Birbeck College London was the setting for Talking About Diabetes (TAD) 2017 last Saturday the 22nd April. The event - now on its second run, was organised by a group of diabetes consultants, notably Dr Partha Kar, associate national clinical director for diabetes and consultant at Portsmouth hospital; Dr Catherine Peters from Great Ormond Street Hospital; and Professor Peter Hindmarsh, of University College Hospital. Hosting was Sky News Journalist Stephen Dixon, who has lived with type-1-diabetes for twenty-five years and introduced a line up of brilliant and inspirational speakers with different stories to tell. The day also provided the chance to interact with fellow individuals with type-1-diabetes and health professionals united with the condition as a significant area of interest. Here I share just ten topics that stood out to me after attending TADtalks.
- Diagnosis is a difficult experience for everyone. “The world tells you, you are wrong in all ways - you have to learn to like yourself,” said Jen Grieves, the first speaker, who is a blogger, as well as BBC Radio 1 journalist. Gavin Griffiths, who followed Jen onto stage, spoke about bullying he experienced as a child because of his diabetes and how he managed to overcome it. Speaking of poor clinical treatment Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for NHS England said she felt “dismissed and undermined by health professionals.” which now motivates her in attempting to improve patient care. Teacher Adrian Long, who was diagnosed with type-1 at the unusually late age of 40, also provided the fascinating fact that a type-1 child will have 27 extra thought processes every morning prior to starting school than their peers.
- Being kind to yourself is crucial. Jen spoke at length about this with poignancy, stating that "managing diabetes, just like self-acceptance...is a marathon not a sprint...When you have a chronic condition like we do it’s even more important that you show yourself some love.” Many parts of Jen’s talk seemed fitting to individuals struggling with mental health difficulties and eating disorders. She stressed how we all need to give ourselves credit for handling this illness every day, remarking "did you keep yourself alive today? Yes? You're freaking awesome."
- Having type-1-diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t participate in or even excel at sporting activity. Thirty miles in thirty days? No problem for diathlete, Gareth! We also heard from former international cyclist Roddy Riddle who completed the 6633 Ultra. Known as the most extreme marathon on the planet, the terrain stretches 352 miles across the Arctic Circle. Pretty damn impressive! Sprinter and trainee dietician Mel Stephenson explained that “A lot of the qualities needed for success in diabetes are the same in sport.” Furthermore, Novo Nordisk cycle team member Thomas Raeymaekers explained: “When I was diagnosed, my doctor told me to stop racing but that day I saw what was to become Team Novo Nordisk on TV and saw that they had diabetes but were professional cyclists.“
- Ultimately, diabetes does not have to stop you from doing anything you want to do. Gareth told us “If you have to remember one thing from today, don’t let diabetes stop you.” and Mel spoke of her belief that “You can still achieve your goals despite having diabetes.” Alluding to how coping with type-1-diabetes can sustain our sense of courage to succeed, Jen shared the following quote by unknown: “I am thankful for my struggle, without it I wouldn’t have found my strength.”
- Social media can be hugely useful in connecting with other people that have diabetes. Adrian who is a regular user of Twitter told us of how he only spoke to one person with type-1-diabetes during the first sixteen years of his diagnosis but then “a little blue bird came along.” Jen also described the diabetes online community as "a handheld cheerleading squad."
- Diabetes technology has come a long way. There were a number of comments to random beeping and synchronised blousing at lunch time! Many attendees and speakers were using pumps after originally starting their diabetic 'journey's' on multiple daily injections. Such repeated references to the influence of modern devices highlighted just how truly exciting the future may be when it comes to further technological advances.
- Volunteering and as a result meeting others with type-1 can be motivating. Mel said such opportunities had “given [her] so much, but always allowed [her] to give so much back.” Roddy spoke of the support and comradely of having his marathon team alongside him during challenges and difficult times: “It makes you take stock and be able to carry on.”
- ·It helps to make light of diabetes when you can. Stephen was certainly not short of quips and kept us all laughing with his comedic commentary. One particular anecdote was a confession relating to airport security. He admitted always choosing the “fittest” security attendant’s queue as it meant that due to having a pump he’d be treated to a full body pat down! Adrian also brought on the laughs with his run through of ’10 good things about diabetes.’ The list included being allowed to eat sweets on account of medical emergencies and the ability to get out of boring work meetings by claiming blood sugars are too high or low! These mutual appreciations showed that focusing on the lighter moments of dealing with diabetes when we can is important.
- ·We are not diabetics but people with diabetes. "I don't want to be a diabore who just talks diabollocks." stated Adrian, while Jen said: "I don't want to be defined by my suffering." Jane revealed how many people that know of her and what she does do not know she suffers from type-1-diabetes "I've never let [diabetes] define me... I'm Jane.” she said.
TADtalk2017 showed how spending time with others that have this condition and so truly understand can be extremely beneficial and spirit-lifting. Type-1-diabetes can make you feel lonely at times, especially among those ‘muggles’ or the ‘non-pancreatically-challenged (that’s a mouthful!) people, that while may try to empathise, can never truly know how it feels. It felt really comforting to be among a group of people that were all on the same page with particular concerns and views, and experiences to share. It was a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable day, so bring on TAD 2018!
By Claire Kearns.