Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Diabetes Challenge - what was it all about?

Around a month ago I was browsing the Facebook Diabetes UK site and something stood out of the page and looked me straight in the eye. A picture of a mother and daughter embraced in a relaxed but protective way, almost as if showing a united front - we are in this together. I could instantly tell who the focus of the picture was. The young lady staring back from the photo, beckoning me to read the post - a young lady named Claudia. I knew without even having to ask, that this young lady and I shared something in common. Diabetes.

A few days after that, I made friends with someone named Lee Nevitt after watching a YouTube documentary which depicted life through Lee's eyes. A life which involved many hours in a wheelchair, many hours in pain and a life which had been transformed due to a condition. But something about the documentary said "I'm not done with you yet, there's more I have to say." We also had something in common. Diabetes.

Around this time, I also made friends with Angela, Berni, Roxana and Sarah. Four ladies whom I also shared something in common with. Diabetes. One way or another, this condition affects all of us. It doesn't matter whether we have been diagnosed with the condition or whether we live with someone who has it. Either way, we all have diabetes.

All of these people became my friends independently of one another. All within a few weeks admittedly, but as far as I was aware not through any friend suggestions or word of mouth. But simply because of our shared connection. Diabetes.

I'm not a great believer in fate, in 'meant to be' or even a great believer in coincidence. Sometimes things just happen. And had you told me a few weeks ago that we would all be involved in a challenge together walking the length of the Dorset coastline with the shared aim of raising awareness, despite the fact that some of us lived a four hour drive apart, I would not have believed you. I would have told you to stop pulling my leg.

And yet this is just what happened. Initially, after watching Lee's documentary, I noticed on his Facebook page that he was taking part in a challenge during diabetes week. A Diabetes Challenge where he would negotiate a 10km trip in his wheelchair in order to raise awareness for diabetes.

Then, I realised somewhere along the line that the young lady from that photo was also doing it. She was going to take on this challenge on her own set of wheels - her bicycle. I don't even remember when I realised this, or when it clicked that Angela was her mother, the other half of the united front, the other half of the photo. But at some point I realised and something pulled me to the challenge. Now, I had been planning to attend a Diabetes Wellness and Research Foundation event in Southampton on the day of the challenge, the 19th of June, but something was telling me that this was the event I should attend. At this point I had no idea how many connections would all knot together at this event. At the time I just thought it was a great idea and maybe I'd like to be part of it.

Next in the chain of events, was a recent new friend asking me about the pump - enter Berni. We had exchanged a few emails by this point, every few days having an e-chat about diabetes and how our experiences had played out to this point. Berni and I don't share the 'same kind' of diabetes and yet without ever having met, conversation flowed easily and each other's status updates about diabetes usually always warranted a response from the other person. Above all, there was something we understood about one another. Diabetes. Berni wanted to talk about the pump and learn a bit more, and I was lucky enough to be the person she called on. Everyone knows I love talking about the pump and all things diabetes and I would have the opportunity to talk about it again, because Berni was another person taking part in the challenge.

Then I find out the Sarah and Roxana were going too. Each little thread knitting together at last. Maybe I should rethink my theories about fate...

By all calculations, I should never have made it to the event. In my last post I talked about my downright ridiculous attempt to make it to the challenge after missing the beginning, the middle and even the end (impressive considering it was a 3 hour challenge and we took 4 hours to actually find them!). But eventually after all that, we made it.

It is difficult to talk about the challenge exactly, because my marvellous punctuality and orienteering skills mean I only just made it to the finish line before everyone went home. But in that short hour we had together a few things became glaringly obvious to me.

Here in front of me stood a group of people united by one common goal. One shared aim and a growing list of objectives. There were men, women and children wearing their JDRF and DUK t-shirts with pride and with purpose. Children as bold as brass were encouraging strangers and passers by to part with money for a good cause. A cause which in one way or another had affected their lives in sometimes indescribable ways. There were friends of friends with faces painted blue, a way to show they were there to support their friends, their family, their new-found companions. There to show unity and compassion for one another and the things we all go through, something this world can at times swallow up.

In front of me stood a man named Lee who had been through ten rounds in the ring with Diabetes. Diabetes had not gone easy on him, it had not cut him any slack. But in front of me there also stood a man talking about educating people and making a difference. He was proud to have done the challenge, but there was a look in his eye that said this was only the beginning and a status update the day after, confirming just that.

In front of me stood a young lady named Claudia, who wore her pump cannula on her arm for the world to see. When I showed her that I had mine on my arm too, a smile crept across her face. This young lady was confident, energetic and enchanting. I wish I had known another diabetic like her when I was young. This girl would take no prisoners when it came to this condition. She was the winner, not the diabetes.

In front of me stood mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and supporters, all keen to show that even though this sometimes devastating illness had affected their lives, they weren't about to go belly up and give in. These aren't those kind people.

There were easily two dozen people there when I arrived, still excited from the achievement now firmly in their possession. You could feel the buzz just walking into the middle of the group and bearing in mine Lauren and I were pretty worn out from our hot, sticky traffic jams and midday confusion on the beach, we were immediately energised by the sheer good vibe this group exuded.

Sometimes living each day with diabetes can make you feel as if you are shovelling snow in a blizzard, or trying to run through tar, but when you surround yourselves with people like this, those days start to fade away a little. They become a little harder to remember.

On the morning of the challenge I had notched up a rather impressive 22.9mmol on the way there. My muscles were aching, my mood was sinking and my bubbly personality was little more than a meagre simmer. All of that was forgotten when I met this group. It melted away somewhere along the line and was replaced by laughter and chatter - the personality boil back on max.

Berni and I talked pumps, diabetes disputes, Type 1, Type 2, Type 1.5 and type MODY for over an hour. I could have talked for more. I'm pretty sure Berni could too!

The event itself raised over £330 on the day as well as almost £1000 in the run up to the event. How many can say they have done that? I'm afraid I can't. I did a sponsored silence once - years ago - in aid of diabetes. What happened along the way and why did I forget to carry on? OK, so perhaps a sponsored silence isn't the right way to go for someone who talks like an AK47, but I dipped my feet in the water and then dried them off straight away.

I think I have found several really good reasons to take it up with the world again. Perhaps they are role models more than reasons. They are called Lee, Claudia, Angela, Berni, Roxana, Sarah, man with painted blue face, girl wearing JDRF t-shirt. Diabetes.

In this post I have written the word 'Diabetes' in a sentence all on its own a number of times. I did this on purpose despite the way it looks on the page. Really, grammatically speaking, a sentence doesn't make sense if it is just one word but this one does. Diabetes IS a sentence. But it is not a sentence we have to go alone in. It may stand alone in a sentence, but the nature of diabetes is that there are millions of other people living that sentence. 285 Million to be exact.

Even though I didn't make it to the event itself I am so glad I met this group of people. These people are the ones who will spend their days educating, spreading the word and letting people know; we are still here, we still have something to say, we have a difference to make and we aren't giving up until we succeed.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Anna! Just wondered if you're able to make it to Brighton? There's going to be about 15 people there! Drop me an email at mapoftheseas@gmail.com if you need any info :) Siobhan x