergeant

My dad was a sergeant in the police and my mum joined when I was in my teenage years. I’ve got two younger brothers and they are both police officers now as well. It must be genetic or contagious!

I grew up knowing about the police and when I had jobs in my teens and early twenties, I just got so bored so quickly. I needed something a bit different. I saw a degree in policing and went for it.

I worked my way up to become a police response officer. It can be very high adrenaline. The job that you expect to be routine could turn out to be completely manic. You never know what you’re going to get. 

After I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I had to start having medical reviews. That was something I’d never had to think about before, because I was so healthy. My health was definitely something I took for granted.

I was really lucky as I had a great sergeant when I was diagnosed. He was really supportive. To go into work and say, ‘I’ve got type 1 diabetes,’ did feel daunting. But that sergeant just made the whole experience so much easier. He was great, but the people I worked with didn’t always understand. They’d ask me to do something and my blood sugars wouldn’t be good. I felt a lot of pressure to try to hide my symptoms, because I didn’t want to be seen as a burden. 

When I went back to work after maternity leave, I went straight back into my normal position as a response officer. I had all the tickets. I could drive with blue lights. I could respond to 999 calls. I had training in using a ‘stinger’ [tyre deflation device]. I was trained to do almost everything on response. 

But when I went back, they said everything needed to be reviewed because of my diabetes. I had to do a number of assessments before I could drive or do any of my job. I understood it had to be done, but it did make me feel ostracised. Going from someone who is highly trained, to going on maternity leave and returning unable to use that training felt really off for me. It made me feel like I wasn’t a real part of the team. 

That sort of drove me to go for promotion. I needed to do something else. I applied to do my sergeant’s exam and did it within four months of going back to work. Now, I’m a police custody sergeant. I worked from home during lockdown, but have recently returned to work, where my employers have put in a raft of measures to keep me safe from coronavirus.

Now, I think of my life as ‘pre-diabetes’ and ‘post-diabetes’. They say that’s going to happen with the coronavirus, too!

Read Shannon's complete story
Shannon with her daughter on her shoulders, laughing in the countryside

ShannonDiagnosed with type 1 while 28 weeks pregnant with daughter Bronwen

Diagnosis

After me and my husband, Dan, got married in May 2015, we decided that we wanted to try for a baby. I assumed it would happen quite quickly, but it didn’t. After about a year, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. That was my first autoimmune condition. 

Once that was under control, I fell pregnant within 18 months. At all my routine pregnancy check-ups, my sugars were high. It was mentioned – I’d be asked if I’d just had a sugary drink - but no one ever did anything about it. 

Then, at nine weeks, I became really sick with hyperemesis gravidarium (severe morning sickness). It was awful. I was bed-bound and I certainly couldn’t go to work. I was hospitalised several times. In the end, I had to go to a special clinic three times a week for intravenous fluids and an anti-sickness injection. 

Just as my sickness was calming down, at about 22 weeks, I mentioned my high sugars to a friend who is a midwife. She said that wasn’t normal, contacted some people she worked with, and later that day I was in hospital. 

There, they said there was a high chance that I had a type of diabetes, but they didn’t know which one. They hoped it was gestational, but I didn’t fit any of the criteria. 

I knew nothing at all about diabetes. I knew that some people with diabetes had to inject, and that others didn’t. That was the extent of my knowledge. 

After further tests, I found out when I was around 28 weeks pregnant that I had type 1 diabetes. There was almost an assumption that I knew what it was. It was a really hard time. I had to educate myself while I was feeling terrible. You’ve got all these things to think about and learn. It’s a life-changing condition. The anxiety I had about managing diabetes with my job and a baby and a husband who often works away, was huge.

Read Shannon's complete story
Ted's story

Ted LambFound out he had type 1 diabetes when he was aged 16

Travel and managing diabetes

Life changed fairly drastically for me at the beginning of lockdown, as I was living and working in the mountains of Whistler, British Columbia for several months. But with the health risks of the coronavirus pandemic I had to come back to the UK to be closer to my family in case anything went wrong. It’s been a challenging change of pace, but to be honest I've really enjoyed having the time to work on projects and ideas that I haven't had the chance to previously. My blood glucose numbers have been about the same, just maybe slightly more consistent with the new routines.

I’m excited about the prospect of travelling again and I'm hoping to be able to start taking some smaller trips around Europe in the new year.

I think travel is one of the best things people can do to build confidence in themselves. I think everyone should travel as much as possible. I’m not nervous as I think as long as you take the correct precautions and keep yourself up to date with any new travel safety advice, then it shouldn't cause any extra worry. I have a rule in that if I don't feel entirely sure, or confident, in going somewhere then I ask myself why and try to either educate myself further, or choose somewhere else to travel to, and I think this is more important now than ever.

Being someone with type 1 means there are a host of precautions I usually take with travelling. First and foremost, I'll usually try to discuss the trip with my doctor or nurses if I'm going somewhere for an extended amount of time, making sure that I have all the supplies I'll need. Research is definitely key, so I spend as much time as I can looking at things such as local healthcare, common foods, travel times, and of course any required paperwork. Things such as the cost of and availability of insulin in the destination is also very good to know. 

I think while some countries are still heavily affected by the virus, my precautions will mean doing far more research with regards to my potential destinations. I'll be avoiding places too far from home for a while, and ensuring that I check all of the relevant government websites and local healthcare options before booking a ticket anywhere. I would also definitely take extra face masks and hand sanitizer for traveling in airports and keeping my social distancing up in foreign destinations. Some people may see this as over the top, but I feel like it's better to be safe than sorry.

Preparation is key. The less you have to worry about your diabetes when you travel, the easier it becomes, and likewise, the less you have to stress about the travel the easier the diabetes management becomes.

I always do my best to mentally prepare myself for a trip, and I usually pack and repack my bag with my medical supplies several times before I'm confident that I have everything that I need! It's also really important that you know your own limits, and know when to take time to rest, or when to say “Thanks but no thanks” to an experience that can put you at risk. Travel is fantastic for building your confidence and helping you get out of your comfort zone, but it's very important to know when something might be too much. 

The best advice I can give to others with type 1 would be to make sure you are prepared and have confidence in your own abilities. Also, if it is your first time travelling with the condition, consider keeping the trip simple. At the beginning of the year, I started offering a consultation service Type One Travel, for anyone who wishes to travel with type 1 and feels that they could use some help.

I've always followed the Diabetes UK social media channels and checked the website fairly regularly. I often check the latest diabetes related news, and I'm really hoping to be doing some fundraising for you in the near future!

Read Ted Lamb's complete story
Karen smiling

KarenDiagnosed with type 1 at four years old

Childhood with diabetes

When I was young, it was hard because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t eat sweets or have sugary drinks. God bless my mum, she didn’t understand either. So, Mum never went out of her way to give me sugar-free drinks. She used to bake cakes and would never tell me I couldn’t have any. When my sugars went really high, the GP would just come out and give me a big dose of insulin.

Read Karen's complete story
Pauline smiling

Pauline McCullochDiagnosed with type 1 around her 40th birthday

Work and study

In 2018 I started a master’s degree in History of Science and Medicine that I did part time while working. I wrote my dissertation on diabetes in the post-insulin era, something I probably wouldn’t have considered doing had I not been diagnosed with the condition myself. I’ve been working as a fundraiser for Diabetes UK since 2014, and took over managing the membership team in 2018. I love my job, being able to raise funds for Diabetes UK gives me a great sense of satisfaction. Knowing that all of our dedicated supporters and members are helping us to achieve our mission and assisting with our vital research in to all types of diabetes, gives me hope for the future, for all of us out there living with this condition, that we may finally find a cure.

Read Pauline McCulloch's complete story
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