This is an edited version of the first post I ever wrote about my experiences attending the Kellion Victory Medal Award Ceremony. I wrote it back in 2011 (for the old Diabetes Victoria WordPress blog), ten years into working for a diabetes organisation, and already had attended a number of these award ceremonies.

Since this post, I’ve written about other ceremonies I’ve been lucky to attend, and shared the stories of the medal recipients. I love hearing their tips and tricks, and tuck away their words of advice for when I need them. Peer support, I think, as I hear them talking. Their stories are our stories are my stories…

Today, I’m back for this year’s Victorian medal ceremony. I flipped through the program and read the stories of the people receiving their medals. This was my favourite quote for the day. It’s so, so true. 

Today is my favourite day of the work year. It’s the Kellion Victory Medal award celebrations where we acknowledge people who have lived with diabetes for 50, 60, 70 and even 75 years. Just stop for a minute and think about that. Seventy-five years with type 1 diabetes. Now think about what diabetes was like back then: urine was boiled, needles were sharpened. Home blood glucose testing was still about forty years away, modern insulins hadn’t been considered. Insulin pumps, of course, were things of the future.

When I started working at Diabetes Victoria, I had lived with diabetes for just under four years, and in that time I hadn’t met anyone else with type 1. I was still getting used to the new reality that had opened up the day I was told that I had type 1 diabetes. My 27 year-old self had re-written my future, and instead of the life I had imagined, I had reshaped that into one that involved terrifying diabetes complications, probably no children and a reduced life expectancy. I pictured myself unable to take care of myself at a time in my life where I wanted to be travelling and seeing the world. And I saw a life where my still-new husband would have the burden that is a wife with diabetes.

Because that was the picture of diabetes that had been presented to me in the four years since my diagnosis. Time after time, the health professionals I saw delivered news of doom and gloom. And inevitability. Hope was not discussed. Except, strangely, the promise of a cure in five years – although I could tell that even the medicos telling me this didn’t believe it. I felt devoid of hope. Hopeless.

And then I was invited to the Kellion Medal ceremony. I can still remember clearly my apprehension about attending the awards, but I went along to Parliament House to see what it was all about.

It was the best thing I could have done. It wasn’t about living with diabetes for decades. It was about LIVING. I heard tales of travels, raising families, busy and successful working lives. Stories of being pioneers to make sure people with diabetes were not discriminated against. I heard stories of hope.

Kellion medallists are in every way remarkable – not because they are inspirations for living with diabetes. That’s just what they have to do as part of their life. They’re remarkable because they’ve made diabetes just something they do. In learnt that I needed to stop holding them up as some sort of magical unicorns – they were just playing with the cards they’d been dealt. The same way I do.

Each year I walk away from the awards ceremony with an ‘injection’ of motivation and determination. And a booster shot of hope. That’s my response to the day and the medalists – but not their responsibility.

We have a duty to be honest to people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Promising a life that is full of puppy dogs and bowls of cherries does not accurately paint the picture of what life with diabetes is all about. But neither does scaring people senseless. When people are in that initial fog, where they can’t see beyond the end of the week and they are starting to rewrite their future, that is when they need stories. The positive and real ones. The stories of hope.

If I could find a way for every person newly diagnosed with diabetes; for every parent of a child newly diagnosed; every partner, loved one, sister, brother of someone newly diagnosed with diabetes to attend the Kellion Medal awards, I would.

There is no promise of a cure, no threat of nasty complications, no dread of being a burden. But there is laughing and sharing and amusing stories. And hope. To meet a Kellion Medallist leaves people feeling one way: filled with hope.