Inspiring Stories

Thriving after a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis

inspiring diabetes storyMeet Michael Marnewick, a Type 1 diabetic and active member of the Diabetic South Africans community. Michael has an inspiring take on living with diabetes, and shares some of his advice here. He’s also the author of a new book: “Coach: The life and soccer times of Clive Barker.”

Although diabetes has the potential to be life threatening if not managed well, it also has the potential to create better awareness about our bodies and our health. I accept that I have a condition but I do (almost) everything I can to live a life free from fear. But ultimately a combination of diet (first and foremost), regular physical activity, a wonderful endocrinologist and my awesome diabetic nurse (Fiona Prins), the fear of the consequences of not managing it properly and the willpower to follow a lifestyle that works for me is what keeps me positive.”

What was your diabetes diagnosis like?

I was quite unaware of my so-called ill-health when I went for a routine test and my blood sugar was in the mid-teens. I put it down to the coke and chocolate I had enjoyed earlier. The frequent night visits to the loo were explained away with advancing age (early 40s). In short, I was in complete denial.

Do you know many other people with diabetes?

I don’t know many, but my brother was diagnosed Type 1 diabetic some years ago following a massive trauma (shrapnel through the brain while on active service duty for the SADF in 1986). So, while there might be a genetic link, both of us had trauma that may have had a hand in this. For me, it was a sedentary lifestyle, bad eating habits and the stress of divorce that led to the diagnosis in 2012 – six years ago.

When (and why) did you change your diet?

When I posted something on Facebook about it, my GP called me up and suggested I look into the low carb, high fat lifestyle. I don’t call it a diet, because it isn’t a short-term intervention. So I’ve been living the low carb lifestyle for about six years. Initially I lost about 8kgs and dropped to a low of 55kgs (I am 1.7m tall). A year ago I went for a health check and with persistently high and uncontrolled BG ranging from 6 – 18 (and a high of 27), was hospitalised. My initial diagnosis in 2012 proved to be incorrect, I was not Type II but Type 1 (Actually, Type 1.5 – LADA which is Latent autoimmune diabetes of adults). My endocrinologist gave me the diagnosis and since working with her and my diabetic nurse, my HBA1C has improved every four months since then.

Could you tell us a typical day’s food?

Typically I wake up at 5am for work and eat breakfast at 9am. Generally I’ll eat some bacon, two eggs, half an avo, cream cheese or other cheese, and some leftover cheesy roasted veg. Lunch is a smoothie at about 2pm. Double cream Greek yoghurt with added cream, chia seeds (soaked in water first), frozen strawberries, almond nut butter, cinnaon and ice. Dinner at about 6.30pm will be roast / pork rashers / chicken dish / curry / zoodles (zuccini noodles or konjac root noodles) with a creamy sauce and bacon or salami / generally with veg. If I eat out, it will be mostly chicken with veg or salad.

What exercise do you do?

I do a lot of physical exercise – when time affords. Some parkrun or else a jog, mountain biking action cricket in season, swimming, badminton, tennis, gym. I am also outside and on my feet most days, often 12-18 000 steps worth.

How is your health?

My health, despite the diabetes, is probably the best since I was an active teenager. I eat zero sugar, I exercise 3-5 times a week, and I am rarely sick with colds, etc. My TomTom sports watch gives my physical age as 25 (I am currently 49).

What advice do you have for diabetics who are struggling?

My advice is to find a reason to stay healthy. I live an active lifetsyle that I want to continue. I want to walk my daughters down the aisle one day, not from a wheel-chair. My brother has no control because he is in denial and has ended up in comas and in hospital numerous times. My inspiration is not to be like him.

What makes your life sweet?

I try to avoid sweet things as much as possible – as far as substitutes go. Sugar addiction (and it was), is what I believe made me diabetic. But I feel like diabetes has given me a new lease on life. I want to be setting sporting world records in my 80s and I feel strongly that I am in the kind of good health now that will realise that.

Any final advice?

We are all led to believe that the food pyramid is the bible on nutrition when vast numbers of studies are proving the opposite. We’re told to eat carbs for energy, when fat is a much denser fuel but isn’t stored as fat in the cells like glucose is. We’re told to “Eat “healthy” things like fruits, but when fruit juice contains more sugar than coke, something is very wrong. I’ve read the testemonies of sick people who no longer suffer from PCOS, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and they’re winning the war on obesity.

Hippocrates wrote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – how true!

A community of diabetics who understand diabetes

Earlier today, a mom messaged me on our diabetes community Facebook page, Diabetic South Africans, to say that she desperately needed strips for her Type 1 diabetic son. Their local clinic had run out and they didn’t have money to buy strips, and she didn’t know where else to turn.

I put the request out on our page to see if anyone living near her could help.

facebook diabetes communityWithin 15 minutes, someone in her town had offered extra strips, and someone in nearby Joburg had offered to courier her spare strips and a spare meter. A few minutes later, someone else had offered more strips and insulin if necessary, and someone else had offered to buy a month’s supply of strips.

I actually feel quite emotional about it – I am in awe at people’s generosity.

And this couldn’t have happened anywhere else, because only fellow diabetics would understand the panic of not having test strips and not being able to test your blood sugar, and not knowing when you would get strips. It’s the absolute worst feeling, and now this boy doesn’t have it because of the Diabetic South Africans community.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. And if you haven’t joined us yet, please do.

An honest take on Type 1 diabetes

I’d like to introduce a new contributor to Sweet Life: one of my favourite Instagram feeds, Tracy Sanders. Also known as @type1tracy. Tracy has Type 1 diabetes, but that doesn’t stop her from doing anything in life… Check out what she has to say, below, on a solo trip to Italy.

type 1 diabetes tracy

H O N E S T Y 💭H O U R: Firstly, I just want to say whatever you want to do, whatever you dream of, or whatever adventure you seek. You can do it. With diabetes. Without diabetes.


Secondly, this isn’t an inspirational “Diabetes can’t stop you from living your dreams” message, let’s be potently honest, it sure as hell can. If you choose to passively sweep through this life ignoring diabetes, your body, it’s messages, type one will create walls and obstacles.


You have to be practical💪. You have to take charge💥. You have to apply yourself and take responsibility. Take on responsibility WITHOUT resentment. 🙏Without wishing otherwise, “I wish I didn’t have diabetes, I wish I could be lucky like my friends who don’t have to inject”. It is important to acknowledge these thoughts💭, be intensely curious about them and their origins, and let them go.

Taking responsibility does not mean aiming for perfection (it does not exist). It’s about refusing to let numbers define you🚫, putting effort 💪🏼into working FOR your numbers and looking after your mental health too: patience, self-love and kindness, forgiveness, gratitude.

Being alone in Italy, it dawned on me the kind of responsibility that I was carrying with me.🙈 If I had a low, the only person I could rely on was myself.

The thoughts of mid-sleep hypoglycemia developing into seizures did creep into my mind. 🤔I have never had such before, but this does not mean it’s not possible. It just means I better make 100% sure it doesn’t happen as there will be no one to run into my room to help me. Careful bolusing, dinner well before I sleep, glucose sweets🍬 always on hand & at my bedside. Small practicalities that make all the difference. But I had gelato🍦, I had pasta🍝, I skipped dinner, and ate until my tummy was bursting😂 I had some nasty BGs and a lot of good ones

Yes you can be free, you can explore, you can run that event, you can lower your HBA1C, you can have a beautiful healthy pregnancy. But you first need to have a RAW and HONEST conversation with yourself. How can you make a change, take charge and free yourself of any little bits of a victim mentality that can lurk in the setting of chronic disease?

‘Being diabetic is a gift’

I got this amazing email from one of our community members last week and had to share it. Would you like to share your story with the Sweet Life community? Email me – we’d love to hear it.

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What an absolute treat to read your magazine and continually refer to it.

I have been Type 1 diabetic for 14 years. As much of a roller coaster ride as it has been, I would not swop being diabetic for anything in the world.

The people you meet along this journey, the knowledge you gain about how your body functions and responds, the prior knowledge you get from high glucose readings before you get ill and a complete understanding of the people I meet who possibly battle with elevated glucose levels or hypoglycemia.

Being Type 1 diabetic makes you aware on every level – spirit, body, mind, soul, feelings, thoughts, allows for wise choices (although if not wise then the consequences that accompany these – you have actually just got to smile, knowing that this is within your control), tolerant and respectful of others.

It is without a doubt, a gift.

It is amazing how when you change your mindset and adopt an attitude of gratitude, how life truly shines in its full form.
Make no error, there are days when I sit on my kitchen floor and weep in frustration – as ‘for no reason’ my sugar levels are astronomically high (21.0) or scarily low (1.8) and then I do adopt the ‘oh woe is me’ and sob. Then when I’m done I get up and reconsider things with fresh eyes and chances are good I know what I have done wrong, or that my insulin pens are not working as they should or my change in hormones as I get older has added a new spin.
I have a diabetic friend who is wise, a mind blowingly phenomenal psychologist who practices the Demartini approach. At one of my ‘I can’t do this’ moments, she told me to get myself a journal and write down 200 reasons why I am grateful for the gift of having diabetes. Initially I balked at the mere thought – then when you get started you just keep going and smile as you write or nod like a lunatic. I am on 150 reasons and it’s been a couple of months – but I look back and reread these and then put one foot in front of the other again, with purpose.
– Lara

Diabetes on air

For radio presenter and TV actor Kini Shandu, Type 2 diabetes gave him new meaning. Here’s what he has to say about his condition.

Kini Shandu is a radio presenter on one of KZN’s biggest radio stations, Gagasi FM, a TV personality on SABC’s biggest telenovela, uZalo, and the founder of Inqaba Media. He’s also a father of two and a Type 2 diabetic.

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2010 – six years ago now.

How did you cope with the diagnosis?

It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the new lifestyle, especially because I felt I was too young to be diabetic.

Has it become any easier with time?

Yeah, it has. It became easier once I came to accept that it was my new reality. Having family and friends who support me all the way makes a great difference.

What’s the hardest part about being diabetic for you?

The pressure of making sure I don’t default on my medication: having to keep my medication kit with me, even when I’m travelling. We are all human and we can forget, but this is a challenge I just have to face. Reminders on my cellphone help me a lot!

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

I jog every morning and I try by all means to eat as clean as I can. There are times when I miss junk food, but knowing the damage it could do is enough to switch my brain straight to its senses.

You’re a radio presenter on Gagasi FM, do you talk about diabetes at all?

Yes, I do talk about it a lot. I’m fortunate to have Gagasi FM listeners who follow me closely: they know I’m diabetic and are very supportive. I also make sure I spread the word on every platform I get.

Could you tell us about your TV acting?

I play the character of Shaun, a lawyer, on the SABC1 telenovela, Uzalo, weekdays at 8:30pm. The character is the complete opposite of me, but I’m loving it and I’d like to do more TV gigs in the near future.

What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?

Accept the situation and take it one step at a time. Diabetes is a silent killer, so take a stand and fight it. Surround yourself with people who love and support you.

What makes your life sweet?

The fact that I’m diabetic! Joking. I love my life, I live an awesome life, I live with no regret. I thank God for each and every day in my life: diabetes gave me a new meaning to life.

Get in touch with Kini: Kini Nqaba Shandu on Facebook, @kinishandu on Twitter or Instagram.

Finding the right food for diabetics

Sometimes the biggest challenge to eating a healthy diet is finding the right ingredients: here’s how Annora Mostert, the founder and group owner of Anja’s Pantry, and Alliyah Geldenhuys, who just opened Anja’s Pantry Plumstead, did just that.

Do you have a special interest in diabetes?

“It soon became clear that people with diabetes have the biggest need for healthy low carbohydrate and sugar-free food,” explains Annora. “So we involved trained nutritionists to guide us in what the right type of products should be for diabetics, and started to change the content of our pantry.” The result? All the products in Anja’s Pantry stores are now diabetic friendly. Some of the store owners also have close family members with diabetes, so as a team they work together to stock the right kind of products.

Do you think awareness is growing around healthy food alternatives?

“Absolutely! Social media is the biggest contributor creating awareness, but the awareness is now affecting policies. The research is so clear and the problem is so great that the South African government has followed the UK government in introducing a sugar tax next year on foods to try to curb the high sugar content in processed foods,” says Annora. As a result, all their stores offer a wide range of food products that are sugar-free and low carb so that those who want to avoid sugar can still have a variety of foods to choose from. “Our range of food products is now over 200 items with more being added all the time. This becomes a mini grocery store for the large percentage of the population that are either diabetic or pre-diabetic, those who have allergies or those who just want to lose weight while enjoying their food.”

How did you choose the location of Anja’s Pantry Plumstead?

Anja’s Pantry in Plumstead is right next door to a number of fast food restaurants. “We chose the location on purpose,” explains Alliyah, the owner of the store. “We want to provide healthier options to those in Plumstead and surrounds. It’s often difficult to prepare home cooked meals and so called ‘proper food’ with the fast paced lifestyles that many of us lead today. We end up simply settling for the quickest and easiest option available, but often these are unhealthy food choices. With our easy to prepare premixes and pre-prepared items such as pizza bases and meals, we are hoping to make it much easier for those wanting to enjoy a more nutritionally sound meal.”

Do you think there’s a particular need for healthy alternatives in the Muslim community?

“Yes! Traditional Muslim food is well known for being loaded with unhealthy fats, excessive carbohydrates and sugars. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol are rife within the Muslim community and have sadly become a way of life for many within the community. I think it’s possible to ‘eat yourself healthy’, and that if we can share this vision and all that it stands for it will change the lives of many and allow Muslims to re-think their food choices.”

Do you have any advice for those who are struggling with their diabetes?

“Living a sugar-free and low carb life shouldn’t be that difficult,” says Annora. “We know that it is more expensive since real food items aren’t mass produced and made with lots of chemicals, but it saves so much on unnecessary medical bills.” Alliyah agrees. “An important part of managing your condition is to eat healthy meals and steer clear of certain items. Always read labels and check the ingredients of items that you purchase, as product packaging can often be misleading!”

What makes your life sweet?

For Annora, it’s feeling healthy and eating without feeling guilty. For Alliyah: “My amazing family, who made the opening of this shop a reality. It would never have happened without their help, guidance and support.”

Get in touch with Anja’s Pantry: Anja’s Pantry – the Food Farmacy on Facebook, @Anjas_Pantry on Twitter or www.anjaspantry.co.za

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