Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Insulin For All

World Diabetes Day falls on the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, the man who co-founded insulin, I sometimes think that while World Diabetes Day is a day to raise awareness for both types of diabetes, it often gets clouded by everyone just talking about Type 2 Diabetes and how we can "eat more fruit and veg and be healthy!" However, World Diabetes Day exists as a day to celebrate the birthday of a man who is the reason that people with Type One Diabetes are able to live their lives, so really, not to be cheeky, but, Type One should get a bit more attention than it does. Seeing as we do rely on insulin to live!

Speaking of relying on insulin to live, I saw a photo today with a quote from Banting and it said; "Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world". And it made me think, Frederick Banting and Charles Best made insulin cheap, it was such a necessity that when it was discovered they sold the patent to the University of Toronto for $1 and hoped that insulin would be affordable. Unfortunately a lot of people needed insulin and still do, so the University signed contracts with large pharmaceutical companies in order to get large amounts of insulin made. In countries like America, insulin is highly commercialised and the insulin market is expected to top $48 billion.

This means the cost of insulin is constantly rising and for people with Type One Diabetes in America, who don't have health insurance or who don't have a very good health insurance plan, access to insulin is becoming increasingly harder. This shouldn't be the way. Type One Diabetics need insulin to live, it is a necessity and people shouldn't have to pay out hundreds and thousands of dollars to live. Insulin shouldn't be a privilege, insulin is a necessity, it is a must, it is life, without it, people with Type One Diabetes can't survive, our bodies cannot sustain life on their own.

Honestly it's just so disappointing that this is the way. I'm grateful for the NHS anyway, but knowing that people with Type One Diabetes in such a huge, modern, first world country like the US are struggling to get access to insulin due to it being so expensive, makes me even more grateful for our NHS, for our free healthcare.

If insulin access is such a problem in America, think about the state of it in developing countries...

The life expectancy of a child diagnosed with Type One Diabetes diagnosed in one of these countries can be as short as one year. We are all so grateful for the fact that Type One Diabetes is no longer a death sentence, and sometimes we find ourselves taking it for granted, discarding that last bit of insulin you can't be bothered to use up because there is a fresh vial in the fridge...it's no longer a death sentence for us, for those of us lucky enough to have access to it, but for people in developing countries insulin is a privilege.

Even if they do manage to get hold of insulin, it's cost is enormous.

So, as well as being a day to raise awareness of a life with Type One Diabetes, to raise awareness of Type Two Diabetes and try and steer it away from the stigma, to let the world know that our diabetes is not the result of a bag of sweets or a doughnut...it is also a day to remember the fact that there were two men who changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people and still continue to do so thanks to the discovery of insulin. What a precious hormone it is!

It's just a sad fact that Banting and Best would be turning in their graves knowing their $1 patent that they sold to the University of Toronto in the hopes that it would be made available to everyone, is not.

Monday, 14 November 2016

World Diabetes Day- on behalf of NHS England

World Diabetes Day; the birthday of Frederick Banting. Banting was the man who co-discovered insulin and is the reason that everyone with Type 1 diabetes is alive today.  He and Charles Best discovered insulin in 1922, completely turning around the prognosis for someone diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  It went from being a slow and painful death to being a disease that can be controlled and one people can live with.

I live with Type 1.  I have done since I was 11 years old.  I decided from the moment I was diagnosed that I would do something with my diagnosis and be a voice for other people who live with Type 1. A lot of people have the misconception that diabetes is a disease for the elderly, a disease for people who are overweight or live an unhealthy lifestyle, when in fact diabetes is just an umbrella term for two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease; it occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells and renders our bodies unable to produce insulin. Without insulin, people die. That is a fact and is the reason that people with Type 1 depend on insulin injections.  Type 1 has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle and normally presents in childhood and adolescence but also affects adults.  

Type 2 is far more prevalent in those over age 40. Predominantly it’s linked to lifestyle and diet. It is insulin resistance; their pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t utilise it as it should. Type2 can also occur naturally because of old age. 

I just thought it would be help to provide a little bit of background information to kick off this series of blogs because it is essential people differentiate between the two.  

I think the keyword in the sentence living with Type1 diabetes, is living.  Thanks to Frederick Banting and Charles Best this disease is not a death sentence anymore.  We have the chance to live.  A diagnosis of Type 1 means that we must become our own pancreases, we are essentially doing its job: producing insulin. People with Type 1 must mimic its behaviour.  It’s relentless, 24/7 and sometimes things don’t always go to plan, blood sugar that is too high or too low is a daily occurrence.

But we have to get on with it. I could complain for ages about how hard work it is, how much of a nuisance it is and how I wish I could get a break from it; but that won’t change the fact that I have to look after my diabetes or the affect it will have on my health will be detrimental.  Living with Type 1 isn’t just a physical battle but a mental one too.  You can dwell on how difficult it is and at some stage in your life, as Type 1 diabetes will experience diabetes burnout, at some point, especially when it becomes overwhelming.  The fact that you have to keep yourself alive because your body can’t do it on its own is a hard pill to swallow.

Letting it get on top of you isn’t an option.  Type 1 is 24/7 for a reason and we have no choice in the matter.  If you let any aspect of your routine slip, you can become very unwell, there’s no way around it. That’s why I’ve chosen to adopt the attitude of not letting it get the better of me and it won't. 
I am the master of my diabetes.  While it will challenge me, I will always overcome these challenges because I want to and because I have to. Letting diabetes get the better of us is not an option.  It’s important to have that mindset, that it will not stop us from living our life. We, thanks to the discovery of insulin, have as much of a chance at a healthy life as everyone around us.  There are so many people with diabetes, defying misconceptions and living prosperous and fulfilled lives with this disease.

That is why it is so important that NHS England is on board with raising awareness for Type 1 on this World Diabetes Day.  While we can all stand up and be a voice for those who have Type 1, NHS England is a big voice out there, with others to get the message out there loud and clear that Type 1 is serious, it is a challenge, it’s a relentless battle, but at the end of the day something that can be managed and lived with. That’s one of the important messages to get across this World Diabetes Day.  Be aware of Type 1 and just what it takes to live with it. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Diabetes Awareness Month

I've been living with Type One Diabetes since I was 11 years old, I was diagnosed at the end of Year 7. Not only did I have to adjust to a new school, but I had to adjust to a whole new way of life, honestly, I've had 7 and a half years to "adjust" and sometimes I think I'm still not quite there yet. I don't know if you can ever truly fully adjust to a life with Type One, it's unpredictable and no two days are the same, you could have perfect blood sugars after eating pizza one day, then you'll get completely different results another day, it never fails to surprise you or lure you into a false sense of security before being the reason you wake up at 3am sweating due to low blood sugar. What happens though, is that it becomes a routine, one that you have no choice but to go along with, day in, day out.

With the injections, the insulin pump site changes, the finger pricking, the carbohydrate counting, the hospital appointments, comes your mind, comes the thoughts you're left alone with in the middle of the night. It's remembering that you're dependent on insulin for the rest of your life, don't even get me started on the fear of not getting access to it, a reality for many many people, not just in poverty-stricken countries, but in medically and technologically advanced countries like the United States where the price of insulin has soared. It's the mental battle of not wanting to rely on anyone or be a burden when you're feeling too unwell from high blood sugars to fully function, but the realisation that not feeling completely 100% all the time is your reality. It's reminding yourself to go and get your flu jab when winter rolls around because the flu could put you in hospital with Diabetic ketoacidosis.

Living with Type One isn't as black and white as an injection here and there, a finger prick and everything is alright, it's everything else that stems off of it, it's all the thoughts and the feelings that come along with it. Other than helping people realise the day to day challenges of a life with Type One Diabetes, it is also a good chance to educate people about the fact that Type One doesn't have to stop you from doing anything. I think our Prime Minister is a great example, her election sparked an outcry among a lot of people who doubted her ability to run our country due to her diabetes. So far, she has been fine. People love to make assumptions, but as challenging as diabetes can be, it is controllable.

Diabetes Awareness Month is not just about Type One Diabetes, although it is the type that makes up only 10% of all diabetics, making it the one that doesn't get it's chance in the spotlight very often, I think it's only fair that we talk about Type Two Diabetes too. I'm going to lay down a few key differences between the two main types before I continue:

Type One - Autoimmune disease, pancreas does not produce any insulin, dependent on insulin injections or infusion of insulin via a pump to stay alive, nothing to do with diet or exercise
Type Two - Insulin resistance, pancreas produces insulin or little insulin but the body doesn't respond to it as it should, can take tablets to increase insulin sensitivity, sometimes need to go on insulin injections, has a strong link to diet, however there is a strong genetic component also

I say this because people are very quick to judge people with diabetes. Diabetes is an umbrella term for Type One and Type Two diabetes. However, you and me both know that when people hear the word diabetes their first thought is a fat person with one leg, they'll think about a picture of chocolate cake or something else sugary, they will be thinking about Type Two Diabetes. So wrong! People have been conditioned to associate Type Two Diabetes with these images and although it is linked to diet, that is not how every body develops Type Two Diabetes, it has a very strong genetic component, it is also linked to old age, and operations, people have been known to develop Type Two as a result of a big operation. To immediately think, diabetes, type two, fat person, is so one sided and such closed minded thinking. That is why not only do we need to raise awareness of Type One Diabetes as an autoimmune disease, but we also need to raise awareness of Type Two Diabetes as a disease that is not exclusive to obese people. We are doing ourselves a disservice in shaming people with Type Two, at every opportunity take the time to raise awareness of both types of diabetes, maybe then people will be more inclined to differentiate between what type of diabetes they're talking about, and we won't all be lumped together in the umbrella term, 'diabetes' because it's just unhelpful.

Diabetes is rough whichever type. At the end of the day we're all at risk of the same complications. That is one thing Type One and Type Two have in common, that we're all working to keep ourselves healthy.

This Diabetes Awareness Month, lets try and be mindful of both types, let's make sure the world knows that Type One Diabetes isn't a joke, or to do with diet or bad eating, make sure people know that Type One is not a barrier, be aware of some people's struggle to get access to life-saving and life-sustaining insulin, be aware that diabetes is not black and white, it is not as straight forward as a few injections and a finger prick.