Last week was my one-year anniversary of my diagnosis. People refer to it as the “diaversary” but I really don’t like the word!
I can remember all too well the shock of my diagnosis. I could not concentrate on anything else for the two or three weeks following, and I had huge uncertainty about whether I would be able to continue to do the things I loved doing. I was lucky to have fantastic support from my wife, family, friends and medical team. What words of advice would I give someone else who is newly diagnosed? I’ve been thinking about it since my anniversary and here is what I came up with. Bare in mind that I’ve had the condition for a mere twelve months. There are probably loads of wiser diabetics who have better advice than me!
I should also say that this is intended for an adult diagnosed with type 1. I’m not a father, but I would much rather have diabetes myself than have a child with it in the future. I’m sure being a young child or parent of a child with diabetes is much more challenging.
If you know someone who has been newly diagnosed, please send this on if you think it’s helpful. If you have type1, please let me know what you think of the advice!
1) Having diabetes is totally fine – welcome to the club!
2) Get informed. There is a brilliant JDRF book to help you do this.
3) Participate in a clinical trial.
4) Experiment to find the best way of managing type 1 for you. We’re all different.
5) Keep track of your data – it will help you learn to control your blood sugar.
6) Don’t forget how lucky you are to be diagnosed now and not twenty years ago.
7) Don’t let diabetes make you a victim. You will still achieve your dreams.
Having diabetes is totally fine – welcome to the club! Four days after I was diagnosed a colleague who sits a couple of metres away from me bounded over to me with a big smile on his face, proudly brandishing his insulin pen. “I heard you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. Welcome to the club!” He’d also been diagnosed as an adult, three years before me. He was so relaxed about his – and my – diagnosis that I couldn’t help but feel more relaxed about my prospects. So if you’re reading this and you’ve just been diagnosed, daily life is going to get a bit more complicated, but you’ll be fine. And you can smile just as much as you did before.
Get informed about the condition. If you’re anything like I was you will have so many questions about the condition you won’t be able to think about anything else. I was given a book called “Straight to the point” by JDRF (an international type 1 diabetes charity) by my doctor. It is really well written and clear and provided my with loads of the information that I craved.
Participate in a clinical trial. I went on a course of fortnightly injections for six months. Initially of course I hoped it would cure me! But spending a couple of hours with really good doctors and specialist nurses enabled me to learn a huge amount about how to treat type 1. This is a fantastic benefit. Visit the JDRF website for details of clinical trials and ask your doctor.
Experiment to find the best way of managing your diabetes. When I was diagnosed I immediately went online to try to find out how I could manage my blood sugar whilst doing exercise. I wanted doctors or other type ones to tell me how to do it. I’ve had brilliant advice from my care team and other type one athletes but a truth that I didn’t like hearing – find what works for you – is just that, a truth. We’re all different and seem to respond differently to different types of food, insulin and exercise. So don’t be afraid to keep an open mind, experiment a little bit and find out what works.
Keep track of your data. This requires a bit of time commitment. I use a smart phone app to keep track of the carbs I eat, insulin I take, blood sugar readings and exercise. It requires a few minutes a day to keep up to date but it’s really helped me to understand how to manage my diabetes.
You’re fortunate to be diagnosed now. Injecting insulin is trivial and painless with modern pens. Glucose meters are easy to use and provide you with instant feedback as to your blood sugar. Many people complain about having to prick their finger for blood tests or inject. But I view it as a very very small price to pay for the ability to lead a normal, healthy life. A hundred years ago, you’d have been dead following your diagnosis. Much more recently than that, if you wanted to know your blood sugar, you would have peed onto a special bit of paper, sent it to a lab and been told two weeks later what your blood sugar was. (See here for a short blog on diabetes care in the 1970s.) Like everybody else, I hope we find a cure, but I’m aware how lucky I am to be diagnosed now and not twenty years ago. Don’t lose sight of this next time you have to get that glucose monitor out at lunch in front of a stranger!!
Don’t let type one make you feel like a victim. I feel really strongly about this. Diabetes presents challenges of course, but blaming diabetes for not being able to do things is counter productive and won’t help. Instead try to view every set-back as a chance to learn. Why did I get that hypo? Was it exercise? Insulin dosage? Did I estimate carb content of a meal wrong? There are loads of role models of amazing diabetics. Theresa May could be a future Prime Minister, Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic medal after being diagnosed. These people are determined enough learn to master their condition and continue with highly successful careers. They are role models to ordinary people like us and prove that incredible things can be achieved with the condition. Diabetes cannot stop you from achieving your dreams.
Finally, I really believe that all the exercise I do really helps. I’m definitely more sensitive to insulin because of exercise, which means lower doses and may mean that my honeymoon period has lasted longer (I’m still in it a year into my diagnosis). Another type one ultra runner told me that he thinks his exercise helps lessen the effect of hypos, because his body is used to putting sugar into the blood. Sounds dubious to me, but all I know is that I do lots of exercises and whilst aware of my hypos, they do not really affect me in a negative way. You probably don’t need to get into ultra marathon running, but try to be active!!