Inspiring Stories

Living the low carb life

When Vickie de Beer’s son Lucca was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she started a journey that ended with her publishing an award-winning cookbook and lifestyle guide: The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics.

Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when Lucca was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?

That insulin takes much longer to reach the blood stream than we were told. I had a lot of anxiety about Lucca going into a hypo after eating, and it was completely unnecessary. I also wish I knew what a huge impact carbohydrates had on his blood sugar! We did carb count and test and inject diligently, but there were always unexplained highs and lows that frustrated me and made Lucca feel awful.

What inspired you to write The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics?

We have always, from the first day, taken Lucca’s diabetes seriously. We did everything the doctors and dietician told us. We adapted our diet to eating only low GI foods and tested Lucca’s blood sugars diligently. Every time we went to the doctor they congratulated us on his great HbA1c result and said that we were doing everything possible for Lucca’s health.

The doctor always said that the next step would be to control the extreme fluctuations between high spikes and lows in Lucca’s blood sugar. I could never get clear information on how we were supposed do that though, apart from doing what we were already doing. About a year ago I met Prof Tim Noakes at the book launch of Real Meal Revolution. We significantly reduced our carbohydrate intake, but did not remove carbohydrate completely from our diet.

I didn’t understand how we could remove all the carbohydrates from Lucca’s diet as suggested by the LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) movement. We were taught that children needed carbohydrates for energy, growth and brain function and I also knew that Lucca needed to get insulin. If we took away the carbohydrates how would he get the insulin he needed? I still gave the children small amounts of Low GI carbs like brown rice and brown pasta with their evening meals. Lucca’s blood sugar did not improve significantly – I would say that we were on a moderate carb diet.

A few months ago I made contact with a group in the USA that follow a low carb high protein (not high fat) diet with great success in managing steady blood glucose levels in Type I diabetic children. This way of managing diabetes is based on a book: Dr Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution. Dr Bernstein has been a Type 1 diabetic for 69 years. After reading his book and studying various other low carb websites and books, we decided to change the way we eat.

Do you have any tips for people who feel overwhelmed at the thought of changing their way of eating?

Do it gradually. We started with breakfast (because the boys love bacon!) and then did dinners – lunchboxes were the last!

What advice would you offer to people living with diabetes who are struggling?

Diabetes is in the details. The best tool is to test constantly and diligently. The bottom line is that cutting carbs makes diabetes easier to manage. All the hundreds of reasons I used to give to explain Lucca’s unstable sugar – the heat, stress, tiredness – it was always the carbs!

What makes your life sweet?

Hugs from my boys! Playing board games with them (and winning), swimming and braaing with them, reading with them… The fact that Lucca’s blood sugar is under control has changed our lives. We had a lot of anxiety in our life beforehand. Although we still test and inject diligently, the anxiety is gone. I think we have finally taken control of diabetes, and diabetes has lost its control over us.

Get in touch with Vickie: @Vickiefantastic on Twitter

Taking diabetes education to schools

When Roxanne and Derick de Villiers wanted to enroll their son Noah in pre-school, they didn’t think diabetes would be an issue. When it turned out it was, they turned the situation around.

Can you tell us about Noah’s diagnosis?

It was just before his 3rd birthday. When Noah got really sick and then diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, we were really emotional. Here was our little boy who had this huge change in his young life: nurses and needles – that’s a picture we will never forget. But we can promise you this: in the midst of those overwhelming emotions, your parental instinct to protect your child immediately kicks in and your mind opens up so much to take in all that you need to. There is an urgency to get on top of the changes and adapt as quickly as possible.

Has it become any easier with time?

It has, it really has. You know that old saying that time is a healer? We believe time is a teacher. Diabetes is now second nature and so much a part of life. Having other family members also educated about Type 1 diabetes has made it easier as well because they can also test and inject when necessary.

When did Noah start pre-school?

Noah actually started pre-school the January before he was diagnosed with Type 1. When the pre-school was informed about him being diagnosed, the principal and his class teacher were at the hospital and were really supportive about this change in his life. What really impacted our lives positively was that they were prepared to learn and take part in this process too.

Could you tell us about the school application process?

At Noah’s first pre-school in 2012, he was already enrolled ahead of being diagnosed. We then made a home move and Noah needed to move pre-schools too. The school we enquired at for enrolment was amazing. Applying for Grade R was a little bit different and more involved. They had never had an application that included full disclosure of the child having Type 1 diabetes. We had a few meetings with the Executive Head and we pressed on for the understanding that we (the school and parents) could put a fair process in place that would protect both the child and the school without discarding school laws.

We needed to be a voice for Noah, for other diabetic children to follow and especially for the parents of diabetic children who go through this worry and want to enroll their precious children at the schools of their choice. The Executive Head and Regional Head of Noah’s grade school were true blessings because they agreed to put the suggested process in place and were on board to becoming the forward thinking, proactive and progressive school that they are. A beautiful school/parent relationship exists now.

What advice would you offer to other parents about diabetes education in schools?

The education is ongoing. It is never a once-off. Urge the school to have more teacher / parent sessions to talk openly about Type 1 diabetes. Whether your medical support is private or public, involve the nurse, the pediatrician, or the professor looking after your child. There is a big need, a big want and a big drive for education in this area. Minds need to be changed about diabetes and its management within the school system.

What makes your life sweet?

For Noah, having control of the DSTV remote and the Smart Tab and for us, his parents, seeing him so confident and secure even though he lives with diabetes.

Photos taken at Noah’s current school, Curro Century City.

Lessons learnt from a diabetic pregnancy

Sweet Life editor and Type 1 diabetic Bridget McNulty shares her pregnancy story – and what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.

How long have you been diabetic?

I was diagnosed in October 2007… It was a very dramatic diagnosis: I was admitted to ICU for five days and was apparently only three days away from a diabetic coma because my blood sugar was so high.

Did you have to prepare to fall pregnant?

I told my endocrinologist ahead of time that my husband Mark and I were thinking of having a baby, and he gave me the go-ahead because my blood sugar was already well-controlled: my HbA1c results were 7.0 and below for the year before I fell pregnant. I also mentally prepared for the pregnancy, because I knew it would require a lot of discipline and that my diabetes would become even more of a full-time job than it already was!

How did having diabetes affect your pregnancy?

I had to be in extremely tight control throughout – HbA1c results of 6 and below (which I didn’t think was possible before I fell pregnant!) and blood glucose results of 7.8mmol/l or below an hour after eating… Where possible. I also had to test even more frequently than usual (up to 8 times a day). I had HbA1c tests every month and saw my endocrinologist every month, and I couldn’t indulge in pregnancy cravings like eating a whole tub of ice-cream! I had to be very strict with my diet. But it’s amazing how much easier it is to do when your motivation is the health of your baby.

How was the birth experience?

As smooth as I could have hoped for. I chose to have an elective C-section: it was either that or an induction, as all babies born to diabetic moms have to be born at 38 weeks. In the week before the birth my blood pressure started creeping up, and I was retaining a lot of water. Because diabetics are at greater risk of pre-eclampsia, my gynecologist decided to bring the birth forward two days, from the Monday to the Saturday. It was hugely exciting, and hugely nerve-wracking. Arthur, my baby boy, was born totally healthy and weighed in at a (very) healthy 4.5kg. We fell in love with him instantly.

What was it like having a young baby, with diabetes?

It was a real challenge in the early days. Breastfeeding plays havoc with blood sugar control, and causes really persistent lows. Sleep deprivation is tough to deal with, and it’s so overwhelming having a new baby and trying to learn how to be a parent that my diabetes kind of took a back seat for a while. I remembered to inject and test, but that was about it.

What do you think the biggest challenge of a diabetic pregnancy is?

Although 9 months doesn’t seem like that long at first, it feels like a really long time to be non-stop super-disciplined.

What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?

You will feel so much better if you get your blood sugar under control. It is so worth it in terms of health and energy and general happiness to do what it takes to get good control. I know how hard it can be, but the reward is a healthy, happy life with diabetes – and that’s about as good as it gets.

What makes your life sweet?

My two sweet children, my wonderful husband, my awesome family and friends and the sweet life I’m living!

 

Get in touch with Bridget: @sweet_life_mag on Twitter or hello@sweetlifemag.co.za

Climbing Kilimanjaro – with diabetes

It’s the highest mountain in Africa, but that didn’t stop Neil Rae – a Type 1 diabetic for 50 years – from wanting to climb it. We chat to Neil, 63, about his preparation, the climb itself, and life with diabetes.

How long have you been diabetic?

I was diagnosed on the 13th December 1964: over 50 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes for diabetics in my time – there’s a lot more we can eat, the technology to monitor blood sugar levels is a lot more advanced and the insulin pen sets are much more convenient. We’ve come a long way since the gas cylinder with a tin cup that I used to sterilise my glass syringes when I was at university!

What made you decide to climb Kilimanjaro?

I grew up in Lesotho and I’ve always had a love for mountains. I don’t know how many decades ago, I said to myself I wanted to set a goal for my diabetes: to climb Kilimanjaro when I’d lived with it for 50 years. About 18 months ago I contacted Novo Nordisk, the people who manufacture my insulin, to ask if they’d like to partner with me. They were very excited to join the challenge. As you can see it’s been a long-term goal of mine…

What did you do to prepare?

I’ve always been a relatively fit person, and I do a lot of walking with my wife Shaye, in and around the streets of Johannesburg and in the Drakensberg. I was walking between 30 and 40km a week and over weekends doing long walks in Westcliff – they have a flight of 222 stairs built into the rock face, and with a heavy rucksack on your back it’s good training! I did the climb with my doctor, Dr Bruce Ilsely and David Broomfield from Novo Nordisk so as a team we were well prepared.

How did you know what to eat and drink while climbing, and how to balance your blood sugar?

Balancing blood sugar was obviously going to be a challenge – spending between 7 and 8 hours a day climbing up and up and up all the time. It was tricky to balance that amount of exercise with the food supplied by the people who organised the walk – we didn’t take any food with us. Normally my sugar is very well controlled, so the plan was to do very regular checks of my blood sugar levels, see what we were going to be given to eat and then decide how much insulin to take. It turned out that I didn’t eat very much – I became nauseous quite early on, once we were over 3500m.

What was the hardest part of the climb?

The hardest part for me were the ascents and descents because you had to climb up mountains and then down into valleys, and there was a lot of very rocky pathways – walking from rock to rock. Some days we went up and down two or three times in a day. We left Moshi on the Monday and we summited on the Thursday night/Friday morning. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the summit – I got up to about 5000m and my altitude sickness was so bad that Dr Bruce said to me, “If you carry on, you’re going to die”. Once I got back down to the base camp at 4600m, then I was fine: it wasn’t diabetes related at all.

What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?

In my opinion, every diabetic who’s struggling has got to develop a lifestyle routine: get up in the morning, check your blood sugar, decide how much insulin you need and what you’re going to eat for the day. You have to have a definite lifestyle routine, and stick to it every day. Discipline is so important to a diabetic. If you don’t have the routine and don’t have the discipline, you’re not going to live with it for 50 years!

What makes your life sweet?

I’m very fortunate: I’m married to a lovely lady and I have two daughters and four grandchildren now. My family, my life and everything in it makes my life very sweet.

Spreading the word about diabetes

Neville Pillay is one of Durban’s favourite DJs and comedians… Who just happens to be a Type 2 diabetic. We speak to him about keeping up with the Morning Rush on Lotus FM, with diabetes.

How long have you been diabetic?

I was diagnosed well over 12 years ago, when I was 28 years old. But I remember my doctor telling me at 24 that I was at higher risk for diabetes because of my family history, and that I should change my diet… If only I had listened then!

Was your diagnosis a surprise?

To be perfectly honest, I knew all the symptoms – frequent urination, constant thirst, itchy skin, the sweats – but I chose to ignore them. By the time I was diagnosed I wasn’t surprised at all.

Are any of your family members diabetic?

My dad was and my mom is – she’s a Type 1 diabetic. You would think that would have made me more aware of diabetes, but the way we were brought up, we were ignorant about it – it was just something that my mom had. Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, is also a very different condition to Type 1.

Do you ever talk about diabetes on air?

Absolutely: every chance I get to relate my story, I do. Many of my listeners on Lotus FM are affected by diabetes in one way or another, so it helps to be able to share our stories.

Do you ever tell jokes about diabetes in your comedy shows?

Oh yes, for sure. My comedy is based on my life, so of course I do! For example, I’ve got a lot of friends whose dads have passed away and left them things: cars and houses, even a Jaguar – all kinds of things. What did my dad leave me? Diabetes. I also like pointing out the irony of the fact that Indians came to South Africa as indentured labourers to cut sugar cane… And what disease do we all get? The sugars! Diabetes.

How do you balance a busy lifestyle with eating right and exercise?

It’s so difficult to do, so difficult. I’m not a pro at it and yes, I lapse every now and then. But for the most part I’m on point with eating well, staying away from sugary drinks and sweets and taking my medication. I’ve been a DJ since 1997 and I love it, but if you want any kind of stability or comfort zone, radio isn’t it. Every day is different and the landscape is constantly changing. So that’s an added challenge.

What do you think the biggest challenge of living with diabetes is?

To constantly monitor your blood sugar and make the right choices. The difficulty is in making those daily healthy choices, even when you’re around other people who can eat anything they like. That said, I know that there are terrible side effects, so it’s well worth making the effort. I was diabetic for a long time before I was diagnosed, and I know there have been some debilitating effects on my body, so I’m very careful to take good care now.

What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?

Make one small change at a time and eventually you will have changed your lifestyle to effectively manage your condition.

What makes your life sweet

My girls, Jordan and Skylar, and my job. I love to entertain and it drives me daily.

Get in touch with Neville: @topdan on Twitter or Neville Pillay on Facebook.

Keeping diabetics inspired

We chatted to community inspiration Veronica Vember about how she changes lives, one step at a time.

What got you interested in diabetes at first?

It all started whilst working in the vascular unit at Kingsbury Hospital. I realised that most people are not informed about managing diabetes after being diagnosed. So I became passionate in the control of potential complications, and Kingsbury management identified my passion and allowed me to do the vascular course in London as it’s not offered here. On my return, I did two presentations at the doctors academic meetings. At the time my husband had a myocardial infarction and had been diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes. The entire experience stimulated me to get involved with my community. Now my husband is one of the volunteers. I then started doing motivational talks at schools, groups, on radio and at our nursing college.

How did you start your community group?

I joined the Strandfontein Health Forum and offered to do the diabetes awareness events as there was no project as such. With the awareness held at the Strandfontein Clinic I handed out questionnaires and a suggestion box. The community asked for a diabetic support group: that’s what started it.

What keeps you inspired?

The positive attitude and enthusiasm of the volunteers, and noticing the excitement of the attendees. When we take a break, people want to know when we’ll be starting again. The continuous support of ‘diabetes life’ (a diabetic clinic at Kingsbury hospital) under the management of endocrinologist Dr May, Dr Tracy van Rensburg and nurse educator Sr. Dee Ferguson (my mentor). Positive feedback from the doctors at the day hospitals where the clients attend also keeps me going.

You were voted one of the Western Cape’s Lead SA heroes – how did this make you feel?

Surprised, shocked, emotional, confused and thankful towards the responsible person for the recognition. I’m very proud of the team of dedicated volunteer attendees as I can’t do this alone. It’s a team effort – unity is strength.

What advice do you offer your support group members when they are struggling?

To persevere, not to give up, not to give in, to be compliant, to attend the support group regularly. We do individual counselling and have a communication box available for constructive comments and replies.

How do you make diabetes inspiring?

We create a harmonious atmosphere: a safe environment with easy accessibility, clean, functional equipment and competent staff. We vary programs, presentations, literature, topics and menus (soup in winter and tea and a snack in summer). We also combine our decision making with the volunteers.

What makes your life sweet?

Carrying out our mission, vision and outcome.

S – be sensitive towards all

W – warn people about the consequences of not being compliant

E – educate people regarding a healthy lifestyle and change of mindset

E – be empathetic and empower people with knowledge

T – to be trained, to train others

Outcome:

To ensure that all community members are well informed, and reach and maintain normal glucose levels.

Get in touch with Veronica: Strandfontein Diabetic Support Group on Facebook

Ice skating with diabetes

Of all the sports a diabetic could choose, ice skating – with its precision, edge of danger and need to be feeling 100% every time you take to the ice – isn’t the most obvious. But that didn’t stop KZN champ Rachel Lombard from competing.

Who did you skate for?

I was part of the Toti Seals Synchro Team, and we represented KwaZulu/Natal twice a year in the inter-provincial competitions, as well as the KZN championships.

How long have you been diabetic?

I was diagnosed about 10 years ago, when I was 7 years old. It was pretty traumatic, I was scared that I was dying because I was misdiagnosed – they thought it was cancer. It was a huge shock for my mom, but I just remember feeling relieved it was only diabetes and it wasn’t anything worse.

Is it difficult to compete when you have to worry about blood sugar levels on top of everything else?

I have an insulin pump, so that helps, but I still have to be very careful. I make sure my blood sugar is fine an hour or two before we’re due to go on the ice, because my pump is under my tights and my costume and it’s difficult to get to if I need to adjust my levels. I also test just before I go on the ice, because the adrenalin can do funny things to my blood sugar. And I make sure I always have fast-acting sugar on hand in case I go low.

What do you love about ice skating?

I love it mainly because it’s different, and because there’s a real community – especially with my team and the coach. I skate four times a week, so it’s also really good exercise.

What do you think the biggest challenge of living with diabetes is?

The testing – having to test all the time. And how you can never predict what your blood sugar is going to do: you’ll eat something and know how much insulin to take, and it works… And then the next time you eat exactly the same thing and take the same amount of insulin and it doesn’t work, for some reason.

What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?

Get support: that’s the one thing you need, you can’t do it alone. Also be aware that parents go through the highs and lows of diabetes just as much – my mom does so much for me, I don’t know what I’d do without her.

What makes your life sweet?

Just my friends and family around me, helping me through any situation and offering support if I need it. That’s what makes my life sweet.

Get in touch with Rachel: ray.durban@gmail.com  

Diabetes in the community

We ask Dr. Tracey Naledi, the Chief Director of Health Programmes for the Western Cape Department of Health, to share her personal health tips and what the Department of Health has to offer diabetics who want to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.

What does the Department of Health offer those with diabetes?

We focus a lot on prevention: diabetes prevention is so important. People need to be aware of the risk factors that lead to diabetes before we even start talking about the condition, so we highlight the dangers of a poor diet and being overweight, lack of physical activity, drinking too much and smoking. But this isn’t only the role of the Department of Health – it’s also important for individuals to understand what the risk factors are and to prevent them from happening in the first place.

We also screen people so that we can pick up those with early signs of diabetes, and provide proper diagnosis and treatment. If a doctor suspects you might be diabetic, it kicks in a whole process within our health facilities. But we also proactively do campaigns in community-based settings like malls, where we go out and invite people to test for hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and HIV, and give them information on these conditions.

Do you believe community is important when living with a chronic condition?

Absolutely – I think community is important when you’re dealing with anything that government does. Government is something that works for the people: it is put there by the people to do things on behalf of the people, but at all times we need to be consulting with the people to be sure the things we’re coming up with are what they want. We have to make sure the way we’re doing things is what the community needs. That’s why we have processes to consult with community members, health facility boards and health committees, so that any problems can be discussed. Being close to the community is very important to us.

Why is diabetes a priority in South Africa?

Chronic diseases in general are a priority, because they affect so many people and are such a huge burden of disease. You also can’t just pop a pill for a chronic condition to go away: you need to treat it for the rest of your life. We have to make sure we have the capacity to deal with all these chronic diseases for a very long time. It’s a long term, lifelong thing. And the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes are actually quite serious.

What makes your life sweet?

God and my family. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the most important thing to me is my family. My work one day will end, all the money in the world will disappear, all the material things will be gone, but there’s nothing I love more than coming home.

Using laughter as medicine

You would never guess that Trevor Davids, a business consultant, film and TV producer and biker filled with the joys of life, has Type 2 diabetes. That’s because he’s managed to take diabetes in his stride.

When did you find out you were diabetic?

Six years ago, in November 2010. I had all the usual symptoms – constantly thirsty, needing to urinate a lot – and I looked them up on the internet. Up came: diabetes. I read up on the condition before going to the doctor, and then announced, “I have diabetes.” We took the necessary tests and my blood sugar was really high (18mmol/l), so I was put onto insulin tablets immediately. Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, I’m not overweight and I do a lot of exercise, so I’m not a typical Type 2 case. I do have high blood pressure that runs in the family. When I was diagnosed with diabetes I had already given up alcohol ten years before, but I was smoking 40 cigarettes a day, so I had to give that up too. After 31 years of smoking, I quit on the first try. Once I make up my mind about something, there’s not much that can move me.

How has diabetes changed your daily life?

I’m a lot more conscious of my eating patterns now. I never used to eat breakfast – I’d grab something on the run, snack in the afternoon, and then eat a big plate of food in the evening. I had to learn to be less flexible about food. Eat a regimented breakfast, lunch and dinner, look at my intakes and learn about low GI. I couldn’t have done it without my family – my wife Norma and son Danté have been the most amazing support.

How do you manage to focus on the lighter side of living with a chronic condition?

I never focussed on the darker side of diabetes! I’m a very positive person, I like being focussed on doing something well. In challenging times, I just take it in my stride and deal with life’s knocks as they come.

Is there anything diabetes has stopped you from doing?

No. Only smoking! I’ve actually been able to take on more daily life challenges since being diagnosed, because I restructured and reorganised my life, so I now have more time.

What advice would you offer to other diabetics?

If you’ve just been diagnosed, don’t worry – it’s not as daunting as you think. It can become a lifestyle condition, you just need to adapt your lifestyle. Diabetes is part of who you are now, and denying it doesn’t make it go away.

What makes your life sweet?

Life itself! And my family, of course. And laughter: the ability to laugh and create a laugh. I believe that people can live a long time if they can learn to laugh in the face of adversity. I like to use laughter as part of my medication.

Making diabetes delicious

It might seem as though being a restaurant chef would be too tempting a job for a Type 1 diabetic, but 30-year-old Vanessa Marx has made an art out of making healthy food delicious – and accessible.

When did you find out you were diabetic?

I was about sixteen and in high school – seriously bad timing! I had all the usual symptoms. I was drinking about four litres of water a day and falling asleep during class because I was so exhausted. My mom eventually suspected diabetes and I had to be hospitalised. It was a traumatic experience. I’ve always loved food, and I remember lying in my hospital bed naming all the foods I could never eat again… It was a long list!

How has diabetes changed your daily life?

That’s a hard question, because it’s so much a part of my daily life. It can be difficult, sometimes, explaining to people who don’t have diabetes how you’re feeling. If I wake up with low blood sugar, for example, I’m exhausted before the day begins. People understand a throat infection, but they often don’t understand what waking up low feels like. As a head chef, I need to be alert every day, taking charge of the kitchen. There’s no room in a busy kitchen for feeling tired or unwell because of high blood sugar or needing time out to have something sweet because of low blood sugar.

Isn’t it difficult to be around food all day? How do you resist sweet treats?

It is quite tricky! Often just the act of making sweet treats for someone else satisfies the urge for me but other times I’m pretty tempted: what puts me off is that I know how I’ll feel later. I do believe in “everything in moderation”, so I allow myself a treat now and then. As long as it’s a once-off, and I’m not doing it every five minutes!

What advice would you offer to other diabetics?

Be disciplined! Pay attention to your diet: what you eat plays a huge role in how you feel. Also don’t feel like you’re on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help – talk about your diabetes, and explain to those around you what it feels like. There’s still a stigma around diabetes, that it’s only people with weight problems who are diabetic. But the only way we’re going to change that is by talking about it.

What makes your life sweet?

My family and friends, and my work.

Get in touch with Vanessa: @vanessajaynem on Twitter and Instagram

A happy life with diabetes

If you met Shiara Pillay, a happy, healthy and confident 21-year-old who loves Art and is studying International Relations and Diplomacy, you wouldn’t guess that she had a chronic condition. But Shiara is a Type 1 diabetic. She just doesn’t let it get her down.

When did you find out you were diabetic?

When I was in Grade 4 and just about to turn 10. It wasn’t too horrible a diagnosis in comparison to some – my parents noticed that I was losing an extreme amount of weight, I was very dehydrated and waking up in the night to pee – all the classic symptoms.

Then one morning I threw up and they took me to the doctor. I was in hospital for a week and since then I’ve figured out how to live as normal a life as possible with diabetes. The hardest thing to get used to was not being able to eat sweets!

How has diabetes changed your daily life?

I think I’m obviously way more healthy than I would have been because I have to watch what I eat. I have a great diabetes team, and they’ve helped me to adjust my medication and my meals whenever I need to. I like the idea of being able to eat everything in moderation.

How does it help to have a community of fellow diabetics?

It helps to know that there are others in the same situation, it reminds you that you’re not alone. Youth With Diabetes really helped me to meet other people who have to think about the same things every day. I also think diabetes education is so important – new diabetics especially need to know what helps and what doesn’t, what you can eat, how you should exercise, how you feel when you’re low or high. It’s nice for me to share my experiences too. I do have bad days, it’s annoying to have to inject every day, but it’s just something you have to make the best of.

What advice would you offer to other diabetics?

Just do it – you can’t get out of it. If you look after yourself, it’ll be better for you in the long run, it’s for your benefit. And it makes you healthier too!

What makes your life sweet?

Just being happy – when things are going well and the sun is shining!

Get in touch with Shiara: shiaraismyname@gmail.com or join the YWD Facebook page: www.facebook.com/YouthWithDiabetes

 

Extreme sport and diabetes

Richard English has Type 1 diabetes – but that hasn’t stopped him from embarking on all kinds of adventures, including a seven day, 1000km cycle across England and Scotland. We ask him for his secrets to a healthy life with diabetes.

When did you find out you were diabetic?

Eight years ago, when I was 25. I had been feeling incredibly under the weather and stressed, but I blamed work and too much partying – I just thought I was run down. Then I started getting all the symptoms: extreme thirst, dramatic weight loss, drinking 2 litres of water a night and needing to pee every hour.

How has diabetes changed your daily life?

Obviously I have to inject insulin before I eat anything, and I test my blood sugar more or less before every meal. Exercise is also more of a need than a want – I always used to exercise, but now I can see the effect on my blood sugar results, immediately. That’s very motivating.

I went cold turkey on a lot of things when I was diagnosed, and I haven’t kept any bad habits. I’m 20kg lighter than I used to be, and I don’t over-indulge any more. I suppose, in my case, diabetes could be seen as a positive thing. I wasn’t living a healthy life before I was diagnosed, and I have a better quality of life now.

I don’t think I could have adapted so well to life with diabetes if it weren’t for my wife, Casey. She never left my side, and all the dietary changes I adopted she did too. She also helped a lot in the early stages, when there was just too much information for me to absorb. She got behind the science of it and now knows more about low GI and its effect on blood sugar than I do!

Have you always been a cyclist?

I got my first bike when I was 5 years old, and I’ve almost always had a bike. Cycling is a big part of my life, and I really love it. I stopped exercising for about 6 months after my diagnosis, because I was uncertain about what it would do to my blood sugar, and every so often I have to cut a ride short because I’m going low. But most of the time diabetes doesn’t get in the way of my cycling at all.

Can you tell us about the Ubunye Challenge?

The Ubunye Challenge is a triathlon event organised by an old Rhodes friend of mine, Cameron Bellamy in 2012. He decided to raise funds for the Angus Gillis Foundation by doing an extreme cycle, swim and rowing challenge. I joined him for the cycle – I rode for seven consecutive days and covered 1000km through howling gales, rain, sleet and snow. It was in April, which was supposed to be spring, but it was shockingly cold. By the third day, we outran the weather and I saw my shadow for the first time. That was a good moment! 1000km seems like an unbelievable distance, but if you do it in 120km chunks it’s not that bad.

What advice would you offer to other diabetics?

To me, the most important thing is that you have to stay positive and optimistic, because diabetes is not going to go away. As soon as you can smile at it and look it in the eye, you’re on your way to living a happy life with diabetes. The sooner you can get positive about it, the better.

What makes your life sweet?

My wife Casey, my wonderful son Robbie, weekends with friends, good food, my bike, and exploring my new home city of London.

Get in touch with Richard: molorich@gmail.com

The challenge of gestational diabetes

Celeste Smith is no stranger to gestational diabetes: she’s had it twice, including during her pregnancy with now-five-year-old twins Connor and Adam. We find out what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.

Is there a reason you’re so happy to share this very personal story?

I want to educate, encourage and motivate women with gestational diabetes, and prevent other women from having to go through what I and many others had to endure.

How did you find out you had gestational diabetes?

My first pregnancy was stillborn: Noah was born at 38 weeks. I didn’t know I had gestational diabetes until after Noah was born. We suspected with my family having diabetes that I could get it, but my doctor at the time never picked it up. When I wanted to fall pregnant again, my new doctor Dr Jansen immediately tested for glucose tolerance before I fell pregnant, and then again after I fell pregnant. That’s how we found out I had gestational diabetes again.

What were your symptoms?

What’s tricky about gestational diabetes is that it goes from nothing to full-blown diabetes very quickly. It’s only when you’re pregnant, so there’s no warning beforehand. The symptoms I had were swollen hands and feet, bad circulation, pins and needles in the hands, and constant thirst – I was drinking a lot of water.

Does diabetes run in the family?

Yes – my late mother had Type 2 diabetes, and three of my sisters and my brother have diabetes (half of my eight siblings, in fact!) None of my family recognised my symptoms, but none of us were looking for them: you put your faith in the doctor, that’s what doctors are there for.

What did you do to manage your gestational diabetes?

During my pregnancy with the twins, I was put on Metformin and later insulin. I also had to have monthly HbA1c tests and test my blood sugar seven times a day: when I woke up, before each meal, after each meal and before I went to bed. My fingers had so many holes in them; I didn’t know where to prick myself! I went to a dietician, which was helpful, we discussed good eating habits and made a lot of changes – we started eating more steamed foods and not so much starch (like potatoes, bread and pasta). And I started exercising. My diabetes doctor, Dr Dave, told me I had to exercise every day, even when I was tired after working all day.

What advice would you offer to women with gestational diabetes?

Listen to your doctors, stick to your eating plan and exercise a little bit every day. Stay focused: this is for the health of your babies. It helps that you just have to stay focused for nine months, and then the reward at the end is breathtaking. My boys were big for twins (2.8kg/each at 35 weeks) and healthy. I’ll never forget how relieved I was to hear both babies crying in the delivery room. They were both crying at the same time, and the doctor said: “Wow, they sound like a choir!”

What makes your life sweet?

I could say sunsets and sunrises, I could say my religion or even cupcakes and chocolates. But my husband and three boys are the light of my life, and sharing everything with them makes my life so sweet.

Finding flavour in diabetes-friendly food

We chat to Ishay Govender, acclaimed foodie writer, about her love of cooking and how to make Indian food just as tasty – but a little healthier.

You have a family history of diabetes – have you been tested yourself?

I get my blood sugar and cholesterol tested once a year – every year. Because I’m aware that Type 2 diabetes is often a hereditary condition, I’m very conscious of my health and how food contributes to my wellbeing. In traditional homes there’s an emphasis on food and family as a way of expressing love, and I know I’ve inherited that from my mother and grandmother – sharing food with people is my way of expressing that love.

Have you made any changes to your diet because you know Type 2 diabetes runs in the family?

I’ve learnt to alter things slightly so that they’re healthier but still have lots of flavour. When we first found out that my mom was diabetic I did a lot of research, and made sure she went to a dietician and found out specifics of how to change her cooking style. That said, we grew up in a very healthy household so the changes weren’t too difficult.

What advice would you offer to people who are struggling to eat a healthy diet?

I think the most important thing is to accept and make peace with the fact that you have diabetes – it doesn’t make sense to fight it. Also, food should never be about restriction, it’s about enjoyment. Change the spotlight from focusing on what you can’t have to what you can enjoy. It’s a great time to explore flavours, textures and a sense of fun in the kitchen.

Have you learnt any ‘tricks’ to make traditional Indian food a little healthier?

A few! Here are the main ones:

  • Cook with less oil – it is possible, especially if you use olive oil cooking spray.
  • Don’t eat double starch (i.e. rice and potato curry, or curry and roti)
  • Cook vegetables for a shorter period of time so that they keep some of their goodness – things like okra and butternut don’t have to be cooked to mush.
  • Rethink vegetables – they don’t only have to be pickled or curried, they can be fresh with interesting dressings. I try to include half a salad in a meal, with a yoghurt dressing (plain low fat yoghurt with toasted cumin seeds, mint and lemon zest – delicious!)
  • I only use baby potatoes with their skins on – they’re low GI and the skin has fibre.
  • Brown rice is so much healthier than white rice – it’s full of fibre and has a lovely nutty flavour. You also need less rice because it fills you up more.
  • Spices and herbs are a diabetic’s best friends! They add such flavour and zest, and you can experiment with different combinations to make a dish more interesting.

What makes your life sweet?
The pleasure of enjoying food and food travel with my husband. Cotton pyjamas and fresh linen. The knowledge that even someone with a ‘soft’ voice like mine, can make a difference using it.

Get in touch with Ishay: @IshayGovender on Twitter / Instagram / Vin

Agents for Change

We chat to Buyelwa Majikela-Dlangamandla, a diabetes educator who trains local healthcare workers in a programme called Agents for Change, about diabetes in the workplace.

Can you tell us about Agents for Change?

Agents for Change is a diabetes training outreach programme, supported by the World Diabetes Foundation, that aims to improve diabetes care in rural and semi-urban areas of South Africa. The goal is to empower healthcare providers and people living with diabetes to manage their diabetes to prevent diabetes-related complications.

The first part is two days of intensive and interactive training that provides participants with a sound knowledge of diabetes. Practical skills in preventing and managing lifestyle conditions are demonstrated, like how to prepare affordable healthy food. Participants set their own goals of what they wish to change in their lifestyle habits and workplace.

Six months later, the same participants come back for the second phase where they share their experiences, successes and challenges in carrying out their planned changes. We focus on behaviour counselling and the stages of change. People with diabetes are invited and they volunteer to share their real life experiences to be discussed as case studies for learning. Agents for Change has trained more than 1,500 healthcare workers and reached thousands of South Africans since 2008.

How are you involved?

I run the workshops with Noy Pullen, the project manager.

How did you become interested in diabetes?

My father had diabetes and so did all of his siblings, so there’s a family connection. I have also been working as a diabetes educator since 1995 at Groote Schuur Hospital and am currently working as a clinical educator at the University of Cape Town.

What is the most important message you share in your training?

Three things:

  1. Choosing a healthy lifestyle can prevent and/or delay the onset of diabetes.
  2. People living with diabetes can enjoy a healthy, normal life.
  3. A positive attitude leads to a meaningful life.

What is the most surprising lesson for the participants?

That the effect of physical activity on blood sugar levels is similar to that of blood glucose lowering medicines and insulin.

Once they have finished their training, what happens?

They are encouraged to start support groups and vegetable gardens. Those groups are called “Khula Groups”. They get continued support from the project – reading material and gifts – and they are always linked to the project manager on SMS or email.

How many people has Agents for Change helped?

Agents for Change has trained more than 1,500 healthcare workers and through them reached thousands of South Africans since 2008.

What advice would you offer to people living with diabetes who are struggling?

I can never fully understand how diabetes affects people who live with it, so it wouldn’t be right for me to offer advice. Because diabetes affects people differently, the approach should be personalised. However, I do notice that those who have accepted diabetes as part of their lives and taken charge of their own health find it easier.

What makes your life sweet?

Living in the moment, love and smiles from people around me.

Get in touch with Buyelwa: buyelwa.majikela-dlangamandla@uct.ac.za or find out more about Agents for Change at www.worlddiabetesfoundation.org: Projects.