Lynne Vorster – Being an Oumie keeps me active

Lynne Vorster - Being an Oumie keeps me activeLynne Vorster tells us how being an Oumie keeps her active and her role as the librarian for DSA Port Elizabeth.


Lynne Vorster (64) lives in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape with her husband of 38 years. They have three daughters, two granddaughters and a grandson on the way.

Family first

First and foremost, I’m a wife, mother and Oumie. My husband and I are extremely proud of our three daughters: Nicola (36), Eleanor (34) and Christine (32). We are very blessed to have all three living in Gqeberha and incredibly lucky to have my two granddaughters, aged 3 years and 10 months, with me most days. We have a grandson on the way and are looking forward to meeting him in August.

Besides spending time with my family, I’m happiest in the kitchen; where my passion lies in bottling a variety of garlic, chilli and rosemary-infused olives. I also enjoy pickling peppers, beets, onions and cherry tomatoes.

Diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes

I was diagnosed in 2015 after going through a traumatic time. My doctor sent me for a complete blood work up and, unfortunately, his suspicions were correct.

I was constantly lethargic, went to the toilet often and mostly during the night, suffered from insomnia, and my eye sight became blurry.

My doctor prescribed metformin, half an aspirin, hydrochlorothiazide (blood pressure), simvastatin (cholesterol) and dual-acting human insulin. I was already on levothyroxine for my hypothyroidism.

Some positive news this year is that my metformin and levothyroxine dosage were lowered. I have, however, been prescribed another blood pressure tablet at night.

Veggie lovers

Fortunately, my family are veggie and salad lovers. We mostly eat chicken and fish. We seldom eat red meat with the exception of winter, where we tend to cook hearty stews and soups with lots of veggies and of course some starch.

I try to follow a meal plan but find myself derailing when I’m busy. Meals then become an afterthought and take a back seat unfortunately.

Being an Oumie helped me lose weight

I lost a considerable amount of weight looking after my first granddaughter from her birth, until she went to playschool last year. She is a very active and busy little girl. Running and skipping replaced walking at all times.

My 10-month-old granddaughter comes to me daily and will soon be walking. I guess I’ll be running and skipping once more. Exercise at the moment is getting up and down onto the play mat.

I do my own housework, cooking and all other tasks that come with running a home. I also run an aftercare service from my home and I have five children that come to me after school, during the week, assisting them with their homework, as well as helping them prepare for assessments, projects and orals. Added to that, I also do extra lessons in Mathematics and Afrikaans.

DSA librarian

Being nominated as the Librarian for the DSA Port Elizabeth branch was both a shock and an immense privilege. My duties include: ensuring that the books are available for everyone to browse during our monthly meetings; filling out a card with all relevant particulars; and ensuring that the books are returned by their due date.

I also create pamphlets with a variety of facts and information, which is available for everyone to take home and read at their leisure. My hope is that this information is shared with family members and friends who may also have diabetes.

Support and education

My family have been fantastic in supporting me and ensuring that I stay on the right track with my eating, medication and exercise.

If I was in the position to bring greater awareness to this disease, I would recommend sending medical staff to Government clinics and schools with a fun theme, ensuring that sessions are relatable and memorable.

I believe that more can be done to highlight diabetes on all forms of media, ensuring that the public is educated on symptoms that a friend, family member or loved one may be displaying. Having grandchildren, myself, I believe in teaching children the importance of a healthy and balanced diet and feel strongly that this should be taught at school as part of a formal curriculum. In turn, children can teach parents by sharing what they have learned at school and having fun activities to do at home.


Jane Mapfungautsi: Living with diabetes for 42 years

Single mother, Jane Mapfungautsi, tells us about her diabetes care in Zimbabwe and Botswana.


Zimbabwean Jane Mapfungautsi (52) lives in Kanye, Botswana. She is a single mother of three, Rungano (31), Rutendo (29) and Ashley (23).

In the family

Diabetes isn’t a shocking word in my family; my daughter, sister and late nieces, cousins, aunts, and my late paternal grandmother all lived with diabetes.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 10-years-old, in 1980, in my home town, Gweru, in Zimbabwe. I was doing Grade 4 and my young sister, Blessing, had been diagnosed two years earlier. My mother, who was a nurse, noticed that I was drinking a lot of water and urinating a lot, especially at night. Before even going to the doctor, she said that she knew I had diabetes.

I was immediately admitted at Gweru Provincial Hospital under Dr Taylor, the resident physician. I still remember him well. Just like I remember all the doctors who’ve looked after me and have done such a wonderful job.

Living testimony

Forty-two years of manging my diabetes with insulin hasn’t been easy, but I’m a living testimony that it’s possible to survive. I was first put on a long-acting insulin. While I was been stabilised in hospital, I was taught how to inject myself. I would be given an orange and syringe with water and told to imagine that the orange skin was my skin and to prick at an angle of not more than 45°. It was a fun way of learning.

Once home, my mum would talk to my sister and I about diabetes care: the do’s and don’ts, what to eat and not to eat. Till now I admire the way she would place a flask of warm milk and some bread on top of the bedside cabinet in our bedroom and would wake us up at 2am every day to eat this snack. She had noticed how difficult it was to deal with a hypo attack in the middle of the night.

As I have grown older, I’ve realised that eating a snack just before bedtime helps me get through the night. The body actually uses a lot of energy while sleeping.

School years

Primary and secondary school were not easy. I would envy other children eating all the candy, biscuits, chocolates, and ice cream and so on. My parents would try to get non-sweetened substitutes for us, though of course they were not readily available.

When I started high school, I refused to be in boarding school after just a term. I didn’t like the fuss that was made over my diet and the strict monitoring of all my movements as my teachers were so scared that I would fail to inject or would eat the wrong food.

My parents tried to make sure that I enjoyed my childhood while adhering to the regime set by my doctors. My sister and I often attended Diabetes Association meetings, which gave us a chance to meet other people who had the same condition as us and share experiences. I remember Dr Lutalo, my physician, saying I needed to have a life like other children. I played a bit of netball and basketball, taking note of my blood glucose levels.

Pregnancies

One of the biggest challenges I had was during my pregnancies. For all my three children, I had Dr Purazi as my physician and he always referred me to good gynaecologists. All my children were born prematurely. Of course, the doctors always knew the expected complications and always helped me to the best of their ability.

Keeping active

Exercising is quite important for people living with diabetes as it helps insulin to work better as well as keeping us strong and feeling good. I do my own household chores and enjoy attending to my vegetable garden. Listening to some music and dancing along helps me relax. I don’t overexert myself as there is a danger of having a hypoglycaemic attack. Being a teacher, when I’m hungry or tired, I quickly sit down and eat. I’ve to be careful about what I eat, how much I eat and when I eat.

Brittle diabetic

I’m what is called a brittle diabetic. This means I have subtle to severe swings in my blood glucose levels and have had frequent episodes of hypoglycaemia. Brittle diabetes is hard to control. The changes in my blood glucose levels are unpredictable and sharp, like going to sleep with blood glucose level over 20mmol/L and waking up with a reading ranging between 2mmol/L and 4,5mmol/l. Thus, I’ve had my fair share of hospitalisation. My doctors always need to work out a care plan, aimed at stable control of my blood glucose levels. I always have to make sure that I have enough test strips for my glucometer and of course I always have it with me in my handbag or on my bedside table.

Most people with diabetes complain that their glucose levels go high when they’re stressed; with me the opposite applies. Dietary control is essential; I eat a lot of different vegetables, fruits, more white meat than red meat and avoid fatty foods and try to replace excess salt with different spices (not too spicy so as to avoid gastric pain). Of course, eating regularly in recommended portions is needed.

Been on various insulin

I have been on six different types of insulin in a bid to stabilise my blood glucose levels. It has since been realised that since my blood glucose levels can go from one extreme to the other, the best regime is for me to take insulin (Humulin R) or insulin aspart (which are both short-acting) pre-breakfast, pre-lunch and pre-supper, and then take insulin glargine insulin (long-acting) as I go to sleep.

My doctors have a care plan for me which I try to adhere to and I always diarise and discuss with them any problems or adjustments I would have made. I have been taught how to titrate my short-acting insulin dosages. I’m given a certain range within which I adjust the insulin dosages according to my blood glucose levels. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to afford an insulin pump, or a continuous glucose monitor and avoid the pricks.

I also try to always have my routine blood tests done for Hb1AC, kidney and liver function and have my eyes checked annually.

Finding out about DSA

One Saturday morning, I was watching TV as I always try to watch programmes which address health issues. On Mzansi Insider, Diabetes South Africa (DSA) was addressing diabetes and Covid-19. I listened and learnt from the discussions. I found it interesting, so I visited the website and made contact to get more information.

Diabetes care in Botswana

I moved to Botswana in early 2007 and the diabetes care is quite good. What I appreciate most are the two big diabetes clinics the government has set up since 2012, one in the capital city, Gaborone, and the other in Francistown. I attend the Gaborone clinic.

These are facilities specifically built to attend to diabetes patients only and manned by teams of doctors well-versed in diabetes care and control. The facilities also have rooms where you get to have your eyes checked, get to see a dietitian, foot-care specialist, diabetes educators and so on. They also have well-equipped laboratories and pharmacies. Other government hospitals and private facilities also run diabetes clinics. The Botswana Diabetes Association holds meetings monthly and one can easily follow them on Facebook.

Taking care in winter

In winter, my biggest challenge is peripheral neuropathy, which causes a burning, painful pain in my hands. For this, I constantly take Vitamin B complex and a strong painkiller. I have since learnt the trick of sleeping with my gloves on and socks on my feet, with a hot water bottle. I have to make sure that I keep very warm all the time.

Just before the cold season starts, I have the flu vaccine. I usually tend to get throat infections and always make sure that I seek medical attention speedily, as any infection in my body makes my blood glucose levels to rise.

Winter also means taking multi-vitamins, not forgetting my green or mint tea with lemon. A warm cup of water first thing in the morning helps me detox. Although we don’t have a winter break at school, I make sure I rest indoors a lot and keep very warm. I try to avoid crowded places, worse now with the current Covid-19 pandemic, as having diabetes and having other underlying conditions means I’m at high risk of catching infections.

Candida is a problem I often have to deal with, especially when my glucose levels are high. I always quickly seek medical attention and get an anti-fungal cream or appropriate, recommended treatment. Pap-smear is a recommended must do.

Diabetes care challenges

Diabetes care is expensive. We appreciate governments who subsidise diabetes care. Not been able to go for check-ups when needed or not having enough money to buy all the required medication and glucose monitoring equipment is a challenge in most African countries.

Outreach programmes are really needed to teach the population at large especially in rural areas. People usually end up having amputations or going blind, because either they didn’t know that they have diabetes or due to poor diabetes control, or lack of nearby health facilities.

Educate all the time

Though a teacher by profession, my family and I do charity work. We always try to be a blessing to others, especially those who spend time hospitalised. Together we initiate community ventures both at home, in Zimbabwe, and here in Botswana whenever we can. We appreciate the gift of life.

I’m not shy to teach others about diabetes. Whenever I get a new class at school, I tell my pupils about my condition and teach them how they can help me, e.g. when I’m acting funny. I always talk to students, workmates, and friends about diabetes and the need for constant check-ups especially if there is a history of diabetes in the family.

To other people living with diabetes, I always talk to them about the need to know our bodies and the symptoms of high or low glucose levels. At the Diabetic Clinic, I always make new friends as we discuss our conditions.

Proper management is essential

The hardest lesson I have learnt in the 42 years of having diabetes is that without proper management, one can lose their life to diabetes complications. I have lost relatives and friends to diabetes and it’s very sad and painful. Diabetes is life-threatening but manageable if the necessary resources are there.

Luleka Mzuzu – experience is a great teacher

After a year of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Luleka Mzuzu managed to stop taking insulin and only takes oral tablets. She is now focused on educating and helping her community.


Luleka Mzuzu (39) lives in Kayamandi, Western Cape with her husband and three children.

Exhaustion leads to diagnosis

For two weeks Luleka felt exhausted and was forever thirsty. “I never thought to go to the doctor or check my glucose levels as I thought it was just work related and being tired from commuting to and from work. When the mother of three finally went to the doctor in September 2015, her blood glucose reading was 28 and she was immediately sent to ICU. She was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “I was immediately put on insulin (insulin glulisine and insulin glargine).”

Luleka was determined to educate herself and take control of her health. She changed her diet and started exercising. “This was a very long and hard journey with many obstacles,” she says.

However, her dedication paid off; in early 2017 Luleka’s treatment changed drastically. She only had to take metformin (oral tablet) once a day.

Ikhaya Diabetes Support Group

When Luleka was diagnosed, she wanted and needed support and diabetes education and she says it was hard to get it. “I had to google and use a private doctor to get info. But most people in our community can’t access Google or make use of private doctors and dietitians due to affordability. So, I thought of starting a group to educate, support and help other community members to manage their diabetes.”

At this time, Luleka contacted DSA and started a relationship with Margot McCumisky, National Manager of DSA. “I signed up to become a DSA member and would ask advice from Margot on how to run my support group. She assisted with literature and guided me on all the steps,” Luleka explains.

The group started informally in 2017, but in 2019 Luleka registered it as a NGO. Due to the restrictions in 2019 the group couldn’t meet. However, they still supported each other via WhatsApp.

“Together with Stellenbosch Municipality Community Development Department, we had Wellness Days, where we had different themes: How to keep moving (exercise routines)How to be financial savvy and What is diabetes and how to manage it.

Luleka believes that more diabetes education is needed in the public sector and dedicated public facilities for people living with diabetes, such as footcare and wound care clinics are needed.

DSA helps Ikhaya Diabetes Support Group

During COVID many of the members of Ikhaya Diabetes Support Group didn’t receive food parcels from the government. So, Luleka called on Margot from DSA to assist.

Luleka explains, “The food parcels were for the members in the support group. Most of the members are pensioners and don’t have other sources of income. We assisted them as some of them at that time used their money to get medication at the pharmacies as the community clinic was full and high-risk for them to go sit there and wait on their meds.”

Margot managed to get assistance from various churches in Stellenbosch and then dropped them off at Luleka. She then delivered them door to door.

Margot is currently assisting to get a blood glucose testing machine for the group and they continue to work as partners.

Balance is easy

The mother of three says achieving balance is easy. “Everything has its own time. I’m a family orientated person so it’s easy to balance work, family and diabetes, as it is now part of my lifestyle. I deal with it every day.”

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


Warren Epsey chooses determination over diagnosis

A diabetes diagnosis couldn’t even disrupt Warren Epsey’s sporting lifestyle. With honest acceptance, immense planning and the support of his wife, he is set to take on Ironman.


Warren Espey (37) lives in Lakeside, Cape Town with his wife and twin daughters (8).

Avid sportsman

Ever since I was a child, I always enjoyed being active and playing all sorts of sports. I started surfing at a young age and then through school I enjoyed rugby, cricket, golf and tennis. After school found my passion for cycling and running, with golf as a social sport. Four years ago, I found a new passion in triathlons.

All in all, I have done three marathons, eight half marathons, three half ironman distance triathlons, and many small triathlons. I also did the Knysna Extreme Triathlon 0.5 (2km swim/100km bike and 30km trail run), 100miler MTB race and many road races.

Diagnosed as an adult

I took part in the 2019 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon and was feeling really good. Then at 30km I hit the wall as runners call it. For the last 12km I  struggled but managed to finish. I then headed off to China for business and whilst away I was extremely thirsty, drinking up to eight litres of water a day. I thought I may have been dehydrated from the marathon and then travelling.

Once I returned I contacted my GP as I was still extremely thirsty. He did tests and confirmed it was diabetes. He explained that the wall I hit was a sugar low and not knowing this was a great learning lesson for me going forward.

Treatment

I was initially put onto tablets and treated as a Type 2. That, however, was short-lived as my blood tests came back and I was put into contact with a specialist physician. He diagnosed me as a Type 1 and admitted me into hospital for a few nights to get my glucose under control and to get my insulin dosage correct.

Ever since then I’ve been on insulin (short-acting and long-acting) and only my dosages have changed. This constantly depends on many factors, such as sports and training to eating patterns, etc. Currently, I use insulin glulisine (short-acting) and insulin glargine (long-acting).

Managing diabetes while doing sports

Honestly, managing diabetes and endurance sports is very difficult and I’m still learning. Whilst the training is nothing short of hectic, it becomes challenging to manage my blood glucose.

Different run sessions, for example, will all effect my blood glucose differently. The weather also has an impact on blood glucose together with diet and what has been eaten in the past 12 hours.

As said, I’m still learning how to manage this. I’ve recently been using the FreeStyle Libre to help understand what happens to my blood glucose levels whilst being active and also to help understand what happens after meals.

It’s a constant learning curve and I feel having diabetes and enjoying endurance sports, this will continue as there is no exact science as to how the body will cope with the session, the heat, the intensity, etc.

Becoming a DSA member

Once I was diagnosed, I wanted to learn more about diabetes so signed up to become a DSA member. Once I’m educated enough I want to help others as there is not much info and support in SA. I believe we are very uneducated, and we need to help one another.

I would like to attend one of the DSA Support meetings that they host so I can meet and learn from other people living with diabetes.

Family adjusting to diagnosis

My wife and I decided to keep our girls involved in everything like shopping, why I can’t eat certain things, carb counting, how I take insulin. They are very knowledgeable about diabetes for their age.

With that said, for eight-year-olds, they understand as much as they can without striking fear into them. As parents we have taught them as much as we can without making them fear the diagnosis.

Eyes set on Ironman

A goal of mine has always been to test myself and see who the real Warren Espey is. It may sound cliché, but I really find that sport and especially endurance sport isn’t so much about talent, but more to do with mental toughness and true reflection of an individual.

The commitment to the training over a year (three years thanks to COVID) will really uncover the cracks in an individual. The learning you get, and self-reflection will only bode well for what life can and will throw whether it’s work, family, friends, or the normal life pressure one deals with.

I believe Ironman will help in so many personal areas, not just the medal you get at the finish line.

Delayed, delayed and delayed

The plan was to do my first full Ironman in March 2020. However, with the pandemic this was delayed to November 2020 which then became March 2021 which became November 2021.

I had trained from February 2019 for this but, in August 2021, we found out our one daughter had to undergo some brain surgery in October with no secure timeline on hospital time to full recovery time. So, I stopped all my training and focused on my family.

Things have gone as best they could go all things considered. So, I’ve deferred my entry until March/April 2023. The date is still to be confirmed.

My new goal for this year now is to do The Comrades Marathon and three half Ironman distance races this year as this is more plausible with the timeframe of what has transpired recently.

Training 

A general week of training eight months before a competition is:

Monday – 50 min gym session; 3,8km swim

Tuesday – 1h40 indoor bike session; 12km run

Wednesday – 3km swim; 50 min gym session

Thursday – 2-hour indoor bike session; 12km run

Friday – Interval running: warm up 2km, 16x300m sprints with 100m jog in between, 2km cool down

Saturday – 4-hour ride onto 20 min run off the bike

Sunday – 21 km run

Achieving balance

Maintaining balance in work, family, diabetes management and everything else is the most important thing to achieve. I’m very lucky in that I have the most supportive family and friends around me. My wife is very special and not only supports me but encourages me.

Having the support, I do makes life a lot easier. She is so involved with my eating and diabetes and tries to help whenever she can.

Planning is vital, and sacrifices have to be made to achieve a goal. Early morning sessions. Work unfortunately is work and pays the bills. Evenings vary depending on the block of training I’m in, when its serious then it’s tough. I try train as much as I can at home on the indoor bike or treadmill, so my presence is still there, but it’s hard either way.

Diabetes is always there and managing that is a constant thing that needs to be accepted and made a part of your life. Acceptance of the disease is so important.

Ryan Pasqualle – overcoming depression

Ryan Pasqualle tells us how having diabetes led to depression and a suicide letter but thankfully with the support of his family he pushes on every day.


My story starts when I was 7 years old. Wherever we went, I needed to use the toilet less than five minutes after leaving the house. My parents we very concerned, because it would happen anywhere, no matter if I drank water or not. I was eating loads and was losing weight!

One Thursday evening, my dad went to our local pharmacy to find out what was wrong. The pharmacist gave him a urine container and told him to bring back a sample of my urine to have it tested. After my father got the urine and returned it to the pharmacist, he told him to take me to the doctor.

We went to the doctor on Friday and the following day the doctor phoned to say that I had diabetes and we had to go immediately to hospital.

Minutes after we got the news, my mom and sister rushed me to the hospital to get treated. The doctors gave me amazing treatment and got my blood glucose levels down to a decent level.

Life turned upside down

Finding out that I had to take insulin every day for the rest of my life was a massive shock. I had no way of knowing how to cope with it. It wasn’t only the fact that I have diabetes, it was the fact that I had no idea what diabetes was. I’d never heard of it before. Thankfully, the doctor was very helpful; he took a lot of his time to explain what diabetes was. After he explained it, I had somewhat of a grasp on my illness.

It took me round about two weeks to be discharged from hospital. I had no idea how I would go through my day-to-day life with my newly found illness, but my family and doctors supported me every step of the way.

It took me years to really get a hang of my diabetes, it was about three to four years to get my blood glucose levels semi under control.

Depression and suicidal thoughts

Having diabetes really took its toll on me; it led to me being depressed and writing a suicide letter. However, my dad found the letter and rushed to fetch me from school and took me to hospital to get help for my depression.

I wasn’t happy about being in a psychiatric ward, it made me feel like I was put in a jail, but I couldn’t be mad at my family because they were only looking out for me.

I stayed in that hospital for more than three months. It was tiring to have your every move watched, you weren’t allowed to do anything, not even have your phone on you. But after I was discharged, I was so happy, because I came home to loving family, and I was extremely happy to see my dog.

We are only trying to survive

Every day is a challenge for a person living with diabetes. We must live our lives watching what we do and eat. There are days where we can’t even eat an ice cream in warm weather, because the heat from the sun pushes our readings up.

It’s tough living like this. Our lives are in constant danger, and it’s our duty to control it, but it’s difficult to control it when all you want is to be like a normal child. All you want to do is eat what other kids eat, drink what they drink, and live how they live. People will call us sick, weird, different, but we’re normal, our lives just have extra tasks to do daily. We aren’t weird, we are only trying to survive.

Ryan with other camp leaders at 2019 Diabetes Children’s Camp in Kommetjie, Western Cape.
Ryan with other camp leaders at 2019 Diabetes Children’s Camp in Kommetjie, Western Cape.
Ryan and family celebrating his sister's graduation.
Ryan and family celebrating his sister's graduation.

Pamela Molefe: My journey of diabetes, being a nurse and part of DSA

Pamela Molefe shares her journey of living with Type 2 diabetes, being a nurse and how she joined Diabetes South Africa.


Pamela Molefe (77) lives in Port Elizabeth. She has two sons and one daughter. She worked at Livingstone Hospital for 20 years and was transferred to Provincial Hospital Port Elizabeth where she worked for 11 years in a Head Injury Unit.

Getting diagnosed

In 2004, I was on night duty when I had to go to hospital at 23:00 to be examined as I wasn’t feeling well. As a routine before being examined, a specimen of urine was obtained and tested. Four parts of glucose was detected. A finger prick was done to test my blood glucose, and 14mm/l were the results. My diagnosis was Type 2 diabetes.

I found the news weird as I never had any symptoms. Then, I was asked about the family history regarding health, and I had no clue of any relative who had diabetes at that time. I was in real denial, telling the doctor all sorts of stories, like I have eaten sweets, and I have just taken a coffee with three spoons of sugar. The doctor looked at me, knowing that I was in denial, and said ‘Diabetes will kill you’. My prescribed treatment was Glucophage 500mg BD (twice daily). I was shocked and thought it’s the end of the world for me.

Family history

After two or three days, vividly it dawned on me that my two aunts died from diabetes at the ages of 80 plus. My mother died, at the age of 58, due to cancer of the pancreas. I assume diabetes would have affected her if she didn’t pass away from cancer.

After being diagnosed, my weight dropped drastically and my superior in the ward noticed. She called me and spoke strongly about the need to eat. Honestly, I had lost my appetite. Gradually, I picked up weight after two months. I’m on treatment that I comply with and thus I am a controlled diabetes patient.

My eldest son (50) has also been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Simple treatment

Even though there is medication for Type 2 diabetes, there are simple interventions that you can implement to manage your health and not have to take medication.

  1. Sunlight for 20 minutes daily which gives you vitamin D.
  2. Rest regularly during the day.
  3. Exercise but be careful not to over-strain.
  4. Healthy diet (there’s no such thing as a diabetic diet).
  5. Self-confidence and independence (don’t expect other people to run after you).
  6. Real friends who will journey with you during this condition.
  7. Join a wellness group (sharing with each other about the condition).

Finding out about DSA Port Elizabeth

Because I wanted to be active, I got a job in a frail care centre and retirement village. This is where I got to know about DSA Port Elizabeth from my nursing manager, Barbara Coetzee. Her husband had diabetes and Barbara was attending the Diabetes SA wellness group on his behalf. So, she recruited me to attend and I was eager to gain knowledge.

We had our meeting once a month at St Georges Hospital from 19:00 to 20:00, with different speakers. I enjoyed the educational talks and looked forward to the next ones.

After two years, I was approached to join the Management Board of DSA Port Elizabeth. They wanted an IsiXhosa speaking member. I immediately said yes.

DSA nursing advisor

Since being on management, I was made nursing advisor. This means at every monthly meeting as I enter the hall there are early birds who are waiting for their blood pressure and blood glucose to be checked. Many questions are asked and if I am unable to answer, I refer the question to the relevant speaker.

Annually, we (Martin, Elizabeth and myself), visit Jeffreys Bay for a workshop at the Pellsrus Clinic. Even there, I have my table with pamphlets and I check patients blood pressure and blood glucose. It’s much appreciated by the residents concerned. Surely, they missed us in 2020 due to lockdown.

I also attended a workshop in Walmer Township where different health conditions were highlighted and I was assigned to represent our diabetes wellness group. I also visited New Brighton location where most of the attendees were pensioners.

Every year, we get invited by big companies to their wellness day for different health conditions. I enjoy these functions as I have the longest queue at my desk as it’s more of IsiXhosa speaking people attending. We supply them with informative pamphlets and educate them on diabetes. They are usually eager to have their blood pressure and blood glucose checked as most don’t get a chance to go to their local clinics to do check-up unless they are sick.

During lockdown, we, as board members, meet through our WhatsApp group when the need arises. I hope this year there will be a difference from these pandemic restrictions. I’m still eager to serve in the coming year as a board member.

Always learning and sharing the knowledge

At work, Barbara assigned me to take care of the diabetic residents in that institution. I became the favourite, as when I was off residents would ask for me as they trusted me, especially those who were on insulin injection.

I acquainted myself with our well-equipped DSA library which has informative books and I learnt that diabetes is not the end of the world and the best care is what I listed as the simple treatment. Just maintain it in all stages of life. If one follows that trend which is far cheaper than medication, you can survive as diabetes is a lifestyle condition. But remember to always take your diabetes medicine as prescribed by your doctor and to see him regularly for check-ups.

Pamela Molefe testing at Pellsrus, Jeffreys Bay.
Counselling an employee at Autocast.

Cara ten Cate – Reflections of a TD1 teenage girl

Cara ten Cate, a Type 1 diabetes patient, shares a creative piece of writing she penned in regard with having diabetes.


Cara ten Cate (15) lives in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal with her parents.

I have an illness called diabetes, Type 1 to be exact. As it’s a part of my routine to inform my peers about this illness, it’s not the diabetes that sparks curiosity. The automatic facial reaction to my statement is towards the simple but deadly word ‘disease’. This word causes reactions so intriguingly cringy, it almost forces a feeling within you to jump behind a bush and hide.

Just one reminder though, don’t give me your sympathy. You may ask why I don’t want your sympathy but I’ll get to that in a moment.

This monologue will be far from grammatically correct, or might even sound like it’s been rushed. However, I have recently accepted my newly-found courage to openly share my story, because after all I am defined by this invisible force. The power it has held over me, the consumption of emotion it’s caused, the fearful depth, the capacity within has led me to finally say that this illness has unrepeatable beauty.

We are living in a society entirely hypnotised by the idea of outer beauty, normality, time and pity. We live in a world where positive outcomes are the expectation of all living species, but listen. I am a failure and I am proud.

I was diagnosed at the age of 5. I am 15 now and I still can’t count my amount of insulin dosages. I rely on people’s care, taking more than I care for myself. I barely inject myself anymore. I still don’t read labels on foods or drinks. So, ya I’ve been failing for 10 years and I’m proud. It is the failure that has gotten me here today.

I continue to refer to my failures in the present tense because it’s not my past. It will never be. It’s the continuation of my future and my now. If I can admit that my failure continues to define me and spark growth within my maturity, then you may call me a failure for the next few years because without that I wouldn’t have the emotional and physical awareness I hold onto to this day.

Diabetes defines me, and don’t tell me otherwise. I grew up listening to social platforms, family members, friends, etc. telling me that this disease shouldn’t hold severe control over me. Guess what, it did and still does because I’m living with it.

Growing up with diabetes I was saddened by a feeling of no control over myself, and yes that is still partially true but I now know it’s my body’s way of expressing a compromise between that five-year-old little girl and my 15-year-old self. Compromise is key. I’m not saying to continue a path of lacking self-growth within managing an illness, but use the failure as a way of identifying the problem, planning a solution and kicking its ass. Don’t expect structure.

The backwards law states that expecting positive will lead to negative outcomes. However, it’s the acceptance of negative that will prove to be a positive experience. Diabetes isn’t easy, it never was. I am living proof of a negative and positive outcome. It’s through this half and half lifestyle that I have learnt sympathy is the worst thing given.

As someone who has diabetes, sympathy has the power to make me feel as if I’m a walking disease. This may have a dramatic tone, though I bet you will find plenty of other people with diabetes who will strongly agree.

Why are you sorry? You as a human who may never endure a physical illness will never get to realise the hardships of having the jealousy we feel towards peoples’ functioning pancreases, all for the reason being that they produce insulin. For that I say sorry to you.

This piece of writing will never be one to be used as a piece for school. My story does not deserve to be graded. This is my life, the span of my 10-year journey with an illness that changed a five-year-old tiny life into a whirlwind roller coaster of ups, down and mediums within a flash of a second. As humans, we all have our low moments, but just like a roller coaster we find ourselves soaring again.

The day of that diagnosis, you are immediately classified as a different personality, “The diabetic.” Hi, I’m that diabetic and I think that’s pretty cool. Don’t grow up with a label you regret, especially with one that was not a choice and was given by a group of societal members that have no understanding of this illness.

I spent years trying to hide the fact that I was diabetic. I was ashamed and embarrassed, but oh do I wish I didn’t. Wishing for the past to change won’t do anything, so as I continue entering my nows, know that I am no longer embarrassed and you shouldn’t be either.

This is my story, it wasn’t chosen but it’s there and I’m happy to say that I had a story. I wasn’t able to choose my storyline but I was able to choose my purpose for it. My purpose is spreading my acceptance to the people who are struggling to cope with this newly found

illness. Even if you don’t have diabetes, please know that you and I aren’t so different. We have individual stories, different storylines, evidence and even characters. Though our words and emotions will forever be conjoined. I am diabetic and that’s who am meant to be.

Elizabeth Gunther – Surfing the waves of diabetes

Elizabeth Gunther talks about living with Type 1 diabetes, her kombucha business, Tea of Life, and her love for surfing and her dogs.


Elizabeth Gunther (35) lives in Muizenberg, Cape Town with a house mate and her ‘two incredible dogs’.


Living her best life

Currently, my life consists of building my business, Tea of Life; walking my dogs; surfing; and managing my Type 1 diabetes. I am single and don’t want any children as I would not know where to find the time!

I do, however, spend a lot of time with my friends and family who are extremely supportive of my chronic illness. Though, it has been said that I was friendlier before having diabetes.

When I surf, I mostly go with a friend in case I experience a low episode. My housemate is also very empathetic and cares about whether I make the correct food choices.

Diagnosis

At the age of 21, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was about a year after I worked on a cruise line as a beauty therapist. Two years before that I was involved in a car accident. To this day, I am not sure why I got it. No one in my family has had diabetes.

Family feasting

We always lived very healthy lives as children. We ate fruit salad, nuts and lentil soup versus braai broodjies, lamb, and malva pudding.

Feasting for my family was getting fish and chips once every second month; Sunday drives for Marcel’s English Toffee Frozen Yoghurt; as well as my dad’s health rusks, banana clusters and incredible carrot cake with loads of pecan nuts!

I always had a weakness for sweet things but to find a packet of biscuits or a Cadbury’s slab in our house was as rare as winning the lotto.

Insulin

Throughout a day, I use more or less 16 units of Apidra and 20 units of Tresiba at night. To test my glucose levels, I vary between Optium and Contour machines. I realise this might be slightly outdated. But, my endocrinologist does not suggest the insulin pump as I surf whenever I get the opportunity.

Kombucha lowers glucose levels

My passion for kombucha started about 10 years ago when I attended a kombucha workshop in Knysna. I instantly savoured the taste, not being aware of the extensive health benefits of this fermented tea.

Soon I discovered that kombucha lowered my blood glucose levels. So much so that I needed to inject less insulin. Fermented foods slow down the digestion of carbohydrates thus stabilising blood glucose levels.

I started feeling great within my body. It radiated my skin and gave me a natural energy boost that was fantastic at that stage. The words of Kris Carr, a wellness activist and cancer survivor, “Gut health is the key to overall health” started making sense to me after introducing the probiotic health beverage into my diet.

And now I run my own kombucha business, Tea of Life.

Feasting as a person living with diabetes

Feasting for me is drinking good Double Flat Whites at carefully selected coffee shops or making my own. I also enjoy dark chocolate and luckily those two things do not increase my glucose levels too much.

Cooking balanced meals with all five food groups as a single person is not that easy. When I visit my parents, and eat home-cooked meals, my glucose levels are way more balanced.

Most times no one would ever know I have diabetes, except an intimate partner. It definitely is hard for a partner of someone living with diabetes and at times frightening. Hence why I have two dogs. It is way less stressful!

I have been to many psychologists to help me cope with the ups and downs of this disease and it has helped as much as it can. I think most people living with diabetes are rebellious (in my experience of talking to many of them) and something about this disease is meant to change that.

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Life after a heart attack – Vaughan Wood

Vaughan Wood, who has Type 2 diabetes, tells us how he survived a heart attack and about his recovery process.


Vaughan Wood (55) lives in Port Elizabeth with his wife, Gail, and their son, Cameron.

Watching my mom suffer with Type 1

My mother passed on at the age of 67, in 2003. She was diagnosed at the age of 16 with Type 1 diabetes and used Humalog insulin.

She first lost a toe with gangrene, then a foot, the first leg, and then the second leg was also amputated.

As a young child growing up, I often came to her rescue with glucose tea when she had a hypo. Sometimes it was quite difficult as she would clench her teeth refusing help, saying that she was fine.

With her last amputation, she was too weak for general anaesthetic. She had some sort of epidural type of anaesthetic, and she said she could hear the instrument of the surgeon as it cut the bone of the leg.

My diagnosis

I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, at the age of 52, after struggling for energy at the rear of a mountain bike race.

The doctor sent away the blood sample for an average test. Later, he prescribed metformin and Diaglucide, including a complimentary diet sheet to follow.

My wife and I run a small care home and approximately one quarter of our residents are on diabetic medication.

I considered my diet to be relatively conservative. However, I had been known to polish off more than one cake at one sitting. Comfort food was my thing.

I managed to control the obvious process, and sweet products, with my glucose levels being mostly in the correct ranges with the new medication.

I decided to enter the Karoo to Coast Mountain Bike Race, which I last rode in 2004.

Heart attack

One night, on the 17th April 2019, my breathing was a little strange. With the weather becoming colder in the evenings, I presumed it was the result of a virus.

As a precaution, I missed an evening ride, not realising that I would be rushing to hospital with a heart attack later that night.

Dizziness, shortness of breath, and a panic attack off the scale. I made the emergency room in survival mode, not even checking in, just making my way to the nearest bed.

I was handled very well. Although in my mind, I wondered why they were taking so long, and why the nurse was so insistent on drilling me on whether I had taken any Viagra.

Later I found out that Viagra does not mix well with the medication they were to give me, before placing me in cardiac care. LuckiIy, I responded well and the next morning I received two stents, one of which, even the cardiologist seemed excited about.

Recovery

Heart medication was added to my list of medications, and all was going well until the panic attacks started. The first one, in my mind, was another heart attack. I would easily have passed a lie detector as this was so real.

The heart was like a tree, I was told, and the roots would have to feed it, till the affected part recovered. No strenuous activity for seven weeks until my treadmill test. At first, just walking from shop to shop was tiring enough.

After a couple of weeks, I started short walks, progressing a few hundred meters every time. Eight weeks after saw my first short cycle. I was given the go ahead to exercise after the cardio test which was hugely uplifting.

Best advice

I was advised to smell the roses by someone who had a similar experience.

There are two other bits of advice that stick out for me. The first from our regular dietitian at the diabetic support group I attend, was to make one change at a time.

The second was from a Canadian doctor. He told me that our taste buds can change with time.

Not only am I making positive changes, but I am starting to enjoy making better choices with food.

I am not sure what has made diabetes the epidemic it is today. However, I know that we have more information at our disposal than my mom had in her day to deal with it, and live a good life.

I decided to walk a trail instead of riding this year. While walking I saw a Knysna Loerie in beautiful natural surroundings. That is me smelling the roses.

When I am ready, I will collect my number for the next ride, in my own time.

Vaughan's wife, Gail.
Vaughan and his son Cameron.

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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