Irene Aarons – accepting diabetes with words

Poet and writer, Irene Aarons (nom de plume – Irene Emanuel), tells us how writing poetry about her medical conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, has helped her comes to term with them.


Irene Aarons (75) lives in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. She has three children, four step children, three grand-children and nine step grand-children.

Irene not only has Type 2 diabetes. She has chronic allergic asthma; a hernia; high blood pressure; rhinitis; osteoarthritis, and she is on medication for all these conditions.

Though, she explains that the upside of all the above is that she has material to work with; many of her poems are about medical matters.

“I live the best life that I can, by finding the funny side of any limitations that there are. The poetry process gives me the chance to make light of a serious condition. By writing it down, I understand that this illness (diabetes) is not the end of my life but the beginning of new experiences. Poetry gives me an understanding that there is life after all my ailments; and whatever else finds me.”

“I always know that there are people far worse off than me. At least I am able to laugh at myself and write poetry that might make someone else laugh. One of my greatest joys is presenting a poetry talk to adults and children; to having them come up to me afterwards and telling me that my words have helped them in some way,” Irene explains.

Family history of diabetes

Irene was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in December 2008, at the age of 64. “I was vaguely expecting it as my mother, two uncles and an aunt all had diabetes. My oldest brother had Type 1 as well as his son. Since my diagnosis, another nephew has been diagnosed with Type 1. So, it definitely runs on the maternal side of my family.

After seventeen years of marriage to her second husband, Irene became a widow, in 2000, when he died of diabetic complications (Type 2). “My second husband was on dialysis for about three years, had lost the sight in one eye and was quite ill for a long time,” she explains. “He was diagnosed when he was in his twenties. But refused to take pills and carried on as if there was no problem at all. He lived life to the full and took no notice of his condition.”

“By the time I married him, he was still a heavy smoker and a fearless “anything-goes” person. When he finally gave in (I pressured him), it was too late. From his mid-fifties, he suffered from peripheral neuropathy, lost the sight in one eye, had a heart attack and then a multiple bypass, which made him give up smoking. His kidneys were damaged and he had to go for dialysis three times a week.”

“He died in his sixties. An early death which could have been delayed had he taken better care of himself. I supported him by going to support group meetings and ensuring that he followed a healthy way of eating. I helped him wherever I could by supporting him in his business and looking after all the children.”

Diabetes management

Currently, Irene is on 1000mg Glucophage twice a day. “Having diabetes is not a problem but rather a challenge. But a challenge that I accept to overcome every day,” she explains.

“The downside of diabetes is that I have to be cautious about what I am able to eat safely. I do cheat. But as I get older, I find that I eat less and very plain food. However, I admit that my downfall is a Steers hamburger, which I do treat myself to about once a month.”

Irene certainly does see the humour in everything. The proof is in the train of thought regarding diabetic food items. “I am curious as to why the cost of diabetic food is always so expensive, considering that half the ingredients are left out.”

She adds that she prefers Hermesetas sweeteners. But since they are imported from Switzerland, they seem to be harder to get. For this reason, she uses Equal sweetener instead.

Exercise doesn’t form part of Irene’s daily regime. Though, she adds “I do park far from mall entrances so that I can walk a fair amount. I do enjoy walking and sightseeing, especially if I am somewhere that I have not been before.”

Keeping busy is the way to go

The 76-year-old is officially retired. Though, she  keeps herself very busy. She is the bookkeeper for a family business, which involves at least two days a week. She also offers her time in two different charity shops, twice a week. Lastly, she always avails herself for talks, let it be on poetry or health.

“I have always been willing to talk to people on subjects, ranging from poetry to books, health, or whatever is needed. I have given talks at schools, clubs and societies. My favourite being schools because I have written poetry on rape, babies, abuse and topics that children can relate to. I am adamant that reading is the pathway to becoming informed and a useful member of society.

Publications

Irene has published four poetry anthologies. The poet has also had poetry and short stories published in both local and overseas books, as well as newspaper articles published in South Africa. She has won poetry awards and an award for general success in the publishing world.

See two of her poems below.

CHRONICALLY CHALLENGED

By Irene Emanuel

I’m working and walking

though chronically challenged;

I’m thinking and talking

though chronically challenged;

I’m laughing and crying

though chronically challenged;

I’m sitting and lying

though chronically challenged;

My insides are messed

and chronically challenged;

My outsides are dressed

though chronically challenged.

The list of what’s challenged

is endlessly long

is medical science

going to write me a song?

In medical books, I’m living proof,

though chronically challenged

I’m still waterproof.

I’ve asthma, diabetes and rhinitis too,

hernia, depression and no-one to sue;

Though chronically challenged,

and living on pills;

I know that my life

is still full of thrills.

So hit me again, what else is in store?

though chronically challenged,

at least I don’t snore.

 

PILLORIED

By Irene Emanuel

I am a rainbow ghost, see-through in the light;

A conglomeration of multi-coloured pills

that prevent me from becoming a real ghost.

The pills play music tattoos on my skeleton

as they race down my gullet, looking for signage

direction to the weak spot.

I wonder what the outcome would be if the signs got scrambled?

Would my diabetes become asthmatic?

Would my high blood pressure run into the blood thinner and become watery?

Would that increase the water on my lungs and cause flooding?

What would happen if there was a traffic jam?

Would the various pills just give up, dissolve into a heap and suffer a melt-down?

Would my body rebel, fight back, expel the pills, lie down and fade out?

A bitter pill to swallow is the fact that I am chained forever, to staying alive with pills.

MEET OUR EXPERT


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za


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Zoné Oberholzer – the beauty living with Type 1 diabetes

Modelling, insulin pumps, make-up and studying. This is all in the life of Zoné Oberholzer, a Type 1 diabetes patient and a Miss Supranational SA 2019 finalist.


Zoné Oberholzer (21) lives in Pretoria, Gauteng. She is an Education (BEd) student at Aros University.

The young Pretoria beauty recently celebrated her 21stbirthday which came at an apt time as she just finished her first year June exams. We caught up with the  model to find out how she has handled living with Type 1 diabetes for 17 years.

When were you diagnosed?

In September 2002. I was four years old. My nursery school teacher mentioned to my mom that I was no longer playing outside and that I was constantly thirsty. She suggested that we see a doctor, where upon I was diagnosed.

I spent a week in hospital where my blood glucose was stabilised, and my parents were educated about Type 1 diabetes. The doctor said the most likely cause was the chickenpox virus which I had contracted nine months earlier.

I started using a pump (Medtronic Minimed Paradigm) at age six. My mother decided it would be easier for me to be on pump therapy before I started school. This helped my parents to regulate my blood glucose levels.

They educated the teachers in using it. We, however, quickly learnt that it would be best for me to handle my own pump. This forced me from a very young age to know my pump and also calculate carbohydrates. Although, it was very difficult to start off with, it helped me to manage my condition from an early age and to take responsibility.

The insulin pump only operates on short-acting insulin (NovaRapid). I think it makes life easier to not have to use a long-acting insulin as well.

When did you start modelling?

As soon as I was diagnosed, my mother decided to boost my self-confidence by enrolling me to do a modelling course. Since then it has been an absolute passion. Not only has it motivated me to look after myself, but it has inspired me to use it as a platform to promote diabetes awareness.

Did modelling boost your confidence as your mom hoped?

Modelling definitely boosted my confidence. But, it was a learning process throughout all the years to eventually bear the fruit. It definitely takes the correct attitude to use the experiences I learned from modelling for a positive growth experience. It stays crucial to seek your identity in Christ and not in modelling.

Why did you enter Miss Supranational SA 2019?

I entered as I saw it as an opportunity and platform to make a difference. Especially, among the diabetic community.

Miss Supranational South Africa 2019 focuses primarily on social upliftment. It creates a platform for finalists and winners to achieve their goals within the pageant, entertainment and business industries.

I am so grateful to be a finalist and thankful for the opportunity. The winner will be announced on 27 July at the Arto Theatre.

Have you been in any other contests?

Yes. Besides some smaller contests, I am currently a title holder (Apprentesses Charity 1st Princess) for Apprentesses SA. I was also a finalist for Top Model South Africa.

Do you proudly wear your insulin pump during modelling competitions?

In the past I would hide my pump as I was ashamed. I saw diabetes as my identity. This led me to hide myself from the world, but I realised that diabetes is only a part of me. A part of me that I should embrace and be proud of. This only happened after school. 

It is my goal to wear my insulin pump with pride at Miss Supranational SA. It’s not always easy as pageant dresses don’t always cater for an insulin pump. But, I will definitely wear it if the costumes allows.

Has it been easy to manage your diabetes?

No. It hasn’t been easy. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the lessons learnt through my diabetes journey. Every day has its highs and lows. One just has to learn how to deal with it and not run away from it.

I would definitely not exchange living with diabetes for an easier life, because the lessons I’ve learned and keep on learning are far too valuable. The hardships of this condition empower me to empower those around me with positivity.

What are the highs of having diabetes?

There’s a valuable lesson that diabetes teaches every day. From a lighter viewpoint, you will live a healthier life than the average person out there. This is because you must be sensitive to what you eat, what you do, how you do things, and where you do things.

What are the lows of having diabetes?

Personally, the low is that no matter how healthy and cautious you live, there is always the risk of unexpected blood glucose drops and highs.

Do you follow any any special diet?

I’m not on a special diet, but I do follow a balanced healthy diet. I eat according to my blood glucose levels. I give my body what it needs. Not what it wants.

Do you make use of sweeteners?

My mother raised me to be a healthy child living with diabetes. She taught me from an early stage that sweeteners aren’t necessary to live a happy full life.

What helps you the most to manage your diabetes?

My support system, my family, boyfriend and, most importantly, God! If it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t have made it this far. He turned my misery into a ministry.

Tell us how puberty affected your blood glucose

Puberty took my blood glucose levels on a roller coaster. My menstruation also affected my blood glucose levels. I usually struggle with a higher blood glucose level during menstruation.

We wish Zoné all the best for the finals of Miss Supranational SA 2019.

 

Photos by Kayleigh Kruger

Zoné Oberholzer - the beauty of living with Type 1 diabetes

MEET OUR EDITOR


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za


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