Living with Type 1 diabetes has many day-to-day challenges and over the years patients have faced confusion, misunderstanding and discrimination.
- Auto-immune condition
- Pancreas does not produce insulin
- Managed with insulin injections
- Represents 10 per cent of all cases
- Cannot be prevented
- Associated with lifestyle risk factors
- Not enough insulin and/or insulin resistance
- Managed with exercise, diet and medication
- Represents 90 per cent of all cases
- Largely preventable
Source: Diabetes Australia
This week is Diabetes Awareness Week and while it is becoming more recognised there are still many misconceptions.
There is often confusion between Type 1 and Type 2, which can be frustrating for everyone with diabetes.
In the past, discrimination has caused people with Type 1 diabetes to suffer major changes to their lives.
For Ros Cameron, 68, Type 1 diabetes almost ended her dream of becoming a teacher before it started.
She was diagnosed in January 1967 just after she had finished year 12 and had earned a scholarship to teacher’s college.
But because of her diabetes she failed the mandatory medical test and was barred.
“I had to then rearrange my life,” she said.
Her father lobbied the Victorian Education to end the discrimination.
“[He] thought, ‘this is not right, it should be each person on their merits’,” she said.
Gold Coast 68-year-old Ros Cameron has had Type 1 diabetes for 50 years. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)
“Over a long period … three years, the law was eventually changed that diabetics were admitted into government institutions according to their merits.”
Two years later she was able to begin studies and eventually become a teacher.
“It was a very disappointing start to what I’d hoped would have been a long career in teaching,” she said.
“But never mind, it turned out okay.”
Diabetes management has changed since Ms Cameron was first diagnosed.
She had to learn how to inject herself on an orange, sterilise her own syringes by boiling them, weigh food, and test her blood sugar levels using urine test strips.
It was a complicated process done mostly behind closed doors, away from public eyes.
But new technology means blood tests and injections can be done anywhere.
“Rather than hiding it, I could be sitting at a table in a restaurant and I’ll just lift up my t-shirt and inject into my tummy,” she said.
“I’ve had the odd looks but I don’t take any notice whatsoever.”
After 50 years, Ros maintains a positive attitude about her Type 1 diabetes.
“It’s certainly not the end of the world,” she said.
“You can lead long, healthy, happy lives.”
‘It doesn’t stop me from doing what I love’
Summer Welsh plays like any normal 11-year-old, with her mum Heidi keeping a watchful eye on her. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)
Summer Welsh, 11, was diagnosed just before her fifth birthday.
“It was a bit confusing cause I was at a young age and I really had no experience with it,” she said.
“All the needles were a bit overwhelming.”
The latest diabetes management technology is more discrete and flexible than the tools of the past.
Ms Welsh has an insulin pump that attaches under her shirt and a continuous glucose monitor on her arm that sends an alarm to her smart devices if her levels go too high or too low.
“Obviously you do have to make some changes and your life does twist in some ways,” she said.
“But it doesn’t stop me from doing what I love.”
She is involved in competitive tennis, softball, does gymnastics and plays like any normal 11-year-old.
Ms Welsh’s pumps administer doses directly throughout the day. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)
Ms Welsh’s mother Heidi said her daughter adapted to blood tests and her insulin pump before she had left the hospital.
“She just picked it up really very quickly and picked up the ball and ran with it,” she said.
“It was who she was going to be and they were the things that she had to do.”
Initially Summer’s parents had to keep a close eye on her diet and physical activities to reduce disruptions to her life and help her fit in.
“I kind of lived at school for those first few years, I was always there for everything,” Heidi Welsh said.
“Just to make it easier for her and everybody else.”
Summer’s school friend Amelia also has Type 1 and helps her deal with day-to-day management.
“Sometimes when people ask me it’s very hard to explain,” Summer Welsh said.
“It is unfortunate that another student has to have it, but it is nice for someone to understand.
Summer uses a continuous glucose monitor which interacts with her smart devices to control her blood sugar levels. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)
“When you can just have a general conversation with someone and they get what you mean, you’re not sounding crazy.”
Heidi Welsh said the support is invaluable.
“They both do get what they’re going through,” she said.
“They can have silly little jokes about things — like if one of them is low one of them will be like ‘can I offer you a jellybean?'”
While it is a lot for a young person to deal with, Summer Welsh agrees with Ms Cameron that it is not the end of the world.
She offered some wisdom to other kids going through diagnosis.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it,” she said.
“Just don’t let it stop you from doing anything you love.”
Diabetes Awareness Week runs from July 9 to 15.