I was diagnosed with Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes in February 1967, thanks to my maternal grandmother who realised that I was going to the toilet endlessly and was becoming rather listless and bad tempered. Typical symptoms of diabetes apparently.
I am certain that my parents must have felt like a lightning bolt had struck. There was certainly no family history of diabetes, and I was only 3½ years old at the time. They were told that they would have to administer an insulin injection daily, something I have had to do to keep me alive since that day and almost certainly for the remainder of my lifetime. Insulin is the only means, even in 2021, to a normal life and a definite saviour for all diabetics.
And save me it certainly has. Although at times I have felt that injecting myself 5 or 6 times a day was some sort of punishment, but a very necessary one. A double-edged sword almost - feel the pain of the insulin injection, or don’t inject and get very poorly quite quickly.
Diabetes is a 24/7 challenge for most diabetics. Ideally to ensure a long, healthy lifetime without any of the nasty complications of diabetes, tight control of blood sugar levels is recommended by the medical profession. This means diabetics perform a delicate balancing act between carbohydrates, insulin, exercise, and a multitude of other variables (temperature, hormones, illness, etc), all of which can affect blood sugars.
The decades have brought about huge developments in the treatment of diabetes, through refinements in laboratory manufactured rather than animal insulin, but also via technological advances. Insulin pump treatment, continuous and flash glucose monitoring all make everyday life easier, though the underlying substance in all these treatment regimens is still insulin. Without insulin, we diabetics would simply not live long.
Compare these to the “technologies” available in the 1960’s – urine testing and a gun which fires your syringe for injections!
In 2017 I was very proud to be presented with the Alan Nabarro medal. Diabetes UK award medals in recognition of the courage and perseverance of people living with diabetes. They are awarded to people who have lived with the condition for over 50, 60, 70 or 80 years. The Alan Nabarro medal is awarded to people who have lived with diabetes for 50 years. Alan Nabarro waged a lifelong battle against discrimination against people with diabetes. In 1968 he was awarded the OBE for his work with young people in London.
I live in hope that one day a cure will be found for diabetes and that diabetics will no longer rely upon injections of insulin. Although still in the very early stages of development, cell therapy is one of the biggest hopes towards developing a cure for diabetes, especially for Type 1 diabetes. Replacing the missing insulin-producing cells could potentially recover normal insulin production and cure patients.
A Belgian company is pursuing an approach where cells from the patient’s liver are transformed into insulin-producing cells to avoid the issues of sourcing cells from donors. A company in the UK is developing a similar procedure sourcing cells from the pancreas.
I won’t say that living with diabetes has always been easy. There have been, and still are, many days where I wish my diabetes would go away and give me a break, and there have been occasions when diabetes has been a major inconvenience. But it has made me a stronger, more resilient individual who continues to be determined to prove that having diabetes is not a barrier to achieving anything you want to in life and to always aim high.