Camp Diabetable Port Elizabeth report back

Ernest Groenewald, the camp co-ordinator gives us feedback on Camp Diabetable Port Elizabeth.


Camp Diabetable took place at Leaders in Life from the 18 to 20 March, with eleven children attending. It was such a big learning experience. We had numerous activities for the children, starting with an ice-breaker where each person had to introduce themselves to build a tent for themselves before nightfall. They were split into two teams.

The attendees received personalised gifts from Diabetic Accessories. Diabetic Accessories also sponsored diabetic-friendly campfire marshmallows and beautiful bags for each child.

Sessions

On the Saturday, the children had so much fun as they had to navigate obstacle courses as a team. Afterwards, they had sessions with me (Ernest Groenewald) on how to take care of themselves and some diet tips as well as the differences between what are good carbs to have for low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia).

Afterwards, they had a session with Samantha, a diabetes educator from NovoNordisk. This was a brilliant session with the children as well as with the parents who attended the camp.

Focus of the camp

The focus of this camp was on the children taking care of themselves during activities and learning more about their bodies when it came to symptoms of their blood glucose. It was also to see how other children with the same comorbidity deal with their blood glucose and how they get affected.

Success

The camp was an enormous success as not only did the children enjoy themselves but they also experienced freedom and showed them how they could manage their glucose levels even when they are active. Children with diabetes mustn’t feel alone as we forget how easy children isolate themselves.

My dream is to do more camps for the Eastern Cape region and hopefully grow, with Diabetes South Africa, a strong youth base for future generations of newly diagnosed people with diabetes.

Brooklyn Rabie – my life isn’t perfect, but I’m blessed

Teenager, Brooklyn Rabie, tells us how she remembers her diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and how she has accepted it and listens to her body.


Brooklyn Rabie (13) lives in Port Elizabeth with her parents and younger brother.

Remembering the diagnosis

On the 31st July 2018, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. First thought, what is that? That means my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin.

We were at my friend’s party. Cupcakes, donuts and any other sweet things you could think of. I wasn’t feeling too well. I was sitting with my parents and not even playing with the other kids. This isn’t normal for a nine year old.

On Monday morning we all preparing for the day ahead. But dad seems to capture my every move. I went to school and just before break my name gets called over the intercom. Instantly, I thought I was in trouble. I see dad standing in the reception area. He says “Princess, let’s go to the doctor and make sure that you are okay”.

Off we went to the doctor. He asked some questions and then tested my blood glucose, it was 27,8. We were shocked at first. My parents knew what it was and all the things we would have to do but I didn’t know what it meant so I wasn’t scared.

When I finally went to hospital and they told me what all I need to do. I’ll have to start using needles, giving myself insulin and testing my blood glucose. I got really scared. My parents were with me the whole time so I guess that’s what gave me assurance.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

One night, earlier in the year, my body just started to reject everything that I consumed, my eyes were watering and I couldn’t lift my head from bed. I was exhausted. My mom and dad decided to take me to hospital. At this stage, I couldn’t even drink water as I would just bring it up.

One hour later in the consultation room, I had two drips on one arm with blood tests being done on my other arm. I just wanted to sleep and felt as if my body was shutting off. From a distance, I heard my dad speaking to the doctor, and the doctor telling my dad that the matter is serious, and I needed to be moved to high intensive care as I was in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a complication of diabetes that results from increased levels of ketones in the blood.

Thankfully on the second day, I was moved out of the high care ward and I was able to consume liquids and solids. After five days in hospital, I was discharged provided that I go for check-ups on monthly bases.

Listen to my body

There were many times when I had low and high blood glucose levels. Since being diagnosed, I’ve acknowledged and excepted what diabetes is and listened to my body. I wake up at night knowing something isn’t right without testing. I can feel if my levels are low or high. Thank God for having me in the palm of His hand.

What I want people to know

Many people think that I have diabetes because I ate to much sugar but that’s not it. It’s because my body doesn’t produce enough insulin.

Since I have to inject insulin or prick my finger at school, many of the children ask me what I’m doing and why am I doing that. They are always asking questions about it and unfortunately I hate answering those type of questions.

I would honestly like to do more to make people aware of diabetes, especially at school. That way, we will have more support and still feel as part of everything around us and then I wouldn’t have to answer all of the questions.

Having diabetes has also made me want to become an endocrinologist when I’m older.

Life isn’t perfect, but I’m blessed

This year July, I will have been living with diabetes for five years. I’ve seen better days, but I’ve also seen worse. I don’t have everything that I want, but I do have all I need. I wake up with some aches and pains, but I wake up. My life may not be perfect, But I’m blessed.


Chosen for IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes Programme

DSA Port Elizabeth management board member, Ernest Groenewald, was recently selected as the only South African to be part of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Young Leaders in Diabetes Programme (YLD) 2022-2024. We chat to him about this.


Ernest Groenewald (27) lives in the Eastern Cape and is currently studying a Bachelor of Education in intermediate phase teaching.

Ernest is a member of the management board of DSA, Port Elizabeth. His portfolio is camp director; he oversees the Type 1 camps in the PE region. He had planned Camp Diabetable which was supposed to take place last year August. But due to COVID, it had to be postponed. When asked how he dealt with the delay, he explains, “It hasn’t been easy. As I have had a lot of personal problems that I had to deal with. Grief of a loved one has never been easy especially someone so close. Also having COVID 19 in the glooming background made matters more severe. Postponing the camp was the only option.” Though he is very eager kick the year off with the long-awaited DSA Camp Diabetable.

Plus, with the fantastic opportunity of being selected as South Africa’s only representative for the IDF YLD programme, he is set to make the most of this year.

Selection process

Ernest explains the selection process, “There was an application process where candidates around the world had to fill in and submit. All criteria needed to be fulfilled and the person applying had to be part of an NPO and be in good standing with them. I was lucky enough to have been approached and nominated by Margot McCumisky, National manager of DSA, as well as Martin and Elizabeth Prinsloo who run the Port Elizabeth branch.

New challenge and opportunities

The 27-year-old was thrilled when he was chosen. “The opportunity entails learning as well as travelling possibilities where I will interact with other people living with diabetes around the world. I also get the opportunity to get more in-depth education on managing diabetes as well as being able to use that knowledge to help others.”

The scholarship will also see Ernest having to raise awareness and be an active activist for diabetes. This excites Ernest and he has great plans ahead. “I want to work towards a better education system for newly diagnosed diabetes patients at government hospitals and clinics and work towards continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to be freely available for people with diabetes.

We wish Ernest all the best and can’t wait to see the success of this excellent opportunity.

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


Megan Soanes – Nurse, mother and wife

DSA SA Port Elizabeth board member, Megan Soanes, shares what it is like to have both her husband and son have Type 1 diabetes.


Megan Soanes lives in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) with her husband, Scott and their two children, Gabriel (11) and Cheyanne (4).

My husband has Type 1 diabetes

My husband, Scott (45) was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12; he is insulin-dependent. When we started dating, it was a challenge for me to learn about diabetes, but after 12 years of marriage, I now understand the auto-immune disease.

Admittedly, it took time to learn the nuances of the disease and accept that it was not in my power to cure but rather maintain. One weekend, in 2018, everything appeared to be normal, little did we know our lives would change forever.

Finding out our son also has diabetes

My husband noticed that our, then 7-year-old son, Gabriel, was constantly thirsty and always needed the bathroom. My husband told me to test Gabriel’s blood glucose. To my shock, it was sitting on 35,2 (the normal level being between 5-7). We rushed him to the doctor, only for him to confirm what we already suspected. My baby boy is a Type 1 diabetic just like his dad.

My son and I cried together as we already knew what his father goes through with his diabetes. I always knew, in the back of my mind, that this could happen when I fell pregnant, but every mother hopes for their kids to be healthy.

It’s not easier for my son

Many people assume that it’s easier for Gabriel to accept his diabetes and the responsibilities that come with it, seeing that his father has diabetes. This is not the case. A seven-year-old child doesn’t expect to have the responsibility of keeping their glucose levels ‘normal’ and they certainly don’t want to stick needles in their bodies three to four times a day.

In the beginning, and still four years down the line, Gabriel is constantly worried that his glucose will drop when he is sleeping over at a friend, or anywhere that he doesn’t have immediate access to his medication.

High fibre diet

Although we try maintain a healthy diet, we, as a family, don’t follow any strict diet rules but we do keep Gabriel on a high fibre diet and ensure he stays away from starch. Luckily that is easy as Gabriel doesn’t enjoy pasta, rice or potatoes. In contrast, Scott loves starch.

It does become a challenge to figure out what snacks are appropriate for maintaining a good glucose level; this comes with time and research. We have found that our go-to snacks for when Scott or Gabriel have low glucose levels would be a juice box and Super Cs. If their glucose level is high, they take some insulin (a correction dose) and drink a lot of water.

Thankfully, we, as a family, love the outdoors, especially hiking and are always looking for new adventures. Over December, we did a 10km hike; I was exceptionally proud of Gabriel and Scott.

Nurse, mother and wife

Honestly, it’s not easy living with two family members who have Type 1 diabetes. There are days when I want to throw myself under my blankets and scream, “Why me, why do I have to deal with this?”

However, at the end of the day I know that Scott and Gabriel didn’t ask to have diabetes and I shouldn’t complain. I have to put on my ‘mother doing her best’ crown and carry on.

The big thing that keeps me going is knowing the best support system for my husband and son, is me. For them, I’m on call 24/7, 365 days a year. No leave, no holidays. I’m a nurse, a mother and a wife.

I do have faults, just like everyone else, and I get those days where I’m impatient, due to being a full-time working mom. I also get tired and want to have someone wait on me when I’m not feeling well, or to be left alone when I’m irritated, but I take one step at a time and keep moving forward.

Advice to other mothers and wives

My advice to moms and wives living with people who have Type 1 diabetes is:

  • Don’t expect the person with diabetes to be perfect. You’ll be chasing a lost dream, there is no such thing as a perfect diabetic. Each case is unique and can influence your lives in different ways.
  • Live life and be the support pillar that they need and always know there is a support group you can reach out to.
  • It’s important to remember, diabetes can’t take a backseat just because you’re a mother. To the contrary, diabetes is a priority because you’re a mother. This is one of the reason that makes me understand the reality of being a mother and a support figure for the two people in my house afflicted by Type 1 diabetes can leave anyone feeling overwhelming some days.

I’m sure all mothers and wives would agree, even without Type 1 diabetes in the mix, it’s very hard for mothers and wives to make themselves a priority. Everybody wants a piece of your time, your energy, and your heart. However, it’s important to know and accept that your needs matter, too, Mama! Like they say, “If Mama isn’t happy, then nobody is happy!”

Strive for balance

As difficult as it may be, the key to living a happier life is balance. So, think about what you need to create more balance in your life as a mother and wife. Some things you could possible try are: 30 minutes of exercise in the morning or motivating your children to be more responsible for cleaning and making their own beds. This can be a learning opportunity to teach them responsibility so that they can learn to look after themselves, especially the responsibility of keeping tabs on their diabetes. Maybe it’s assigning each child clean-up duties after dinner every night, or signing up for a fitness class twice a week which means dad oversees dinner those nights.

Once again, to ensure the stability of your own mental health, you need to maintain a more balanced and peaceful lifestyle for your own health Your needs matter, too, Mama! Don’t forget it!

DSA – Denim For Diabetes

I’m extremely happy that I got involved with DSA Port Elizabeth as I wanted to learn more about diabetes as well as help other moms that are going through what I’m going through.

I reached out to DSA Port Elizabeth and since then I have become a board member. I’m in charge of all the fundraising for this non-profit organisation. My main project is Denim for Diabetes, where we encourage schools to educate staff members and pupils about diabetes. We also ask companies to join us in this project as well.

In 2021, with the help of my friend, Jay, we got our first company, CompRSA, to take part in Denim for Diabetes. This was an amazing leap forward, witnessing a company supporting such a good cause.

I want all kids living with diabetes to know that they aren’t alone and we are here for you. Reach out to your parents and ask for help, let them know if you need them to hold you and reassure you that you are okay. Don’t let diabetes control your life, you must control diabetes. You can do anything you set your mind too!

Western Cape Camp Diabetable

Dear campers,

We are so sorry to have had to postpone the Western Cape Camp Diabetable in April. We know how disappointed you must have been, especially those who had already booked.

Unfortunately, the Camp Director took ill and had to have a major operation and was put on six weeks sick leave. Obviously, this couldn’t have been foreseen. The good news is that we have booked a new date (16-18th September) at Soetwater in Kommetjie and are looking forward to seeing all our pro-campers and welcoming lots of new campers as well.

The new details are on the poster and we hope you are as excited as we are to see you all at camp in September.


Benefits of diabetes camps

Diabetes South Africa has been holding camps for children with diabetes for well over 40 years. These camps are designed to facilitate a camp experience in a medically safe environment, while fostering opportunities for children to develop basic diabetes self-management skills.

These type of camps also provides opportunities for children with diabetes to forge sustainable relationships, overcome feelings of isolation, and gain self-confidence and a positive attitude to living with a lifelong chronic disease which has to be managed hour by hour.

Impact

According to three years of pre and post surveys, diabetes camps positively impact a wide-range of camper outcomes, including knowledge of diabetes management, management behaviours, and emotional well-being.

Doctors have reported to us that the positive benefits of our camps for children with diabetes are seen in their young patients for many months post camp. Newly diagnosed campers appear to benefit the most from their camp experience.  The encouragement and support the children receive often leads to them giving themselves their first insulin injection on their own. Campers usually ask on leaving the camp when the next one will be.

Some our past campers have joined our DSA Camp Management Team as young adults to pay forward the positive experience they had when attending our camps as children.

The theme for this camp is The elements: earth, wind, fire, water.

To join the camp email margot@diabetessa.org.za

Denim for Diabetes

Cara Verster

Cara Verster, a Grade 6 learner, is thrilled that the Denim for Diabetes Day she organised at her school, Leeuwenhof Akademie, was such a success.

On 14th October, Leeuwenhof Akademie scholars swopped their school uniform for denims. They raised R3858 and donated the proceeds to Diabetes South Africa.

Cara Verster, a young diabetic, decided in the beginning of the year she wanted to get her school involved with the DSA Denim for Diabetes initiative. Leeuwenhof Akademie has been super supportive during Cara’s six years at the school.

The teachers and headmaster are always willing to help and very understanding when it comes to Cara’s diabetes management. Cara’s parents have peace of mind every single day sending Cara to school.

There isn’t a school activity or sport that Cara doesn’t try at school. She is an avid public speaker at the school, she is in the theatre group, she runs long distance, plays hockey and the drums. She is in the Top 10 academically and always full of beans. If you ask anybody at the school they will tell you Cara has never let diabetes stop her in any way. She always finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming circumstances.

Cara is looking forward to the Grade 7 trip to Cape Town next year.

Hannes Labuschagne

Hannes Labuschagne, a young boy with Type 1 diabetes, held a Denim for Diabetes Day at his primary school, Laerskool Mariepskop (Hoedspruit, Limpopo) in November. He raised R1500 for Diabetes South Africa from the proceeds of the day. His success was published in the local newspaper.

Olivia Smargiasso – Walking the road to success

Olivia Smargiasso is the perfect example of living her best life with diabetes. This young lady has achieved so much already and her future is bright.


Olivia Smargiasso (18) lives in Brakpan with her parents and two younger siblings.

Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of two and a half, in November 2005. My mom had noticed the classic symptoms of thirst and excessive urination. She tested my blood glucose at home, and it was 16,6. By the end of that day, I had seen an endocrinologist and started using insulin.

I think at about five years old, I understood that I had something extra I always had to think about. It was then that I realised I needed to test my glucose and bolus for food (I had gone on to an insulin pump six months after I was diagnosed). This was also the time I became aware that other people in the class did not tell the teacher they were feeling low. A low usually left me feeling sweaty, irritable and very emotional. These mood swings were definitely difficult to regulate.

Aim for a dart board rather than the bullseye

I think because I was diagnosed at such a young age, living with diabetes is all I’ve ever known. Whenever I feel that I don’t want to have to deal with my diabetes anymore, I remind myself that I don’t need to be perfect, only aim for perfection. Living with the challenge of diabetes is more about aiming for a dart board rather than the bullseye, and it’s more than okay to miss here and there.

I’m currently on a Medtronic 670 pump. Before this I used the Medtronic Veo and before that injections. I have used Novorapid short-acting insulin for the last 15 years. My treatment hasn’t changed much in that time, only the carb ratios and other settings on my pumps.

As a child, I saw an endocrinologist, and a diabetes nurse educator, who also has a son (now grown up) with diabetes. Thus, she could empathise with my family, especially my mom. In more recent years, however, my mom, Dr Angela Murphy, has become my doctor; she is a specialist physician

Olivia Smargiasso: Walking the road of success

Dr Mom

I always joke that I couldn’t get away with anything because my mom knew when I wasn’t telling the truth. It was definitely challenging at times, having a doctor as a mom, because I knew she expected me to manage my diabetes with accuracy and precision.

I have also been very fortunate, though. My mom will often tell me about the launch of a new diabetic drug, or an advancement in research. She also sees how well I manage the many challenges of diabetes compared to patients or colleagues’ patients. I feel encouraged that perhaps I do manage my diabetes reasonably well.

Achieving in abundance

I was always encouraged not to let diabetes hold me back. I have Protea colours for karate after competing in Zimbabwe, Botswana and at the Commonwealth Karate Games. I’m a keen runner and Running Captain at school. I used to be an avid waterpolo and netball player too.

When I went onto continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), I found that playing sport became much easier as I was always aware of any change in my glucose levels. Before sensors, however, I would aim for a glucose level of 7,5-9 before playing sport in the afternoon and below 6,5 when swimming in the morning. This way I avoided experiencing a high after morning training and a low during netball or waterpolo practices after school.

I also make sure I always have something sugary close by. Game or Powerade have worked best for me; small sips throughout the training or match to replace any energy I’ve used while exercising. I also eat something with slow-releasing energy, like a banana, before training sessions or matches.

I don’t find that my diabetes affects my academic performance too much. If I go low or high in class, my teachers are always happy to let me eat something or bolus to correct my glucose. I am currently 4th in my grade, I was recently awarded the Best All Round Matric trophy and I’m the top senior public speaker too.

Next year, I’m moving to Stellenbosch to study environmental sciences. I’m really looking forward to this.

Diabetes camps

I have attended three diabetes camps; one as a camper and two as a leader. I absolutely love these camps and encourage every child with diabetes I meet to attend at least one. These camps not only equip kids with the practical and medical skills they need to live a full life with diabetes, but also instil a sense of belonging, showing kids that they are not alone in this very difficult journey.

Children get the chance to meet others with similar and different experiences, exchange stories and come up with new ideas and different approaches to the most common obstacles. These camps also show children that they can have a normal life and enjoy normal activities, they do not have to stop eating sweets or give up their favourite sports because of diabetes. I hope post COVID, camps will be able to happen again.

Supportive teachers 

My teachers were always patient, caring, and compassionate when it came to handling my diabetes. My Grade 00 teacher was particularly loving in helping me add up the amount of carbs I was planning on eating at lunchtime. I was always allowed to have a quick snack or go fill up my water bottle. Some teachers went as far as giving me nuts or fruit instead of cupcakes and biscuits when it was a birthday.

My Grade 2 teacher also has a child with diabetes and was involved in the diabetes support group my mom helped establish when I was a child. At the start of every year until I reached Grade 9, my mom met with the new teachers and chatted about my diabetes management. This was never a burden for them and they were always supportive. There have been other girls in my school with diabetes over the years, currently there are four of us in different grades. I’m always happy to chat to them if I can help them in any way.

I have heard stories of children being treated badly at school, by teachers and peers, because of their diabetes. I think more awareness is needed so that phrases like “you can’t eat that” and stigmas of diabetes being a result of an unhealthy lifestyle, are abolished.

Understanding friends

Most of my friends have been with me since preschool and have grown up knowing I have diabetes. When I explain the condition to people I have just met, I often use an analogy: the good soldiers in my body (my immune system) got confused and attacked their own castle (my pancreas) and destroyed it. Now it doesn’t work so I have to get insulin from this pump.

I also explain that it’s a genetic disease and there is nothing I could have done to avoid getting it. Nobody did anything wrong, my parents did not give me too many sweets when I was little. The condition was always in my DNA, it was only a matter of time before it activated.

I also say that I can live a completely normal life and do everyday activities like any other person. All I have do is simply be careful that my insulin covers my carbs, the correct amount and given in time. I need to be aware of the different effects of food and activity on my life.

Love of fruit

I absolutely love fruit, watermelon, pears, and oranges in particular. Whenever I have a sweet craving, I try to go for a fruit rather than a sugary snack. While sticking to a healthy diet is important, treats like KitKats or ice lollies are my go-to when I need something slightly less nutritious.

Good advice

For anyone that has just been diagnosed with diabetes, I would say the most important thing to remember is that life with this condition is a balancing act. It’s impossible to be perfect all the time and constantly have a blood glucose reading of 5,6 but luckily CGM has taught us if most of our readings are in the range of 4 to 10, overall control will be good.

But it’s normal and perfectly okay to miss the target range sometimes. The important thing is that we focus on the positives more than the negatives because that way we will see how well we are doing. Something I live by is, “Today I will do what others won’t do that tomorrow I can do what others can’t”.

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.

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.