Saturday, 1 November 2014

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

It's Diabetes Awareness month!

1 in 600 young people in England have type 1 diabetes. On June 21st 2009 I became one of them, I was 11 years old, nearly 12, I'm 17 now and in my 5th year of living with type 1 diabetes.

What people aren't aware of is how it happens, and it's symptoms and just serious it is. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas attacks the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. My pancreas does not produce insulin. Everybody needs insulin to live. It regulates the amount of sugar in our blood by allowing energy from the food we eat into the cells to be used by the body...which is why  I'm attached to an insulin pump 24/7, it gives me insulin via a cannula under my skin. If I didn't have insulin via a pump or injections then I would die because I would have zero insulin in my body and the amount of sugar in my blood would rise to dangerous levels, causing my blood to turn acidic and if left untreated without insulin, this condition, otherwise known as diabetic ketoacidosis, is fatal.

Trying to keep my blood sugar at a safe level is a 24/7 job. I don't get to take a break. Too little insulin and my blood sugar will go high, too much insulin and my blood sugar will go low. That's why I also have to prick my finger 4+ times a day so  I can see what level my blood sugar is at. High blood sugar makes me feel thirsty and tired and is treated with more insulin, low blood sugar makes me feel shaky and weak and left untreated with glucose can also result in a coma or death. Overtime diabetes can lead to complications like blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, amputation and more. It is not impossible to control blood sugar, but it is hard- it's not just food that can affect my blood sugar, it can fluctuate due to the weather, stress, illness and even emotions. A simple cold or flu can send my blood sugars very high despite lots of insulin and sometimes this can result in a trip to hospital.

I've been hospitalised about six times since being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 5 times out of 6 were due to being in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA for short), the condition that I mentioned earlier. Two of these times were due to being unwell and the other three were due to my insulin pump cannula coming out during the night and I didn't realise, and so I got no insulin for hours, resulting in the build up of toxins in my blood called ketones, which make my blood turn acidic. If this is left untreated it is fatal. And then this summer I spent two weeks at UCLH getting my insulin doses re-calculated and getting help to get back in control of my diabetes.

People don't understand how serious type 1 diabetes is and just how much of a 24/7 job it is. So that's why I've written this long blog post! To make people aware. But what I also want to make people aware of is that yes, I struggle with this disease a lot of the time and yes, I have my down days...but I am okay. And  I know how to enjoy my life and I am grateful for what I have got. I haven't got time to waste being depressed about being type 1 diabetic, or wondering why I have to deal with this. Instead I've tried to get something positive out of it, I've tried to use it to help others and raise awareness. The opportunities that I have been given from having type 1 diabetes are more than I could have ever imagined and so unexpected- I'm glad that  I have had positive things to focus on, like being co-chair of JDRF's 2014 Type 1 Parliament in March, doing a speech at JDRF's charity gala in London in June this year, having this blog that has over 35,000 views, going to Parliament with Diabetes UK in June last year and doing a speech there too, and getting to know some amazing people.

That's not to say that I don't ever get upset about having type 1 diabetes, or want to give up...and there are days when I just want to cry about it because it can make me feel so rubbish, and some nights I'm afraid to fall asleep for fear of a low blood sugar during the night...The reality is that despite how positive I can be about it, it's still a huge weight on mine and my parent's shoulders, and to have that lifted off of our shoulders would be a huge sigh of relief. To help me through it I have amazing parents who support me so much, along with the rest of my family and friends.

Life with type one diabetes is a tough journey and definitely has it's highs and lows (excuse the pun!) but it is as my blog title says...bittersweet.

So, every November (and every month actually!!) be aware of type 1 diabetes and it's symptoms (thirst, tiredness, weight loss and going to the toilet a lot), be aware that even type 2 diabetes isn't always caused by a bad diet, be aware of the parents who work super hard every single day to look after their type 1 kids, be aware of the charities like JDRF who are trying to find the cure, and be aware of the thousands of kids, teenagers and adults who are out there living with type 1 diabetes like me. All doing our best to raise awareness, all fighting through the tough days and still smiling, and all wanting to remind people of one more major thing: No! We did not get it from eating too much sugar.

Some photos:

Love how gross I look in this photo! Not!
Hospital with DKA 
JDRF Walk to cure diabetes last year 
JDRF's Type 1 Parliament in March 2014
Me with my mum and local MP Nick De Bois
Another time that I was in DKA 
My insulin pump
Speech in Pariament with Diabetes UK in June last year
And me!