Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Talking About Diabetes 2017

Saturday 22nd April brought over 150 people together at Birkbeck University in London. Thanks to Partha Kar, Catherine Peters and Professor Peter Hindmarsh and an idea that was hatched in the back of a taxi, 'TAD talks' was born. TAD, stands for Talking About Diabetes, and the days are literally a day for talking about diabetes. Last year saw various inspirational speakers take the stage and talk about their experiences with diabetes and this year was the same. Six people stood in front of the audience and we had the privilege of hearing all about their lives with diabetes.

The speakers were Jen Grieves, Adrian Long, Roddy Riddle, Gavin Griffiths & Melanie Stephenson. Each and every one of them did a fabulous job and they are all prime examples of living well with diabetes and not letting it hold you back. I'll quote Jen here in saying that "We cannot control the diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes but we can control how we live our lives from that point on" and every speaker has this mentality I'm sure. Everyone's speech was totally individual, they all took a different view point and not only was it inspiring, but we were learning from these incredible people, be it how to handle sport with Type 1 or how to deal with Type 1 emotionally. Adrian spoke about being diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 40 and the power of friendship in the Online Diabetes Community, Melanie spoke about being an athlete with T1, Jen spoke about learning to love yourself, Gavin spoke about running with Type 1 and Roddy spoke about running the 6633 Arctic Ultra and the challenges he endured.

All of them are the epitome of determination and courage and living a good life despite diabetes and I'll quote Melanie this time, "I wouldn't have found my strength without my diabetes" and this sits well with me, I resonate with this, as unfortunate as living with Type 1 Diabetes is it has made me a better person and I truly believe this. Of course we can't downplay diabetes and turn it into a big ball of positivity and light because we all know too well that this isn't the way it is, but there is absolutely nothing with trying to find positives amongst the negativity and this is something that I realised even more when Adrian was presenting his '12 good things about diabetes' slide.

We were also joined on the day by Stephen Dixon, a Sky TV Presenter, Sir Bruce Keogh- medical director for NHS England and Professional lead for doctors and Jane Cummings- the Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England. Jane actually has Type 1 Diabetes herself and this is something that came as a surprise to all of us as I don't think many of us knew this! Sir Bruce Keogh reassured us in "Don't think for one moment that we don't understand Type One Diabetes", it feels good to know that we have support from people at the very top of the NHS, we have Jane herself who is a Type 1 Diabetic and Sir Bruce Keogh who demonstrated a wonderful understanding of Type 1 and was so willing to listen to us and understand.

I think it's so important to talk, as humans we are communicators and humans need contact with others to survive, it's just how it is, and while there are many people who don't like to talk, I think it's good to talk, it is so good to be able to tell people how you're feeling and what you're thinking. Keeping things in has never been good for anyone! That's why the Online Diabetes Community is such an important part of my life with Type 1 and it seems to be an important life for a lot of other people with diabetes that I know, there is always someone to talk to, pretty much 24/7, if no one in the UK is awake when you're dealing with a low blood sugar at 3am, then someone in America will be.

I also believe that is what makes these TAD events even more powerful, because it is the chance for so many people who spend many days and nights talking on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram to talk face to face, and to be inspired and learn from one another. As Gavin said, "with the responsibility of looking after your Type 1 comes great power", yes having diabetes isn't ideal, but it is true that we do have power in it, we have the chance to choose how we deal with this and how we live our lives, you can be against your diabetes or you can embrace it and for the athletes in the room like Roddy, Gavin and Mel, diabetes is a power in a literal sense too, in that I'm sure knowing what their blood sugar is doing greatly helps them in sports.

It was a great pleasure attending the TAD talks, to be inspired, to see people that I talk to so often on Social Media and to be reminded to as Jane Cummings said, "not let Type 1 define you". All in all it was a great day as always, and again a big thank you to the organisers for giving us all this platform to express ourselves and come together as a big community all in one room!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Diabetic Retinopathy Screening: What To Expect

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication that can develop due to having diabetes, the retina is a light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that sends signals to your brain, your brain then turns these signals into images and this is how you see! The Retina is supplied blood via tiny blood vessels, Diabetic Retinopathy is damage to these blood vessels and if left undetected and untreated it can cause permanent blindness. Retinopathy Screening is something that is offered to everyone with diabetes over the age of 12. In it's early stages Diabetic Retinopathy has no symptoms so it's strongly recommended that you attend your annual eye screening appointments.

I had my annual appointment yesterday. It's a really straight forward, non-invasive test, I'm going to tell you what happens at my appointments so if you haven't had a screening before or you're about to go for your first screening then you will know a little bit about what to expect. When I go in to the Diabetes Center I put my appointment letter in a box and wait to be called in, I'm usually not waiting for very long because the appointments are quite fast. When I get called in, I take a seat and the healthcare professional who is doing the eye screening asks me to read out the letters from a board, just like at a regular opticians appointment.

The next step is the eye drops. When I was younger I managed to avoid getting the eye drops because my pupils were always dilated enough, apparently young people have naturally dilated pupils. Don't quote me on that though! Ha! The past couple of years however, I have had to get the eye drops. I'm not going to lie, they are not a pleasant experience. It's one drop in each eye, you will most likely get given a tissue to wipe your eyes afterwards, I always get given tissues! The drops sting your eyes, they don't sting for very long though, maybe about 30 seconds, no longer than a minute. Once the drops have been applied, I go and sit out in the waiting room for 15 minutes while the drops do their thing and dilate my pupils. It makes your eyes go blurry, you will find things like looking at your phone very difficult because your eyes won't be able to focus, the drops also make your eyes sensitive to light so it's always a good idea to bring sunglasses along to your appointment. These side effects aren't permanent though, don't fret! They last between two and six hours, then your eyes will be back to normal.

After 15 minutes I get called back in, then the photographs get taken! You have to rest your chin on a little chin rest and look into the lens of a special camera, then you will see a green light and you'll get told to look at the light. There will be two bright flashes in each eye, this is the camera taking photos of the back of your eye, the pupil dilation is so the camera flash can get to the back of your eye to reach the retina, nothing touches your eyes though, you just have to look at a green light.

Sometimes the healthcare professional who took the photos will look at them on the screen briefly before you leave, I always like to have a look at the photos, I'm clearly very fascinated by my retina! The official results come in within six weeks. Then, provided your eyes are all clear, that's it for another year!