“THERE is no family history of diabetes, so this has been a massive learning curve for me and my family. We were very ignorant about it.
I am 45 years old, and a single mum to Bronwyn, 22, Matthew, 21, and Meghan, 13.
I was diagnosed four years ago. I was tired, thirsty, weeing all the time, and developed thrush, a symptom of diabetes no-one really talks about. Luckily, the doctor I got an appointment with has an interest in diabetes.
They did blood tests. On results day I phoned, and they said they couldn’t give them over the phone, but they had made me an appointment with the diabetes nurse, two days later.
That was a bit of a giveaway, but it was dangerous because in those few days I thought I’d get a head start on learning. I Googled diabetes and found stories about complications, horror stories, not many with a happy ending.
My mum came with me to the appointment, but by then I was a bit of a wreck. I don’t remember much, apart from things about lifestyle changes. There were no print-outs, no leaflets.
Afterwards we went shopping, and it was demoralising, looking at details on labels. I got so frustrated I abandoned my trolley in the middle of the store and went home. I thought my life was over.
I became self-conscious about eating in front of people, really paranoid, because I was being asked ‘are you allowed that’ and ‘can you eat that?’ I ended up binging all the time on my own.
I was floundering for six months.
I was on a recall programme with a GP and one day saw a postcard advertising a diabetes event the following day. There were 200 people there from Newport. It was run by Diabetes UK, and there were specialist nurses, consultants, dietitians, charity representatives.
Everybody put up their hands when asked if they would like a support group. I was quite a bit younger than most of them and I pushed the idea with the Diabetes UK Cymru office in Cardiff. It took a bit of putting together, but the support from the charity has been amazing.
It’s not like me at all. Before (I had diabetes), I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. I’ve never done anything like this. At the launch we had about 40 people, including consultants, nurses, practice nurses, dietitians - amazing.
We have speakers on diabetes-related matters. Mental health is a big issue. I’ve tried for two years to get someone to talk about mental health, and now we have someone coming to the next meeting.
There are so many people living with this. We had a new member last week, and he said: “I didn’t know there was anything like this group. I’ve been diabetic for eight years and I wish I’d known.”
We have mainly Type 2 people in the group, but also Type 1 people.
I overheard a conversation once between two people and one said: “I don’t live with diabetes, it lives with me and by my rules.” That was a lightbulb moment.
For medication, I take metformin, which is for Type 2 diabetes second stage. Diet and exercise is the ‘treatment’ for the first stage. For 18 months, different types of medications were also introduced to try to help, but I found I wasn’t getting good results.
The doctor suggested insulin. My first thought was: “I can’t inject myself.” I’m afraid of needles.
I need to be there when my kids are older, so I had to overcome that, and pen needles are fantastic. I met the lady who invented them, and it was “wow - you changed my life”.
It is very important to be aware of blood sugar levels. A ‘hyper’ - blood sugars too high - isn’t as dangerous as a hypo - too low - but you can still feel really unwell.
When I was training for the London Bridges Walk, I used the crossing by the fountains opposite the footbridge in Newport. I got across to the middle, but when I got to the second crossing, I didn’t know how to work the buttons.
Luckily someone else was using the crossing and I managed to cross. I recognised what it was, and managed to test my blood, and the level was +3.5. The saying is ‘less than four and you’re on the floor’.
It affected me for two or three days, and although I treated it quickly it had a huge knock-on effect. I was testing more than I should because I was paranoid that it came on so quickly.
My experience with diabetes has changed the way I look at people. There was a lady lying on a raised bed in John Frost Square with a bottle of sherry tucked under her arm. The sun was blazing down.
I walked on, but I wasn’t comfortable so I rang security and asked if someone would go and check on her. That’s not something I would have done before.
I was looking to fundraise for Diabetes UK Cymru because they have been a massive support to me and my family. I wanted to give something back and the London Bridges Walk looked good.
The first time, I didn’t train. The girls did it with me and it took us six hours. The sense of achievement was huge. I crossed the finish line and I cried for about an hour. It’s something I would probably never have thought to do, go out and walk 10 miles.
I then thought I wanted to do it again, but not take six hours. Bronwyn came with me and we did a fair bit of training. My GP referred me for the exercise referral programme.
I’ve taken on a lot of roles on a voluntary basis. I’m a public contributor for the Diabetes Research Unit Cymru, at Swansea University. They encourage research in the field of diabetes.
They send us proposals for possible research and ask us to review them for viability and relevance. We are asked to comment and give feedback.
I’m also a lay member of the Science and Research Advisory Group for Diabetes UK, helping look at priorities for research.
I was invited to the Diabetes UK professional conference in London, an amazing experience, and I am on the diabetes patients’ reference panel for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.
I am a co-ordinator for the Type 2 diabetes structured education course, the X-Pert programme.
I don’t like to say ‘no’ because it’s an issue affecting so many people.
They say one-in-four people is either being treated for diabetes or have a loved one or a friend with it. That is massive, and there are more than 8,000 people in Newport alone with diabetes, so at least 2,000 will have it, but not have been diagnosed or realise they have it.
If I was talking to someone who has just been diagnosed, I’d say don’t panic, find someone to talk to, come along and join the group, and give them some information.
I’d say take a step back, don’t panic. Back then, I wanted someone to say “Sarah, come and get a coffee and have a chat”. It can feel lonely, but you don’t have to be.
l Sarah Gibbs last weekend won the Supporting Others ‘Inspire’ Award from Diabetes UK Cymru.
Newport Diabetes UK Group meets on the third Thursday of every month, 7pm-8.30pm, at St Julius and St Aaron Church Hall, Heather Road, Newport, NP19 7JT.