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When I talk about the highs and lows of diabetes it’s not just the rollercoaster of numbers. I wrote yesterday about feeling a little low and overwhelmed after a particularly gruelling day. Today, however, I’m on an absolute high after a busy night, or rather, early morning, giving two talks at the ISPAD conference. 

docday° was a little different this time, in a truly brilliant way. It was the first time that the event was on the scientific program of a conference, meaning that it was easier for conference registrants to attend. Having a program session that is truly led and designed and features PWD, elevates the standing of lived experience.

The docday° program highlighted some of the topics very close to the hearts of many people with diabetes. Emma Doble from BMJ spoke about working closely with the docday°voices team to publish stories written by individual and groups of people with diabetes. How fantastic to see the words and lived experience feature in such a prominent medical journal!

I touched on language and diabetes – the first talk on the topic for the conference for me. Steffi Haack gave a beautiful talk about peer support and touched on what we get from being in a community of others with diabetes can offer. Steffi managed to perfectly capture the essence of what the community can offer, while also discussing why it’s not necessarily perfect. And we finished with Tino – Tinotenda Dzikiti – from Zimbabwe talking about access and affordability of diabetes medications and treatments. Tino has been a standout advocate in the dedoc voices program, and I make sure to take any chance I get to listen to him.

After docday°, I was an invited speaking in the Psychosocial Issues in Diabetes Symposium which involved an incredible panel of speakers including Rose Stewart from the UK and Korey Hood from the US. Rose spoke eloquently about the importance of integrating psychologists into diabetes care teams, and Korey provided some terrific tips about dealing with diabetes burnout. I followed the two of them (not daunting at all…!) to talk about the language matters movement in diabetes, starting with a reminder that we are talking about more than language – and it’s certainly more than just specific words. It’s about communication, attitudes, images used, and behaviours. 

The way that I speak about language these days is different. I think that at first, I spent the majority of the time explaining what it was all about. These days, there seems to be enough ‘brand awareness’ in the community about language matters and that means being able to home in on some of the more nuanced aspects of it. 

And so, while I still talk about words that I (and from research we’ve done, others) consider problematic (‘compliant’ is the one that I like to highlight), I spend more time talking about the image problem diabetes has, and about the trickle-down effect language has had on shaping that image. 

I point out that there are people who think that language is not all that important in the grand scheme of things, and that there are more important things to worry about in the diabetes world and I very much understand that. I also understand that people have different focuses. But when I ask people what those important things are, they include issues such as research for a cure and better treatments, better access, more education. And then I can’t help but see and think about how research is less because of the image problem about diabetes. That treatments and a cure need governments to prioritise diabetes when it comes to their research dollars and individuals need to give generously when there are funding drives. 

But because diabetes is seen as something not serious, and that people are to blame for their own health condition, we are not seeing those dollars coming our way. 

It never is and it never was about picking on certain words; it has always been about changing attitudes. Because that is what will change diabetes’ image problem. 

I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role. 

As an invited speaker at the #ISPAD2021 annual meeting, I was given complimentary registration for the conference. 

I am helping organise the Diabetes Australia Global Language Summit, and will be hosting the panel discussion. 

A couple of crappy anxiety days have left me feeling a little spent and exhausted. Add to that some low-key diabetes burnout, and I’m wondering if I can somehow leave diabetes out for the upcoming hard rubbish collection in our neighbourhood. 

The anxiety was mostly to do with a work thing yesterday which involved a live Q&A about type 2 diabetes remission. When I’m on my game, that sort of thing has me pumped! I know that the discussion will be lively and that there could be some contention in what we’re saying, and I thrive on robust debate.

But right now, I’m not feeling completely on my game. Burnout, lockdown and just feeling tired, combined with feeling a very long way away from friends and colleagues a lot of my work is with, has left me a little weary and downbeat. So instead of the fire I usually feel when I need to deal with something that could be a little controversial and provocative, I was dreading it.

A moment of light came after the live Q&A when I had a call from who wanted to speak with me about the new Type 2 Diabetes Remission Position Statement from Diabetes Australia. After watching, they decided to take the time to reach out to me and admit they were wrong about me. They thought I’d been dismissive and negative about the way they manage their diabetes, when in fact, it seemed I was the complete opposite of that. When I asked why they had thought that of me, they said, ‘You just seem so confident and assertive, and I mistook that for thinking you were really rigid in your beliefs about diabetes.’

It’s funny how we form impressions of people. Sometimes we can be spot on. Other times, not so much. I’ve been totally wrong about people in the diabetes community because once I’ve looked beyond the tweets, I see that there is far more to them than the soundbites that get all the attention.  

When people tell me (or, more likely, subtweet) that they think everyone should think the way I do about diabetes, manage their diabetes in the same way, feel the same about the issues important to me or that I think I speak for others with diabetes, I’m genuinely confused. I’ve never said any of those things. The about me page on my blog states: ‘This blog does not provide medical information or advice. I write about my own experiences of living with diabetes but please don’t think that you should take on board what I’m doing and apply it to you. We’re all different and our diabetes varies. Significantly. Get thyself to an appropriately qualified healthcare professional to help yourself out with your own particular brand of diabetes.’

I throw the caveat “my diabetes, my rules” around like glitter and anytime I do speak about diabetes, I am very clear that I am but one person in a very, very large choir, and that the audience should make a point of listening to lots of those voices. 

So, it is with no surprise at all that it seems that some corners of the LCHF world think that I completely and utterly condemn their chosen way of managing diabetes. What a lot of rubbish! I can only assume the reason they think that about me is because I have been pretty vocal about the way some in that community respond to others who have different ideas. I call out stigma and shaming, and I call out anyone saying that everyone should follow the same way of eating.

I stand by that. And I stand by it in all aspects of all types of diabetes. If anyone truly believes that there is one way and one way only to manage diabetes, they are very misguided.  

In case I was feeling too pleased with myself after that phone call yesterday, I was dragged back down to earth with a shouty email (in ALL CAPS) demanding to know why I don’t advocate remission in type 2 diabetes. Sweetie, I don’t advocate anything other than the rights of people with diabetes to do what they want to manage and treat their diabetes in a way that works for them. I advocate choice. Choice is critical and my passion lies in ensuring that people are given choice. 

I love my pump, I love LOOP, but I don’t reckon everyone should be on it. I don’t think everyone should do DAFNE or wear a Libre. I don’t think everyone should just follow what their doctors tell them to do. I don’t think everyone should be eating LCHF any more than I think everyone should be eating a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet. I wouldn’t try a vegan diet because the thought of no bacon makes me weep, but hey, if it works for you and you like it, can sustain it, can afford it and are happy doing it, high five!

Anyway, in a roundabout way, this post is to say that there is a new position statement about type 2 diabetes remission available and you can find it here if you’re interested

And it’s also to say that forming opinions of people in the diabetes world is perfectly fine and we won’t all agree or love each other (and that’s fine too). I know I’ve formed opinions of people based off one tweet, or one encounter. It’s probably quite unfair on my part, and when I’ve re-engaged with some of those people, I’ve found that they have a lot more going on that just that one idea of them I had. I’m glad I did try again. 

My anxiety is a little better today. I weathered yesterday’s storm and came out of it only mildly battered. I’ll call that a win. 

DISCLOSURE

I work at Diabetes Australia. I was not involved in the writing of the position statement that was launched yesterday. I’m writing about it because it’s interesting and relevant to my diabetes today and yesterday. 

I facilitated an event for Ascensia (disclosures at the end of this piece) last night/early morning and the crappy time was partly (mostly) my fault, because although I sacrificed the Aussies and suggested we draw the short straw in the time zone lottery, I forgot that daily saving would have kicked in for us meaning kick off time was 11pm and not 10pm. That may not seem much – I mean, what’s an hour? – but there is definitely a psychological barrier about doing work after midnight. (Anyway, I digress, and that paragraph has just about put me to sleep). 

The reason for last night’s adventures after dark was a facilitating gig for Ascensia’s latest Diabetes Social Media Summit (DSMS). The thing I love about (and why I am so keen to be involved) in these Summits is because they have tacked some difficult topics that are often hidden away. 

This one was no different in that we looked to address something that needs more attention – diabetes and women’s health. In my introduction, I wanted to make the point that diversity and inclusion is important when speaking about any aspect of diabetes, and that for us to be truly inclusive in a discussion about women and diabetes, we needed to hear from women who represent all corners of the diabetes world. I particularly referred to needing better representation from women in the LGBTQIA+ community. 

The other thing that we had wanted to make sure that we didn’t focus too much on diabetes and pregnancy, because so often that is the only easily information about women’s health and diabetes that can be easily found (and saying that, there does seem to be a bias towards women with type 1 diabetes). Of course, understanding and being aware of how diabetes can impact on pregnancy is important, but it is certainly not the only issue that women with diabetes want or need to know about. 

In fact, one of the discussion points was that for some women, pregnancy is not a topic they want discussed. There is the assumption that all women of childbearing age need information about having a healthy baby when that is not the truth. Contraception discussions do not necessarily equal an invitation for pre-pregnancy counselling, and there needs to be some sensitivity in how healthcare professionals in particular raise the topic, and rid themselves of the belief that all women want to have kids.   

There is so much more to talk about. So, so much more. 

We touched on how much our cycles can impact and influence glucose levels (and a very amusing tangent where we joked about how when we see monthly perfect glucose patterns, they clearly don’t belong to people who menstruate – or people who understand the absolute havoc hormones can wreak on CGM traces).

We spoke about birth control and how the OCP can also make a significant difference to glucose levels, yet many of us were not told about that. 

Of course, we spoke of menopause, but only briefly; briefly not because it’s not an important topic (or a super relevant topic), but because we just got caught up talking about other things (and perhaps my facilitating skills weren’t as tight as usual).

And we spoke about how cultural gender issues need to be shown and understood so that the experience of privileged white women with diabetes are not seen as the only experiences. 

For me, the central message that I heard time and time and time again was that topics about the very things that occupy a lot of the headspace of women with diabetes are simply not discussed with us. And there is little research to inform our decision making, or even to help us form the right questions to ask. At best, we are given some piss-weak explanation that points a finger at diabetes being to blame. At worst, we are dismissed. 

I do wonder when research and diabetes education will catch up. I know that there are some wonderful researchers doing some important work here, but we are so far from normalising discussions about women’s health and diabetes as part of our typical healthcare routines. We’re miles away from getting rid of the preconceived and outdated ideas about women’s sexual health. 

Beyond discussing different women’s health matters, we also spoke about just how these discussions fit in the diabetes community. This was a completely unplanned turn for the summit (it was not a topic on the agenda), but I’m glad we had it and I’m glad that I am writing about it. Because of the nature of women’s health, sex and diabetes, there is a lot of taboo, shame, fear, and vulnerability. I know that some of the rawest and most open I’ve been in my writing has been when I have been dealing with moments in my life that were so, so hard and I was so, so vulnerable. When I look back, I sometimes wonder if I was right to hit publish after writing, and perhaps I should have tucked away the paragraphs until I was feeling stronger. Or not published at all. While I have been told that my words have provided some comfort to others facing similar challenges, it left my gaping, open wounds very public and visible. 

After writing about miscarriages, I’ve been called selfish for wanting to have a child and potentially passing on diabetes to them. Writing about my fears of passing on diabetes to my child I’ve been told that perhaps I should have thought of that before I got pregnant. Speaking about body image concerns, I’ve been told to toughen up and stop being so shallow. I’ve seen and watched other women with diabetes experience the same thing, and I feel their pain as I watch them navigate the muddy, and sometimes distressing waters. 

We spoke about how women are treated in the diabetes community, particularly when we write about struggles and difficulties, and the words and terms that are thrown our way when we dare to share how we are feeling. The ‘angry woman’ trope that I’ve written about before has been directed to many others too. 

These discussions are real, and they are necessary. I am one of the loudest, most vocal supporters of peer support and have spoken about the value and importance of diabetes peer support and the online community on stages literally around the globe. Peer support saved me at times when I thought I was broken beyond repair. But it also can be a source of pain and bullying and nasty confrontations, and perhaps we need to have those discussions too so that when someone decides that they are ready to share and be especially vulnerable that they look out for themselves as much as looking out for the community. It’s all very well to want to share to connect and help with our own and others’ isolation but leaving ourselves exposed isn’t easy. 

One of the attendees last night reminded us that we could share with selected friends in the community, still allowing for that peer support but under the protection of a safe space. It’s interesting, because until maybe two years ago, I had never experienced how unsafe the community can be to individuals. I’d not felt that before. While I still share a lot, these days  I’m more inclined to turn to those trusted friends in the DOC who I know will be honest, open, but never nasty or judgemental. 

Online spaces are different for women than they are for men. The misogyny that is inbuilt to even those that we think are allies comes out, often surprising us, as throwaway comments about a woman’s age or appearance. It is ever present in the diabetes community too. I’ve rolled my eyes as some of the most vocal advocates who have loudly aligned themselves as being supporters of women, revert to type, with snide sexist commentary. I’ve seen people in the DOC referred to as ‘angry old women’ for daring to be furious, older than 25 and a woman! I roll my eyes now when I know someone has called me angry. I also know that they’ve just announced to everyone how threatened they are of women who dare to not go quietly, and how they expect us to remain in our place!

There was so much more that we could have spoken about last night. We didn’t touch on body image and disordered eating (and yes, I know that this is not the domain of women only, but this is about us!), we didn’t talk about sex all that much either, even though it is often highlighted as an issue that needs more coverage and information. Again, it’s not because they are not important topics; it was because the fluid conversation took a feminist turn that highlighted a highly biased social and healthcare environment where it is seen as perfectly fine that the needs, and concerns of fifty percent of the diabetes community are barely considered.

Perhaps if we had a more feminist approach to, and model of, healthcare, the misogyny that has meant the topics important to us have not been researched, and are not discussed, could be eliminated. And women with diabetes would not be feeling ignored.

Disclosure

I was invited by Ascensia to help plan the agenda for #DSMSWomen and facilitate the discussion. I have been paid an honorarium for my time. 

Another large diabetes scientific conference is happening and alongside it, another docday in the can. 

If you go back through the Diabetogenic archives, you’ll find a bucketload of posts about previous docday° events, including the very first one which was memorable for being in an overheated backroom of a café in Stockholm, the cinnamon buns served at said café, and Josephine, a diabetes advocate from Sweden stripping down to her underwear to show off her Anna PS gear. (If you’re looking for tops and jocks to snugly store insulin pumps, Anna PS is still the best place to go!)

It’s a far slicker event these days. Even before we went all virtual, the IRL events were held in cavernous convention centres alongside the actual conference. This was great for lots of reasons: it means that you can easily pop into docday° from the main program, and a variety of stakeholders started to come along. While docday° very much remains the domain of diabetes advocates and the work in the community, it was great to know that we were sharing our news with HCPs, researchers, industry and more. Plus, the temperature control was better. The biggest negative was that cinnamon buns were not as easy to find. 

Last night’s docday° was as memorable as ever, with a dynamic program of advocates from across the globe. A number of people wanted to address the issue of diabetes and stigma, and I introduced this topic with a quick overview of the Diabetes Australia National Diabetes Week Campaign, and one of the videos we made. From there, we heard Ken Tait and Michael Donohoe speak about the stigma experienced by people with type 2 diabetes, and Salih Hendriks and Dan Newman speak about how stigma impacts on open discussions about diabetes-related complications. Dan’s talk was one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard, and I will be thinking of his words for a long time. 

There was lots more in the two-hour event. Please do watch it!

I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role. 

I applied for and received a press pass to attend EASD 2021. 

People with diabetes know that many times when we have a health concern it is dismissed with phrases such as ‘Oh, that’s more common in people with diabetes’ or ‘It’s part of living with diabetes’. Sometimes, that may be the case, but other times, it absolutely is not, and playing the diabetes card is like a get out of jail free card for HCPs to not do the investigations that they should to confirm diabetes is indeed responsible, and to eliminate anything else. Our concerns are ignored, and sometimes not believed. Not being believed is distressing in a particular way. 

It is fair to say that while diabetes has the ability to creep its way into all sorts of places it doesn’t belong, it is also fair to say that sometimes it’s not diabetes. 

I’ll say that again for the people in the back: SOMETIMES IT’S NOT DIABETES! 

Women – with and without diabetes – have also reported, (and reported and reported) stories of not being believed, or listened to, or properly treated by healthcare professionals when we’ve fronted up to visit the GP or other health professional to discuss something worrying us. Women with painful, heavy, uncomfortable periods are told that it’s just part of being a woman. A diagnosis of endometriosis is not treated as something especially serious because it is common, and we’re told it’s just part and parcel of life for some women. And women going through menopause and perimenopause, are told just to accept it, that it will pass… and it’s just part of being a woman.  

Put diabetes and women’s health together and there is a lot of dismissing, ignoring, diminishing, patronising, and belittling. 

It needs to stop, and we need to be believed. 

I am lucky that I haven’t experienced painful periods. To be honest, I barely even thought about periods until I was ready to try to get pregnant when I realised that my (up until then) good luck of only having a period 3 or 4 times a year wasn’t ideal for someone who needed to know when ovulation was occurring, and, to optimise the change of getting pregnancy, was occurring monthly. When I mentioned my irregular periods, the first thing I heard from most HCPs said was that it was because of diabetes. I wasn’t buying it. I’d started menstruating when I was thirteen. I had eleven years of sketchy periods before I was diagnosed with diabetes. And so, I asked for a referral to an OB/GYN and found one who was the sort of doctor who likes to solve puzzles rather than just ignore them.

He did a laparoscopy, a heap of other tests, and announced that I had PCOS. Not once did he suggest that my diabetes was to blame, but so, so many other HCPs did draw a line between the two. I do understand that there are links between type 2 diabetes and PCOS, and there is some research to suggest that there is a link between type 1 diabetes and PCOS, but thanks to an OB/GYN who wasn’t into making assumptions, I knew that there was more at play. 

When I was ready to conceive, a regular cycle was easily achieved with a bit of Clomid. Since I had my daughter, my periods have been like clockwork. The arrive with a tiny bit of cramping that barely registers, and me being annoyed that I need to think about if I have what I need in the bathroom cupboard/work drawer/handbag. But not much else. 

But I have friends who have such painful, uncomfortable, debilitating periods that have a really negative affect on their health and wellbeing each and every month. I know of people who miss days of school or work each cycle, who vomit at their period’s onset, and who cry in pain for days each and every month. These friends tell stories of how many HCPs simply shrugged their shoulders and said it was something they just needed to deal with, and perhaps some ibuprofen might help. They tell me that the severity of the pain is not believed. They are made to feel that bleeding through layers of pads, tampons and clothes shouldn’t concern them. 

When I have needed to push and push and push to get answers, or to be treated seriously in the first place, or to reject the ‘It’s diabetes’ reasoning, I have been labelled difficult or challenging. When refusing to accept the ‘It’s just a woman thing’, I’ve felt the same way. 

Dr Jen Gunter says it shouldn’t be an act of feminism to understand how our bodies work. In exactly the same way it shouldn’t be an act of defiance to demand answers. It also shouldn’t be an act of resilience. All too often, it is all these things. 

Artwork from diabetes advocate & artist, Jenna. Find this & other amazing artworks on her Instagram page: @TypeOneVibes.

Do your diabetes appointments take on an eerily familiar routine? When I was first diagnosed, each appointment would open with the words ‘Let me see your book’. My endo was referring to my BGL record, an oblong-shaped book that I was meant to diligently record my minimum of four daily BGL checks, what I ate, what I thought, who I’d prayed to, what TV shows I’d watched and how much I exercised. 

I did that for about the first two and a half months, I mean weeks, okay, days and after that the novelty wore off and I stopped.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I did that thing that pretty much every single person with diabetes does at one point or another – I made up stuff. I was especially creative, making sure I used different coloured pens and splotched coffee stains across some of the pages here and there, little blood speckles for proof of bleeding fingers, and, for a particularly authentic take, OJ, to reflect the made-up numbers that suggested I’d been having a few lows. 

I’d show those creative as fuck pages – honestly, they were works of art – when requested, roll my sleeve up for a BP cuff to be attached, and step on the scales for my weight to be scrutinised. Simply because I was told that was what these appointments should look like, and I knew no better. 

And then, I’d walk out of those appointments either frustrated, because I’d not talked about anything important to me; in tears, because I’d been told off because my A1c was out of range; furious, because I hated diabetes and simply wasn’t getting a chance to say that. And anxious, because looking at the number of kilograms I weighed has always made me feel anxious. 

The numbers in my book, on the BP machine or the scales meant nothing to me in terms of what was important in my diabetes life. They stressed me out, they made me feel sad and hopeless, and they reduced me to a bunch of metrics that did not in any way reflect the troubles I was having just trying to do diabetes. 

These days, not a single data point is shared or collected unless I say so. I choose when to get my A1c done; I choose when to share CGM data; I choose to get my BP done, something I choose to do at every appointment.

I choose to not step on the scales. 

I don’t know what I weigh. I might have a general idea, but it’s an estimation. I don’t weigh myself at home, and I don’t weigh myself at the doctor’s office. I think the last time I stepped on a set of scales was in January 2014 before I had cataract surgery and that was because the anaesthetist explained that it was needed to ensure the correct dose of sleepy drugs were given so I wouldn’t wake up mid scalpel in my eye.  Excellent motivator, Dr Sleep, excellent motivator. 

Last month, I tweeted that PWD do not need to step on the scales at diabetes appointments unless they want to, and that it was okay to ask for why they were being asked to do so.

There were comments about how refusing to be weighed (or refusing anything, for that matter) can be interpreted. I’ve seen that happen. Language matters, and there are labels attributed to people who don’t simply follow the instructions of their HCP. We could get called non-compliant for not compliantly stepping on the scales and compliantly being weighed and then compliantly dealing with the response from our healthcare professional and compliantly engaging in a discussion about it. Or it can be documented as ‘refusal to participate’ which makes us sound wilfully recalcitrant and disobedient. It’s what you’d expect to see on a school report card next to a student who doesn’t want to sing during choir practise or participate in groups sports. 

What surprised me (although perhaps it shouldn’t) was the number of people who replied to that tweet saying they didn’t realise they could say no. it seems that we have a long way to go before we truly find ourselves enjoying real person-centred care.

Being weighed comes with concerns for a lot of people, and people with diabetes often have layers of extra concerns thanks to the intermingling of diabetes and weight. Disordered eating behaviours and eating disorders are more common in people with diabetes. Weight is one of those things that determines just how ‘good’ we are being. For many of us, weight is inextricably linked with every single part of our diabetes existence. My story is that of many – I lost weight before diagnosis and people commented on it favourably, even though I was a healthy weight beforehand. This reinforced that reduced weight = good girl, and that was my introduction to living with diabetes. 

From there, it’s the reality of diabetes: insulin can, for some, mean weight gain, high glucose levels often result in weight loss, changes to therapy and different drugs affect our weight – it’s no wonder that many, many of us have very fraught feelings when it comes to weight and the condition we live with. Stepping on the scales brings that to the fore every three months (or however frequently we have a diabetes healthcare appointment). 

Is it always necessary, or is it more of a routine thing that has just become part and parcel of diabetes care? And are people routinely given the option to opt out, or is there the assumption that we’ll happily (compliantly!) jump on the scales and just deal with whatever we see on the read out and the ensuing conversation? And if we say no, will that be respected – and accepted – without question? Perhaps another positive outcome is that it could encourage dialogue about why we feel that way and start and exploration if there is something that can be done?

It shouldn’t be seen as an act of defiance to say no, especially when what we are saying no to comes with a whole host of different emotions – some of them quite negative. Actually, it doesn’t matter if there are negative connotations or not. We should not be forced to do something as part of our diabetes care that does not make sense to us or meet our needs. When we talk about centring us in our care, surely that means we decide, without fearing the response from our HCPs, what we want to do. Having a checklist of things we are expected to do is not centring us or providing us the way forward to get what we want. 

How do we go about making that happen?

Seventeen years ago, I had a decision to make. Would I enrol our soon-to-be-born baby in research that would tell us if she had any of the antibodies for type 1 diabetes?  

I thought about it long and hard. Aaron and I spoke about it a lot. He wanted to support me with whatever I thought would be best. In the end, we decided not to do it. Even before our daughter was born there was a dread that I could barely give word to – I was terrified that I would be responsible for passing on my diabetes to my baby. That feeling hasn’t gone, by the way. I have spent a lot of hours working through it with a psychologist to try to understand the source of the anxiety and learn to manage the fear in a way that doesn’t become all encompassing. Because there were times that I felt paralysed with that fear. I knew I needed to get through that. 

I felt horribly guilty about not signing her up straight away and registering her in research. When I returned to work after maternity leave, there was a trial that was in full recruitment mode, and I once again faced the decision. I was actively promoting this study through my work, and speaking to the researchers a lot. A couple of times, I asked if I could speak with them in a personal rather than professional capacity and explain my reticence to enrol my daughter, even though I could understand why the work was so important. I asked for their advice and guidance, and they were always so wonderfully kind and understanding when I said that I simply didn’t feel that I could proceed. I think that part of the reason was that there wasn’t really all that much that could be done if it was identified that she did indeed have one or more of the islet autoantibodies. 

Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of interest and excitement in research into prevention and delay of type 1 diabetes. That ‘p’ word that has only ever been attached to type 2 diabetes now very firmly has a place when it comes to type 1 diabetes. At the ADC earlier this month, I listened to a couple of hours of talks from researchers who were talking all about screening for type 1 diabetes, and interventions that are taking place around the world with remarkable results. 

The Type 1 Screen program has been running in Australia since 2018. It is open to relatives of someone with type 1 diabetes, aged 2 – 30 years. After initial screening, people without antibodies are screened every five years; people with antibodies are screened annually. Up until now, screening has been by doing a pathology blood test. However, home collection is being developed and, at the time of the presentation, was about to be launched. Home collection will be done by using blood from a finger prick.

So, what are the benefits of screening for type 1 diabetes? Well, there are many!

Early diagnosis (of anything) is a good thing! In a perfect world, early diagnosis means early treatment which means better outcomes. It also helps people and families prepare for progression to diabetes. 

Screening reduces the risk of DKA at diagnosis. While that may make for a less traumatic diagnosis experience, there are also linger term benefits for this. DKA at diagnosis increases the risk of recurrent DKA, a higher A1c and increases the risk of diabetes-related complications. 

Prevention is on the horizon! Knowing people who are at risk of type 1 diabetes means employing interventions that have the potential to delay, and may one day prevent, type 1 diabetes. Research using the drug Teplizumab delayed the onset of type 1 diabetes by two years. 

Researchers and clinicians are talking about stages of type 1 diabetes and this is where it gets super interesting. Stage three type 1 diabetes I diagnosis and, typically, that’s where treatment starts. But in the future, it’s possible that treatment, including glucose monitoring, could be routine for stages one and two. 

I listened to all this carefully and one thing that was clear to me: even seventeen years later, the emotional impact of this is significant. Thankfully, Dr Christel Hendrieckxs from the ACBRD is part of the project team for this work here in Australia. It goes without saying that this is about a lot more than just early diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. There is also the impact on the family, especially if someone in that family already has type 1 diabetes. The mother guilt I have at the thought of passing on diabetes to my daughter is by no means a small thing. I know a number of other parents with diabetes who have similar thoughts. 

After that session, I asked my sixteen, almost seventeen, year old how she would feel about enrolling in Type 1 Screen. It’s completely up to her now – I am happy to chat about it, and tell her all about the program, but ultimately, it’s her decision. She understands why I was reluctant to enrol her when she was tiny, but now, I am giving her the option to get involved, and she needs to make her own decision which we’ll fully support. I don’t know what she will decide, but the seed has been planted, and I am here to chat with her about it, and organise times to meet with the researchers too if she’d like.

Watch my Q&A with A/Professor John Wentworth from Type 1 Screen about getting involved in this research.

More information about Type 1 Screen can be found here

I probably should stop thinking of my job as ‘my new job’. I’ve been at Diabetes Australia now for well over five years. But for some reason, I still think of it that way. And so do a lot of other people who often will ask ‘How’s the new job?’

Well, the new job is great, and I’ve enjoyed the last five years immensely. It’s a very different role to the one I had previously, even though both have been in diabetes organisations. 

One thing that is very different is that in my (not) new job I don’t have the day-to-day contact with people with diabetes that I used to have. That’s not to say that I am removed from the lived experience – in fact, in a lot of ways I’m probably more connected now simply because I speak to a far more diverse group of people affected by diabetes. But in my last job, I would often really get to know people because I’d see them at the events my team was running, year in, year out. 

Today, I got a call from one of those people. (I have their permission to tell this story now.) They found my contact details through the organisation and gave me a call because they needed a chat. After a long time with diabetes (longer than the 23 years I’ve had diabetes as an annoying companion), they have recently been diagnosed with a diabetes-related complication. The specific complication is irrelevant to this post. 

They’ve been struggling with this diagnosis because along with it came a whole lot more. They told me about the stigma they were feeling, to begin with primarily from themselves. ‘Renza,’ they said to me. ‘I feel like a failure. I’ve always been led to believe that diabetes complications happen when we fail our diabetes management. I know it’s not true, but it’s how I feel, and I’ve given myself a hard time because of it.’ 

That internalised stigma is B.I.G. I hear about it a lot. I’ve spent a long time learning to unpack it and try to not impact how I feel about myself and my diabetes. 

The next bit was also all too common. ‘And my diabetes health professionals are disappointed in me. I know they are by the way they are now speaking to me.’

We chatted for a long time, and I suggested some things they might like to look at. I asked if they were still connected to the peer support group they’d once been an integral part of, but after moving suburbs, they’d lost contact with diabetes mates. I pointed out some online resources, and, knowing that they often are involved in online discussions, asked if they’d checked out the #TalkAboutComplications hashtag. They were not familiar with it, and I pointed out just how much information there was on there – especially from others living with diabetes and diabetes-related complications. ‘It’s not completely stigma free,’ I said. ‘But I think you’ll find that it is a really good way to connect with others who might just be able to offer some support.’ 

They said they’d have a look. 

We chatted a bit more and I told them they could call me any time for a chat. I hope they do. 

A couple of hours later, my phone beeped with a new text message. It was from this person. They’d read through dozens and dozens of tweets and clicked on links and had even sent a few messages to some people. ‘Why didn’t I know about this before?’, they asked me. 

Our community is a treasure trove of support and information, and sometimes I think we forget just how valuable different things are. The #TalkAboutComplications ‘campaign’ was everywhere a couple of years ago, and I heard from so many people that it helped them greatly. I spoke about it – particularly the language aspect of it – in different settings around the world and wrote about it a lot.

While the hashtag may not get used all that much these days, everything is still there. I sent out a tweet today with it, just as a little reminder. All the support, the connections, the advice from people with diabetes is still available. I hope that people who need it today can find it and learn from it. And share it. That’s one of the things this community does well – shares the good stuff, and this is definitely some of the good stuff!

Want more? 

Check out the hashtag on Twitter here.

You can watch a presentation from ATTD 2019 here

Read this article from BMJ

Over the weekend, I could not stop thinking about the words ‘from’ and ‘with’, specifically when used before the word COVID. The reason for this is that there seems to have been a subtle shift in the language used by NSW government and health officials when speaking about people dying during this wave. You see, rather than saying people are dying FROM COVID, they’ve started to say dying WITH COVID.

It means something different. It suggests that the person didn’t die from the virus, but from other factors. This is on top of the over-emphasis made at pressers about how people who have died have underlying conditions (I wrote about that last week). The implication is that the person was already unwell; that they were dying anyway.

I know I’m a little fragile at the moment, but not fragile enough to not get fired up when I see language being used in a harmful way, and negatively framing people with chronic health conditions. And so, today, I wrote to the Premier of NSW about this issue.

Here’s what I wrote:

______________________________________

Dear Premier Berejiklian

My name is Renza Scibilia, and I am not one of your constituents. I don’t live in NSW, so you may be inclined to simply disregard this message. I hope you (or rather, someone from your team) will read it, because I know that what I have to say is relevant to many people in your state. In fact, I am sure that you have heard similar sentiments from people in NSW and I am adding my voice to that choir.

I don’t envy the position you are in right now and I’m not here to complain or credit the work you are doing regarding the current serious wave of COVID-19 in your state.

But I would like to make comment on something that is very close to my heart and an area in which I have some experience – health communications.

Communication matters. The words that people use are sometimes employed flippantly and sometimes they are employed deliberately. Either way, they are important. I fear that a change in the words you and your team have recently started is a deliberate move and I believe it is harmful to people like me. When speaking about the tragic deaths of people during this COVID-19 wave, you are now saying they die WITH COVID-19 rather than FROM it.

It may seem ridiculous to draw attention to words that appear so immaterial. Except, of course, they are not immaterial at all. And I believe that the shift is deliberate. And it does a great disservice to the people to whom you are referring.

I live with type 1 diabetes. It’s undoubtedly a serious condition, and one that I have had to manage for the last 23 years. On a day-to-day basis, I do quite impressive mathematical calculations as I measure glucose levels, dose insulin, consider my activity, and monitor my stress levels. This takes time – a lot of time. Outside of diabetes-specific care, I eat well, walk 10K steps a day, and manage my wellbeing as best I can.

Beyond what I do each day, I remain on top of my longer-term diabetes and overall health. I never miss screening checks – diabetes or otherwise; I have annual health checks and I can tell you my BP, resting heart rate, HbA1c, lipids and cholesterol. Most people my age are not this switched on with their health and wellbeing, and because I am, I can confidently say that I am healthier than a lot of people my age.

And so, when you use sweeping statements suggesting that if someone like me was to be diagnosed with, and die from COVID-19, that the reason for my death is my health condition you are not correct. I am not already dying from diabetes.

There is a difference between dying FROM COVID-19 and dying WITH covid. Your change in language is an insult and is upsetting to people like me and it is also misleading. I am healthy, I am fit and if I got covid and died, it would be because of the virus not because of my type 1 diabetes.

I urge you to reconsider how you are speaking about people like me. It is heartbreaking for us to know that in the minds of some, our lives, and our deaths, are so easily explained away. While I am sure your intention is not to make us feel as though we are nothing more than collateral, that is how it sounds. The language you are using frames us and our health conditions as being to blame. It makes us sounds and feel as though we already have one foot in the grave and I can assure you that is not the case.

Language matters, words matter. Please, please be careful when selecting yours.

Sincerely,

Renza Scibilia
Melbourne

At the last IDF Congress, I was invited to be part of the first panel on the opening morning of the meeting. It was all about diabetes and technology. Before the questions, the moderator, my friend Kyle Jacques Rose, asked everyone to introduce themselves. When it got to my turn, I said who I was and then shamelessly and unapologetically said I was the most important person the stage (along with Kyle and Manny Hernandez, who also live with diabetes). I remember looking steadily out into the audience as I made my claim to see the response. There was some who looked taken aback. And then some who cheered (thanks to the other PWD in the room!). 

Last week, I was in a two-hour workshop. I knew maybe half the people there. I also knew that I was the only person there to provide the ‘user’ experience. This isn’t uncommon, but it still drives me nuts when it happens, especially in a session that was about finding the right person-centred model of care in the age of telehealth. When it came to introducing myself, I thanked the organiser for inviting me, and said that it was great to be there…as the most important person in the (Zoom) room. One of the researchers I know well and who I have worked with quite a lot in recent years, smiled widely. At least I had one person in the room who got me. I watched again to see how others responded. Some certainly did look a little shocked. 

I explained that having people like me to feed into the work is critical, and that it was great that they wanted to hear from someone with lived experience to (and it would have been great to have seen a few other folks doing the same). 

So, how do I manage to be ‘the voice’ of lived experience when it comes to these sorts of things? When the meeting is diabetes-specific what do I say that captures the needs and wishes of every single person with diabetes? And, as in this meeting, when it’s about designing a system that is for all people with a variety of health conditions, how do I effectively and adequately tell the HCPs and researchers in the room just what it is that those people want?

The answer is, I don’t. Of course I don’t. 

I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience other than my own. I can’t say ‘I need this’ and assume that is what everyone else wants, and I would never make that assumption. Nor do I try to convince anyone that my needs and experiences are representative of anyone’s other than me. 

I will advocate until I am blue in the face that there needs to be many different people consulted and engaged in the design, delivery and dissemination of healthcare services, activities, and resources. Sometimes, that does happen. But if it is only me, I am never there to provide specifics of what needs to be done. In fact, I spend most of my time urging (begging and pleading) for assurances that there will be far more, far better, far meaningful engagement from this moment forward. 

I see my role is to pointedly, deliberately, unambiguously, and often, bolshily, make sure that the others in the room embed the idea of co-design in everything they do. And do it with wide representation.

I honestly don’t believe that there can ever be too much lived experience representation. But in the cases when there is only very little, I have rarely met anyone who claims to be the oracle of all things to do with lived experience or believe that their ideas are the only one worth listening to. In fact, anytime that has happened that person never is asked back. 

When I am asked to help find people for an advisory board, or to be involved in consultation, I always search for people who I know can look beyond their own experience. Again, it’s not because they are expected to speak for others. Rather it’s to know that there are others with different experiences and that, while they are the one at the table in that moment, they will do everything possible to make sure that those others are invited next time. 

And THAT, is why, at times like this, people like me are the most important people in the room – those of us who are banging a very loud drum to make sure that our cohort grows and grows. If you are working in healthcare and don’t have people with lived experience as part of the discussion, you’ve forgotten the most important people.

Stop what you’re doing, RIGHT NOW, and go find them. 

IDF Congress, Busan 2019. Opening panel. Some super important people on the panel. Manny, Kyle and I just happened to be THE most important.
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