There’s something special about being able to celebrate* two milestones in my life on the same day. February 24 not only marks 46 years since I came into this world, but also 37 years of conquering an illness that could easily have seen it end if not for an awe-inspiring medical discovery in 1922.
The last year has seen a lot of changes for me in all aspects of my life. I was appointed as the Finance Director for the charity I’ve worked for over the last 3 and a half years or so, which has stretched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined, but has also been more fulfilling than I could have hoped. Working within the social care sector during a time of financial crisis following 2+ years of pandemic has been challenging, but the things I’ve learned and the friendships I’ve built at work have bolstered me during what could easily have been some mentally exhausting moments.
Both children – well, I say children, but really now one adult and one in their late teens – have started to explore and venture out onto the next steps in their lives and I’ve had to learn to balance wanting to solve all of their problems myself with allowing them to make their own mistakes and find their way through those challenges as best they can with our support as needed.
And my 37th year with T1D has seen another new technological development for me. Seven years ago I spoke about my introduction to the Freestyle Libre, the flash glucose monitoring system which turned me into the bionic woman and transformed the way I tested my blood glucose levels. Seven years on, my whole T1D life has been revolutionised once again as I’m now the proud owner of a “hybrid closed-loop system” or artificial pancreas, to use the vernacular, which allows my insulin pump to speak to the CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) I wear and adjust the steady administration of insulin to adapt to my changing blood sugars, activities and food intakes.
When that diagnosis happened on my 9th birthday, I’m not sure any of my family could have imagined the changes and developments that would happen to mean that I could spend a little less time focused on getting through each day with T1D in one piece and a little more on enjoying all that life has to offer.
Today will be a quiet day with family, enjoying time with my most favourite people in the world and loving the life I’m able to live with a new constant companion, my insulin pump, to help manage the one that’s been there for almost as long as I can remember. It is time to celebrate both of today’s occasions and I will certainly be raising a glass and a cupcake to do so.
*I thought long and hard about whether celebrate was the right word here or not. Should I have said that I “mark” these landmark points in my life rather than “celebrate” them, but I decided not. I do celebrate 37 years of living with T1D, of surviving all that it has thrown at me over the years and that is something to be proud of and that’s worth celebrating in style.
100 years to the day that the very first dose of insulin was administered at Toronto General Hospital to a 14 year old boy called Leonard Thompson, who was on the brink of what would have been a fatal diabetic coma.
That moment was revolutionary and from then on, life was never the same again for millions of people across the world.
Having discovered an effective treatment for diabetes, Frederick Banting, Charles Best and Dr James Collip were awarded the American patents for insulin in 1923, which they then sold to the University of Toronto for just $1 each. This life-saving treatment they gave away with no desire to sell it on for a profit, understanding how important their discovery was to all who live with diabetes and that it would no longer be the death sentence it always had been. Unbelievably today thousands worldwide, in both developed and developing countries, are unable to afford even a fraction of the insulin they need to not only keep them healthy, but keep them alive.
I’m forever grateful for this discovery and the generosity of those who developed it as without it I wouldn’t be here today, nearly 36 years since my T1D diagnosis.
I’m definitely one for stretching out celebrations as long as possible, hence the Christmas lights are still up inside and outside of the house as well as the Valentine’s cards and my birthday cards from last week, and with M’s 15th birthday fast looming this is definitely a busy time of year for celebrating, but I’m thrilled to be able to add another celebration into the mix this week – and that’s that I’m finally having my first COVID vaccine tomorrow.
I’ve been incredibly lucky in that our local GP practice has kept their website and social media accounts updated with their plans for the vaccination rollout and so I’ve known for a couple of weeks that they had chosen to leapfrog Group 5 as those individuals could book appointments online at one of the mass vaccination centres and instead were going to focus on working their way through the 3,000+ of us in Group 6. I was rather hoping for an extra-special birthday present and whilst I didn’t receive the vaccine itself, I did get a text inviting me to book my appointment for this week.
After 50 weeks of spending very little time with anyone outside of our immediate household and not venturing much further that the 8 miles or so to my office on the odd occasion, it is extremely encouraging and exciting to finally be going forward with a positive step towards being able to widen up my circle. Of course, we will continue to follow the guidance given about wearing masks and social distancing, but it does feel we’re going in the right direction at long last. G and M return to school next week which naturally comes with its own concerns, but I’ve been clear that I expect them to continue with the precautions we put in place back in September and both have also said they will masks as needed whilst there.
I don’t know how my body will react to the vaccine, especially knowing that my T1D is likely to bring some additional tricks to the party given just about anything can impact it and not always in the ways you’d expect it to. Keep an eye on my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the next few days as I will be attempting to give regular updates following my jab, assuming that there’s much of anything to say other than that it’s done!
This week I’ve managed to book a couple of those annual leave days off work and am celebrating a milestone anniversary from the comfort of my sofa, rather than at my desk. It doesn’t seem possible that today marks 35 years of living with what I previously described as my one constant companion in life, my Type 1 diabetes.
The last 35 years have unquestionably had their ups and downs as far my T1D is concerned. Amongst the ups was my move to using diabetes technology just before I marked 30 years with T1D, when I first tried out the Freestyle Libre and these days I can still be found with this small device attached to my arm. When I started with it, I made the financial decision to have 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off, but soon realised that I appreciated the ease of it more than expected and quickly determined that it was worth the investment of wearing it permanently. Five years on and I’ve finally had my sensors approved by the NHS and am able to get them through my monthly prescriptions, alongside my blood glucose testing strips, needles and insulin.
As for the downs, well, I’ve talked before about the loss of sight in my left eye following botched treatment for diabetic retinopathy many moons ago as well as the fear I faced when told that I urgently needed treatment in my right eye too in more recent times. Following a second opinion at that time I managed to avoid the treatment, but five years and many phone appointments with my consultant later, it was agreed that I needed some pre-emptive laser surgery to hopefully head off any further complications at the pass and so had it just before Christmas. It wasn’t the ideal time given the risks of heading into hospital during a pandemic, but the precautions taken were excellent and all went well. It did leave me with very blurred vision and sore eyes over the Christmas and New Year period, but I think I rocked the “sunglasses in December” look in style.
I don’t know what the next 1, 5 or even 35 years will bring in relation to my T1D, but I know it will no doubt continue the roller-coaster ride that I’ve been surfing since I was 9. The one thing I do know is that today there will be cake and bubbles and presents and a special dinner to celebrate – although that might be more to do with the fact that I’m also celebrating my birthday today and not just my diaversary!
Another significant change that has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the way in which medical appointments are held. Appointments are a regular feature of life for both M and me and they have continued in a variety of ways since March, some of them decidedly better than others.
For M, his appointments with his gastro consultant at our local hospital have been held over the phone, although I would have preferred the video conference option that was originally offered. A key part of M’s hospital visits for me is the visual review of his health, and whilst I can see just how much he has grown and how healthy he is looking at the moment, I would have liked for his consultant to have been able to do the same. He also has his height, weight and blood pressure monitored to ensure that he is growing as is expected, something which is particularly important as he heads into puberty. Right now, things are looking relatively stable for M health-wise, though his return to school last week has seen both him and G picking up a heavy head cold and bringing it home to generously share with Mike and me.
In comparison, I’ve had a mixture of telephone and face-to-face appointments with various members of my healthcare team. My long-awaited referral to one of our local hospitals for consultant-led care of my Type 1 diabetes finally happened and, even though the initial appointment was done over the phone, I am now the proud owner of a prescription for the Freestyle Libre sensors, something I’ve been self-funding for the last 4 years. This technology has made a huge difference to my T1D management and so both the community care nurse and consultant were happy to support the funding of this equipment for me.
My podiatry appointment was face-to-face (or should that be face-to-foot) at the health centre in the next town over. I was required to wear a mask throughout and use hand sanitiser each time I went in and out of the surgery, which happened more often than you might think for 1 appointment. I was called in by the podiatrist, who accompanied me to and from the building, bearing his pack of anti-bac wipes to clean any surface I touched whilst I was inside. The appointment went well with an almost clean bill of health for my feet, the only problem being a rather painful case of plantar fasciitis in my right foot. A couple of new pairs of shoes with arch supports later, and already everything is beginning to improve.
We’ve both also had appointments for vaccinations, which obviously have to be done in person. M had his Year 9 booster jabs during the summer, whilst I had my annual flu vac last weekend. M is having his flu vac this coming weekend, with both G and Mike booked in for them in a couple of weeks time. I’ve also had an appointment with my GP, which required me to take and email photos to them ahead of my telephone consult. So far, all appointments have gone as well as we could have hoped and I can only hope that as the government guidance changes over the next few months with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases here in the UK, our medics continue to keep in touch and make sure we’re all keeping well.
How has the easing of lockdown affected you and your family? Have you gone back to life as it was pre-lockdown, are you still following strict social distancing or shielding rules, or are you slowly working towards finding your feet in your new normal?
The last few days have been interesting ones for me as I’ve started to receive phone-calls from local services and businesses as they begin to re-open their doors and are keen to get people in after months of self-isolation. I’m sure there are those that will think I’m being overly cautious, but my answer to each of those enquiries has been simple: thank you, but no thank you, not at the moment. Having strictly restricted my movements over the last 15 weeks, I’m not in any rush to get back to the way things were before lockdown happened and will be keenly watching to see what happens over the next few weeks, particularly as pubs and restaurants reopen this weekend as well as some other businesses.
We’ve also been prepping to make sure we have everything we need as we do start to move towards relaxing our own version of lockdown. Despite the reluctance of the UK government to mandate the wearing of face masks or coverings when out and about in England, we have discussed the importance of them with G and M and agreed that the whole family will be wearing them once we start to venture further afield. Mike is already wearing a mask daily as he travels for his work and M has independently decided that he will wear his when he goes into school next week for an hour-long “keeping in touch” session before the end of the school year.
Both children had input into the face masks that they wanted to have and are happy to wear them when needed. We knew that having their buy-in was important, not least because there is a requirement to wear them when going into hospital for appointments and sooner or later that will be necessary for M and me, although we both currently have either telephone or video appointments booked for later this month.
Whatever your movements this weekend, be it to your local pub, restaurant or simply more staying at home, stay safe and keep well.
How things have changed in the last week in the UK. The government announced that we could start easing the lockdown measures that have been in place since the end of March, a decision that has received mixed reactions from across the country. Changes have been discussed at the daily briefings, or published via press releases late at night, and all too frequently there has not been sufficient detail or further explanations provided to give comfort to anyone expressing concern that maybe we’re moving ahead too quickly when considering current statistics.
As lockdown eases, I’m able to continue to work from home for the time being, which has been especially reassuring given the recent publication of scientific research into the risk of COVID-19 on those living with diabetes. We had all been advised that those living with underlying health conditions were at higher risk during the pandemic, but the evidence suggests a particular link with diabetes and other health factors, some of which are relevant to me, others that aren’t. I won’t be changing the way I’m working at the moment and continue to limit myself to being at home or out for a walk in the area surrounding our village, somewhere I haven’t left since lockdown began.
Both G and M continue with their homeschooling and it was confirmed just before half-term that neither of them will return to school before September at the earliest. We continue to balance school-work with other activities to keep them entertained during the day, but they are yearning to spend some time with friends, although they do understand why that just isn’t possible at the moment. Our old trampoline finally gave up the ghost with a number of springs popping off in the first few weeks of lockdown, but we managed to get an order in for a replacement one and M has been waiting eagerly for it to arrive. The delivery finally happened at the start of this week and the introduction of a 16 foot trampoline to our paddock is certainly a sight to see. G and M have already been out bouncing as much as they possibly can and it’s definitely big enough to accommodate them both at the same time.
The biggest change with the easing of lockdown is for Mike. Having been furloughed on 1 April, he has spent the last couple of months doing a number of DIY jobs around the house and garden, but that is now coming to an end as he starts back at work tomorrow. This has come with its own set of concerns, not least about how Mike can best protect himself to minimise the risk of him bringing COVID-19 home to either M or me. We have agreed a process whereby he will change in the garage as soon as he gets home from work, put his clothes straight into the washing machine and will then come in and go straight to the shower before coming into contact with the rest of us. He has also been provided with a supply of PPE to wear throughout his day as he travels between houses to complete surveys and valuations. Finally, as I have taken over his study for my home office, he will be using the desk in the spare bedroom for when he needs to work on his reports.
What does the lockdown easing mean for you and your family? Are you returning to your new version of “normal”, or taking a more cautious approach for the next few weeks? Whatever you’re doing, stay safe and keep well.
I find myself in an odd position today. Torn between wanting to try and keep things as normal as possible with my blog posts about life as it is living with chronic illness; and the hard reality that is the current crisis with COVID-19. There is no question in my mind that COVID-19 is impacting all of us in a multitude of ways, so I thought I’d focus this post on what this virus means to us at 7Y2D HQ and how it is affecting each family member right now.
For the children, the biggest change has to be that they are both now home and won’t be at school for the foreseeable. Neither G or M are considered to be particularly high risk for the virus because of their age, but we know from personal experience that M is far more susceptible to catching bugs like this than his peers and his body can and will struggle to cope once he has it. His bout of Aussie ‘flu 2 years ago is too fresh in our memories to want to have to go through anything even vaguely similar again, so we are taking precautions and following the social distancing guidelines as recommended. I find myself once again so glad to live in the countryside and to have access to some beautiful and very quiet walks with little risk of encountering anyone else. We have ventured out both days over the past weekend to make sure we’re getting some much needed exercise and fresh air, and the children even practised a handful of their Stagecoach routines given their classes have all been cancelled.
School has been brilliant and the teachers are setting work to be done at home to make sure that pupils are not absent from all learning in the next few months. There were a few IT hiccups this morning as a large number of the 1300 students plus parents and teachers at school all attempted to access the online learning platform at the same time, but we got there in the end and I managed to print off some of the tasks set to make sure that M in particular has things to do in the coming weeks. His dyslexia centre is also setting up a system for online tutoring and so his 1 hour 1:1 tutoring sessions will restart after the Easter holidays, which is just brilliant.
The impact on G has been far greater. Her GCSEs have been cancelled and she has been told she has a guaranteed place at her school’s sixth form for September. She has also been told that she won’t be back at school until then. We’re really proud of G’s attitude to this as rather than sit back and relax over the coming months, she has instead determined to keep going with the comprehensive and individualised revision plan she was given by school just a couple of weeks ago and look to finish her learning that way. With more clarity still needed about exactly how her final GCSE grades will now be determined, I’ve encouraged her to keep going with the mock papers and practice questions and to submit them to her teachers, so that they have all the evidence they might need of the hard work she is continuing to put in each and every day.
G has also decided to learn BSL (British sign language) through an online course wonderfully being offered free of charge because of COVID-19 and has done her first lesson in that this morning. Learning sign language has been something she’s been interested in for a while and is an area she wishes to explore further as part of her A-level studies next year as she considers dance therapy and non-verbal communication as part of her possible future career plans. Not to be left out, and with a view to his yet-to-be-confirmed GCSE options, M has signed up for a 4-week online photography course which Mike has agreed to do alongside him. He received a digital camera for his birthday and we’re hoping this course, as well as the school enrichment week course he took last summer, will stand him in good stead for September.
My T1D has put me firmly in the ranks of those who are considered vulnerable and therefore at higher risk of both contracting the virus and complications arising from it. Diabetes is not currently on the list of those considered to be extremely vulnerable, which you can find here, and so the advice is to follow the social distancing guidelines, rather than to self-isolate. These days I work for a charity who provides social care and support to adults with learning disabilities, both in homes and in the community, which actually puts me into the key worker category as one of the back office workers needed to keep those services running. I am extremely fortunate therefore that my employer has been supportive of my own health requirements and has enabled me to work from home for not just the next 12 weeks, but for as long as considered necessary. Half of my team also fall into the category and so we are running the office on a skeleton staff basis and have been trialling meetings by both conference and video calls this morning.
Finally Mike, who is probably the easiest one of us all. He has no underlying health conditions that put him at higher risk, but he does have to be careful because of my and M’s chronic illnesses. He already works from home and has a home office set up with just about everything he needs. There will come a time when Mike’s workload will reduce significantly – it’s not quite there yet – as he is a building surveyor and the social distancing and self-isolation rules mean that people are less likely to want him and his colleagues to go into their homes. He is the most able to go out to the shops, although we already regularly shop online with Sainsburys, Ocado and our local food co-operative, so our shopping habits are unlikely to change much if at all, delivery slots permitting.
I hope that you are all finding a way to adapt and cope with this strange new world that is our current reality. I find myself waking each day and wondering about the very surreal situation we all now find ourselves in, not just in the UK but worldwide. This is an experience like no other and there is no doubt that life as we know it will never be the same again.
Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch – but most importantly, STAY AT HOME
Now, I fully accept that there may be some of you out there wondering what on earth a PWD* is doing even considering judging a category at the #FFFA20 called “Confectionery”, but let me assure you, it means that I don’t tend to over-indulge in the first few mouthfuls and with 35 entries in total – 32 of which were chocolate-based – that’s definitely a good thing! On a more serious note, my Freestyle Libre gives me the opportunity to have tight control on my blood sugars at all times and helped me keep things on an even keel that afternoon.
I love judging this category as I have 2 food-allergic children who enjoy the occasional sweet treat and it’s always a great opportunity to find something new to tickle their taste-buds. After a busy morning trying the delights of “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” and a wonderfully refreshing light lunch prepared by Michelle and her #FFFA team, we were ready and set for the challenge ahead. And believe me when I tell you that tasting and judging so many sweet entries really can present some problems, especially when trying to give constructive comments to the 3rd dairy-free dark chocolate in a row!
These were my highlights:
M&S Fizzy Dinosaurs: In a category that was dominated with chocolate offerings, it was great to find these sweet treats. It took a while for us to realise that M reacts to gelatine, so we are always delighted to find sweets that are gelatine-free and delicious. He and I both love sour, tangy, fizzy sweets, so I knew the moment I tried these dinosaurs that they would be a big hit with my youngest…and the speed with which the bag I took home with me disappeared would absolutely support that!
Truffle Pig Truffles: We tried several truffle selections on the day, and these stood out from the crowd with their wonderful Butter Nut variety, which was perfectly reminiscent of their more well-known dairy counterpart, Ferrero Roche. The peanut butter content obviously means these are not safe for those with nut allergies and disappointingly to me, even though they are vegan and delicious, they are not soya-free either. A great treat that would be a brilliant gift and make the recipient feel truly spoiled, but not one for our household yet.
My Sweet Chickpea: The surprise success story of the day for me, and one that has proved to be popular at home too. There were 2 flavours that we were lucky enough to try: cappuccino and coconut, and both were delicious. The chickpea was not at all detectable, something which I tried out and proved with G, who was surprised to learn it was a key ingredient. Dairy-free, soya-free, hidden chickpeas and snack-size – what isn’t there to like about these?!
Moo-free Sea Salt & Lime Chocolate: I am not the biggest fan of anything salty and I definitely do not like caramel, so the whole “sea salt and caramel” revolution has passed me by, even though I’ve successfully created a safe version for G and M. So, I was intrigued by the lime and sea salt flavour offered by Moo-free and this will probably have me raving for weeks about it. A perfect balance to the sweetness of chocolate and very definitely more-ish. This is my winner of the day, not least because it was one of the few chocolates that was both dairy- and soya-free.
All in all, it was a great day of judging with lots of memorable products and not too many that completely missed the mark for me this year. The final award winners will be announced on 28th April, so keep an eye on your social media to find out who won those much-coveted golds.
How did your day start today? With a card, chocolates or maybe a bunch of flowers? A promise for dinner tonight? Or maybe tonight will just be a quiet night in front of the TV.
You can’t have missed that it’s Valentine’s Day today and you may, or may not, be celebrating it.
Whatever your plans, could you please do just one more thing?
By gifting the price of one single rose (£4) to Life for a Child, you will be helping the Diabetes community to “take care of one another around the world” and giving one month’s supply of life-saving insulin to child living with T1D in an under-resourced country.
It really is that easy and what a wonderful gift to share with your loved one this year.
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