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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Diabetic Athletic – Nicholas Caracandas

Nicholas Caracandas, a Type 1 diabetes patient, tells us how he is paying it forward with his Diabetic Athletic programme.


Nicholas Caracandas (32) lives in Pinelands, Cape Town with is partner, Deborah. They have one daughter.

My diagnosis

Back in the early 2000s, at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at my aunt’s house for the weekend. She had just opened a Greek restaurant and we decided to go as a family to celebrate. I remember spending the weekend with an unquenchable thirst. I had a dry mouth and a thirst that just wouldn’t go away. Anything I could find, I would drink and just seconds later be as thirsty as ever before.

My vision started to blur and I was urinating every five minutes. I put the frequent urination down to the fact that I was drinking a lot of liquid. The fact that I was drinking sugary drinks to quench my thirst wasn’t helping me in any way.

Mom also a diabetic patient

My mother had been a Type 1 diabetic patient for five years prior to this day (my diagnosis). She wasn’t with me on that weekend so when I told her in the week, she took me for tests immediately.

Due to circumstances, I was taken to a government hospital and tested for diabetes. It was confirmed, I also had Type 1 diabetes, just like my mom.

I remember staring out of the hospital window which overlooked the highway and thinking to myself how life was going to change. I didn’t understand diabetes very well, if at all. As a 12-year-old boy, I had seen my mother try and deal with the exact thing, with much difficulty. I knew I had to try and tackle this for the rest of my life.

Even at that age, I knew that my choices from then on would determine every outcome that would come my way.

Good foundation set

I was fortunate enough to have a good professor help me manage my diabetes initially. The lessons he taught me have stayed with me until this day.

After talking to him, I knew I stood at a crossroads but I also knew where I wanted it to go. He said to me that I needed to make a choice as to whether I was going to allow the diabetes to control my life, or if I could be brave enough to step up and choose to control it. I chose to control it.

Helping each other

My mom helped me with the basic things like finger pricks, bedtime meals and insulin. She also shared her daily experiences with diabetes; this was of great help.

Unfortunately, my mother struggled with managing her diabetes. I saw her in multiple diabetic comas as a child. Though, somehow it taught me more about the importance of management. Plus, our situation worked because we helped each other.

Getting into fitness

Going through school with an endocrine disorder that affected energy levels, overall moods, muscle gain, and just being a kid in general, I knew that whatever I chose to become after school would have to revolve around my diabetes.

I knew that I had to choose a career that would put myself and my diabetes first. My fitness journey started when I was 17 and I became a personal trainer at age 18, and have gone on to owned three successful fitness facilities over the past 10 years, learning many important lessons through victories and failures.

Early on in my career, it was clear I had the natural ability to take the specific industry jargon and explain them in ways my clients could understand, remember, and apply. This is a skill most don’t see as being very important.

With the years of experience, I have been able to share my knowledge of how fat loss works and help those needing to achieve it.

Diabetic Athletic

I decided to merge my two worlds: fitness, strength and conditioning and living with diabetes. I knew that one day I would turn it into a programme that could help people living with diabetes in the same, if not better, manner as it did for my clients needing to lose fat successfully and sustainably.

Diabetic Athletic is over 10 years old. Today it is a fully interactive, educational video course that arms people living with diabetes with all the tools they need to achieve and manage diabetes through nutrition, exercise, education and support.

The Diabetic Athletic video modules are aimed for people wanting to reverse pre-diabetes and overcome their struggles with diabetic overwhelm, diabetic management, obesity and fat loss.

I noticed most programmes address very few of the much-needed facets of diabetic and fat loss success.

Fat loss, diabetic control, education, nutritional guidance, general guidance and 24/7 support are the foundational needs to your success. As diabetics we need them all, not just one or two. The Diabetic Athletic programme provides them all

Us, diabetics, are faced with hundreds of decisions each day, all the while still trying to lose fat and regain our health.

The support and guidance provided by Diabetic Athletic allows people to not only educate themselves as to how fat loss works, what diabetes is, and how to manage it, but also how to use the tools they are given.

The triangle of control

You will hear me speak about the triangle of control at my academy as well as in my video series. The triangle of control is all about managing your weight and diabetes through exercise and nutrition before medication.

Now, where diabetes is concerned this means eating foods that keep glucose levels constant. Being active, to keep glucose levels controlled and using whatever medication needed to make up for the rest.

If you get the triangle of control mixed up, you eat bad foods which results in less than optimal activity and you will need to administer far more insulin than a non-diabetic would need.

Keep in mind insulin is a hormone. Every action has a reaction. More insulin leads to a heap of processes that lead to weight gain, energy lows, and overall issues.

Pre-diabetes and obesity

For those dealing with pre-diabetes or obesity, the triangle of control is still my holy grail.

For these individuals, the medication aspect is not insulin but rather the marketing gimmicks and magic pills people are sold every day. They are made to believe that the fat burners, meal replacement shakes, and all the other crazy things (that do not work) are the answer.

These big corporations need to make money and do so by playing on our needs and, at times, desperation to lose weight and regain our health.

Pay it forward

I have dedicated my life and profession to doing for others what that professor did for me 22 years ago.

You can be in control and you can lose weight, properly, sustainably and for good. You can take charge of your health and live your best life.

There are many that are standing at that very crossroads I once stood at. Diabetic Athletic is a support system and the final stop to life-long fat loss, management and success.

Managing my diabetes

Since I was diagnosed, I have been using a glucometer to test my glucose levels up until 2018. I now use a Dexcom G6 and have been using it for just over a year now.

I currently use Toujeo long-acting insulin pens and Humalog as my short-acting insulin.

My exercise regime consists of walking each day. I am a 10 000 steps-kinda-guy throughout the day. This is an accumulative 10k steps per day. Not a-get-it-all-done between 6am – 7am.

I lift weight three times per week and play as much sports as I possibly can. Fitness needs to be fun. We cannot and will not sustain anything if we don’t enjoy it.

Having a supportive partner goes a long way. She supports and encourages me in every way possible and enjoys that she can monitor my glucose levels as well. She uses the Dexcom Sharing App to do so, and is very clued up about diabetes and helps maintain healthy habits in the home.

I am proud to say my mom follows my programme and content and says she has learnt about glycaemic index, fibre, salt and carbs.

For more info on Diabetic Athletic, visit www.diabeticathletic.com or www.facebook.com/diabeticathletic/

Click below to learn more about the Free 3-week training & nutrition program for diabetics!

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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I saved my coach’s life – Kyra Stevens

We chat to Kyra Stevens, a 15-year-old living with Type 1 diabetes, who saved her athletics coach, Shafiek Murphy’s (48) life, with quick-thinking and action when he went into a diabetic coma.


Kyra Stevens (15) lives in Kenilworth, Cape Town with her parents, Marco and Kim, and her brother. She is a Grade 9 pupil at Sans Souci Girls High School.

Kyra to the rescue

On 11 July 2019, Shafiek Murphy, a Type 1 diabetes patient, was found on the floor, in the community room, at the school. He had recently returned from the Winter Games, in Durban, where he coached the Western Cape girls U/15 rugby team. Unfortunately, he became ill while on tour.

The principal, Ruschda O’Shea, and two other teachers were called. Kyra sprang to their minds as she has diabetes as well, and had informed the school. When Kyra arrived, she tested Shafiek’s blood glucose level which was extremely high. She then administered insulin into his abdomen, before another teacher rushed him to hospital.

At the hospital, Shafiek’s blood glucose level was 36 which is near fatal. After X-rays, Shafiek was diagnosed with a chest infection and tonsillitis. The doctor explained that if Kyra had administered the insulin five or 10 minutes later, Shafiek would have died.

One-on-one with Kyra

Tell us in your own words what happened on that day when you saved your coach’s life.

I was in a class lesson. Then very randomly my maths teacher approached me in the class and asked for my glucometer. I asked him why. He responded by saying that someone went into a diabetic coma. I gave him my FreeStyle Optium Neo glucometer and told him that he has to warm the fingers before checking the glucose level.

No later than five minutes, I was called via the intercom to come to the community room. I ran there knowing that is was Coach Murphy as he was the only other person in the school who has diabetes. When I got there, they told me I must test his glucose levels. So, I got everything ready.

But when I pricked a finger on Coach Murphy’s left hand, no blood came out as his hands were already cold. I told one of the teachers to warm up his right hand warm so I could get blood.

Eventually I got blood and his glucose level was really was high. Immediately, I asked where his emergency kit and insulin were. I found his insulin in his bag and injected 25 units in his abdomen.

After that Coach Murphy was taken to the hospital. The very next day, he phoned me to say the doctor said if it wasn’t for me, he would have died. So, I saved his life.

Are you proud of yourself?

I am proud. But, at the moment, I have no words to explain how. Everybody is asking me how do you feel and how this, and how that and I’m like, “Ja!”

Do you and Coach Murphy have a good relationship?

Coach Murphy started working as the Head of Sports at our school at the beginning of the year. So, yes we have a relationship and we had spoken to each other about diabetes. But since this incident, we have become closer. I have been checking up on his every day, sending him messages asking if he is okay.

When were you diagnosed with diabetes?

Two years ago in July 2017. I am currently using an insulin pen and administrate Humalog, Protaphane and Actrapid.

Has it been easy to be open about your diabetes at school?

Yes it has. I have told most of my friends and all my teachers know. At  the beginning of the year, my parents had a meeting with all my teachers and the Grade Head. The first year I was diagnosed, my parents also held a meeting so all my teachers knew.

Have you ever experienced bad lows or highs?

Yes I have, but I have never gone into a diabetic coma.

Have you fully accepted your diabetes?

Yes and no. More a no, because I don’t have a grasp on it yet. It’s not easy for me because I have never had to checked my glucose before I ate. Now I do.

Normally, I was like, ‘Okay food is ready.’ But now, I see my brother eating and my mom and dad eating and I’m the only one who has to check my glucose levels before I can eat. Sometimes I’m really hungry so I don’t check and then don’t inject at all.

Has this incident showed that good management of glucose levels is important?

Absolutely! Now more than before it’s encouraged all of us (my family) to be more aware of what could happen if we don’t control my numbers.

One-on-one with Kim Stevens, Kyra’s mom

How proud are you of your daughter?

When Kyra came home and told us about the incident, she played it off as though it was not a big deal. It was only until I heard from Coach Murphy that I completely understood the gravity of what took place. It is a super proud moment, for myself and my husband, to know that Kyra was calm under pressure and she managed to do what she did. I don’t know if I would have been able to do it.

How does it make you feel to see your daughter go through the journey of accepting her diabetes?

I think Kyra going through puberty has a lot to do with being able to accept being diabetic. Plus, she was diagnosed with ADHD in Grade 3. That was hard for us to get through and work through.

Kyra attended Timour Hall Primary School and every single year of primary school was hard for Kyra. Hard to make friends, hard to keep friends, hard to get invited to parties, hard to please teachers. She was always in trouble.

But then she started Grade 7 and she absolutely enjoyed it and there was such a change. Once we got the ADHD under control, she was then diagnosed with diabetes. This news has thrown our whole family into a total spin and it has been hard for her to accept.

But due to the fact that she used her knowledge to save someone’s life is tremendous. This shows us that even though she acts like she’s not interested in the management of her diabetes, she has taken note of what to do. So, it gives us, as parents, a little more confidence to be able to trust her if something should go wrong.

Is Kyra’s medication covered by medical aid or public hospitals?

We started off at The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital at the Diabetic Clinic there. It is a fantastic hospital, with brilliant doctors. Everyone was super nice and the education we got there was top class.

Since the beginning of this year, we were transferred to the outpatients at the Groote Schuur Hospital as part of the adolescents diabetic clinic. She still gets to see the same doctors because the doctors work at both hospitals. We collect her medication from the public hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital.

What are the financial implications of having a child with diabetes?

I think I speak for everyone when it comes to eating healthy. It is just so expensive. So, we try to encourage Kyra to inject. I made a deal with her that she can eat what she feels like, but she must inject. There was a period, for about six months, where she wasn’t injecting at all. She wasn’t even checking her glucose levels. Because of this, we considered trying a continuous glucose monitor but it was just expensive. We cannot even think about getting her one.

I was thinking of doing fundraisers to raise funds but that money will only last so long. What happens after that? So, the financial implications are quite severe. My husband and I run a small business, and have to pay salaries and adding a diagnosis of diabetes to the mix has just thrown us in the deep end. We still just trying to swim. But, we will do what we have to to ensure Kyra’s health is good.

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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Justin Groenewald – doing the unthinkable

Type 1 diabetes patient, Justin Groenewald, tells us about his dream of doing the unthinkable – to be the first person with diabetes to complete Roof of Africa Enduro 2020.


Justin Groenewald (38) lives in Bellville, Cape Town. He is divorced and has a daughter.

Ever since Justin was young, he refused to sit on the sidelines. He is a go-getter that will do anything to achieve what he wants. Even when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, his attitude stayed the same. He continued competing in school sports and doing everything he wanted to do.

Though, he admits that he has not always been the best example when managing his blood glucose. “I didn’t follow diets ever. I smoked and managed my glucose via symptoms, not testing. If I felt terrible, only then would I test, inject or eat,” he explains.

This changed when he needed to get a motorsport license. “I needed a specialist to sign off a medical letter and that would only happen when my diabetes was under control,” he says. “Managing my diabetes well includes three steps: First – exercise is core, secondly – avoiding unnecessary food and snacks, and thirdly – laughing. There is no perfect diabetes patient, when things go wrong, just smile and fix it.

Six years ago a specialist signed off that Justin was medically fit to compete in endurance motorcycle racing. With that Justin has competed in many races, Roof of Africa bronze qualifier and Motorsport Cross Country events, to name a few. Though, further goals lie ahead.

He has had an on and off battle with smoking but is proud to say he has stopped smoking again this year. He adds, “It limits my performance. It stinks and I cannot live my dream whilst smoking. It had to go.”

So, what is his dream?

Justin tells us in his own words:

For 28 years, I have been a Type 1 diabetes patient. I have injected more than 31 000 times (now Apidra and Basaglar), tested my glucose level about 25 000 times (now Accu-Check instant), had approximately 3 400 hypoglycaemia events and 4 300 hyperglycaemia events.

Yet, my life has been filled to the brim with adventure and doing things that people said I could or should not do. There should be no reason for our condition to stop us from doing the unthinkable.

We, people living with diabetes, have lives filled with routine: testing glucose and injecting, limited diets and even getting into a habit of counting calories. Our bags are filled with glucometers, injections and low sugar meds. We freak out when we realise that we have lost or forgotten our diabetic paraphernalia on a trip to the shop, never mind a weekend away.

High expenses

We often incur unnecessary costs by purchasing emergency items and our daily expenses are slightly higher (additional vitamins), and due to higher likelihood of getting sick, we have additional medical costs. Medical aid (Discovery Coastal Saver) is essential for me but life insurance is just too expensive.

My medical aid covers most of the costs. The only issues I have encountered has been towards the end of the year when I need to pay for my glucometer strips. I test at least three times daily and this runs over their minimum prescribed benefit.

The other issue is that I used to receive disposable pens. However, the medical aid now only covers the cartridges and I have already broken two of the permanent pens. Luckily, a pharmacy replaced them without charge.

Constant worry

As people living with diabetes, we are uncertain how far or how long we can run, cycle, play hockey, rugby and surf before our glucose level drops.

We constantly live off the feedback from our lifestyles. We feel weak, angry, irritated, get the dreaded cold sweats, or pins and needles from hypos and hypers. Sometimes just getting up takes all our effort and sometimes we just don’t want to care anymore. We get tired of the constant worry of our diabetes being under control.

Stop and take a deep breath

It is at exactly this point that I say stop. Take a deep breath and understand that you are able. Understanding your body, looking after your glucose levels to the best of your ability means that you have very few limitations.

I have done many crazy things and didn’t manage my diabetes as best as I could. I have over a hundred scars on my body; broken both my wrists, one twice; broken my arm twice; ribs several times, at least three toes, fractured a vertebra and chopped part of my finger off.

I have spear dived and been with sharks, with blood in the water. At provincial hockey trials, I kept vomiting next to the field  after waking up in an ambulance from a hypo. I have taken on every challenge and I am still here in one piece. I admit this is not the wisest and safest way of doing the unthinkable.

Manage your diabetes properly

So, I realised that if I want to achieve all my dreams, I had to start with managing my glucose levels properly. I have changed my lifestyle as mentioned above. The next step in my journey cannot be taken lightly. I am about to do the unthinkable.

All the silly and crazy things I have done in the past was just me fighting against people saying I can’t. The next step will be done to prove to all my fellow people living with diabetes that I can and so can they.

What is doing the unthinkable?

A journey that will start with Roof of Africa Enduro 2020 (Silver Category). I will be the first person with diabetes to complete this race – a race considered one of the world’s hardest extreme motorcycle enduros.

The next steps will take place in 2021 and 2022. I aim to complete Red Bull Romaniacs and then the big one, The Dakar Rally. Each event will be used as an opportunity to drive diabetes awareness.

The question is why?

The answer is simple…It is for each parent of a child living with diabetes to realise that their children can. Their children can play rugby, hockey, run long distance, play chess, race mountain bikes and surf. Their children can compete in any event with their parents’ support.

It is for every diabetic child to realise that they can do the unthinkable. The only person to stop them or slow them down is themselves. Their future is not limited by their condition.

The future might require a bag with medicine. It might require them to pay attention to what they eat and managing their glucose levels. But there are diabetic athletes in SA that have ridden some of the hardest mountain bike races. There are diabetic runners, swimmers and none of them allowed their condition to slow them down.

Preparation

Competing in any endurance event takes months of training. I keep fit by doing Muay Thai three times a week and then at least one day, increasing up to three days’, seat time (on bike). Anything from three hours to nine hours on the seat per session.

The Roof of Africa consist of three days riding. So, your body needs to be used to the pain and going past its limits. I travel with a bag on my back; it contains three litres of water, two litres of Powerade/Energade, two sandwiches, hardboiled sweets and three to five protein bars, my glucometer and my insulin pen. My bag easily weighs an additional 3 kg’s more than the average riders.

Justin already has a sponsor: WaldCon. His agent will enter him into the race once entries open early next year. We wish Justin all the best and hope he achieves the unthinkable. Follow his journey on www.diabetics-do-it.com

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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Fabulous Flori – Florence Schrikker

Florence Schrikker, aka Flori, tells us how living with Type 2 diabetes and an amputation never stopped her living her life to the fullest. She has since co-written two cookbooks, Kook sam Kaaps and Soettand, and co-hosted a cooking show, Flori en Koelsoem se Kosse.


Florence Schrikker (66), better known as Flori, lives in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town with her husband. They have four adult children and 10 grandchildren.

Diagnosed 36 years ago

Florence was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes over 36 years ago. Though she learnt to live with her condition by keeping her faith and remaining positive no matter what, even when she was faced with the decision to amputate her left leg. She explains, “I try to stay positive with the help of God. His grace is sufficient for me; if it wasn’t for God, I don’t know where I would have been.”

She explains her symptoms, before she was diagnosed, included an uncomfortable dryness of the mouth as well as frequent visits to the restroom, and dry itchy eyes. “I was diagnosed by my family doctor, who put me on NovoMix (insulin) and Metformin tablets.”

Complications

On 2 February 2011, the grandmother had to have her leg amputated above the knee due to a diabetic ulcer not healing and gangrene setting in. Diabetic ulcers are caused from uncontrolled blood glucose levels.

“My doctor tried his best to avoid the amputation. He battled for two years to get the ulcer to heal. I wore various shoes and many gadgets in attempts to save my foot but eventually we had no other option but to amputate. But, thankfully, the ulcer on the right foot healed,” the 66-year-old explains.

As can be expected, the idea of losing half a leg was not only hard for her to handle psychologically, but it took a strain on her financially. “I needed to get around and somehow regain my independence. So, I eventually invested in getting myself a battery-operated bike. Although, I was on a medical aid, it didn’t cover all the costs. But, fortunately for me, I had received a pay-out due to being medically boarded from work (a bank) and I used that money to purchase my bike.”

“I chose the battery-operated bike because it was by far the most convenient option. It gave me a sense of being independent as it allowed me to move around by myself.”

It took Florence six months, after her amputation, to learn how to walk again. On the long and bumpy road to her new normal, she never gave up.

She regards her life as an exciting journey with many adventures, which includes her famous cookbooks, Kook sam Kaaps and Soettand, and the television programme, Flori en Koelsoem se Kosse.

Talking money and medical costs

Being financially prepared by such an event can prove to be so hard for many people, especially the elderly like Florence. She urges those who are still considered healthy to begin saving for rainy days. “Having savings for rainy days is vital because like myself I am living off the government pension. Luckily, my medical aid is covered by previous employer. At times, I have to ask for financial help from my family.”

Flori goes on to say, “Having medical aid has assisted me a lot, and although I have to contribute to some of my medical costs, it’s not the same as having to pay for everything. Being a pensioner, it’s not easy covering all the costs that come with being diabetic as well as an amputee, and having extra financial help is always something positive.”

For those who aren’t fortunate enough to afford medical aid, she gives the advice that prevention is better than cure. “I encourage everyone, whether you have diabetes or not, to equip yourselves with knowledge of the basics of healthy living, by watching your diet and eating as healthy as possible from the get go. If I had known what I know now, I would have been more careful.”

Try to live a healthy lifestyle

Although the self-proclaimed sweet lover admits that there is nothing wrong with  spoiling yourself with sweet treats every now and then, she encourage to balance everything out.

She also adds that due to healthy organic foods are not always cheap and affordable, making it nearly impossible to maintain a healthy diet, she advocates people to cultivate their own vegetable farms, and most of all, exercise every day.

She concludes, “I know some people don’t know how to go on after something like an amputation but I want them to see people like me living, to show them that they shouldn’t give up on life. Never let your condition determine your position.”

MEET OUR JOURNALIST


Londiwe Nkonyane is a second-year journalism student at Rosebank College. Her hobbies include reading and writing short stories and she wishes to own her own publication company in the near future.


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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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