Paula Thom – The initiator of Young Guns

Paula Thom, a co-ordinator of DSA Young Guns, shares her diabetes journey with us and how Young Guns started.

Paula Thom (31) lives in Port Elizabeth. She has Type 1 diabetes

At the age of 14, I was feeling very strange. I was weak all the time and couldn’t quench my thirst. I remember that once I was too weak to get out of the car after coming home from tennis practice.

Night time was the worst as I had to ensure I had a jug of water with ice next to my bed. It was the new norm to wake up through the night to gulp water and go to the loo. I didn’t question all these changes, I went with it and adapted.  

Adapting to the diagnosis

This is the approach I had when I was finally diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2003. I learnt and did what I had to do.

My grandmother, parents and two older sisters where terrified when I was diagnosed. My grandmother believed it was a death sentence.

Before taking me to the doctor, my eldest sister was quite knowledgeable about Type 1 diabetes and sat me down. She explained that I may have Type 1 diabetes. My biggest fear at the time was that I may never eat a chocolate again…little did I know!

She took me to the doctor and my reading was 27 and the doctor confirmed that I have Type 1 diabetes. My sister was right. What I struggled to understand was why she was crying if she knew my fate.

Injecting myself was cool

Off I went to the hospital where a man with a large belly showed me how to inject myself. I thought it was cool that I had to inject myself with an injection that resembled a Koki pen.

The man with the big belly showed me how to dial up the units on a digital insulin pen. Hands shaking and a bit sweaty, he put the needle in his belly as a demonstration for me. To this day, I believe he is one brave man with a fear of needles.

After a week in hospital seeing specialists, dietitians and diabetes educators, I was sent home, kitted with a glucometer, insulin pens and a bunch of needles. I went from having no appetite to being hungry all the time.

Making peace with my diabetes

Before I was diagnosed, I felt quite ill for a long time. It happened gradually and so I became used to feeling a certain way that I thought was the norm.

After being diagnosed and given insulin, I noticed the change and how I felt so much better. And, so I was okay with doing what I had to do to feel good. Feeling good beats feeling horrible.

What really got to me a couple of months after diagnosis, was having to think and plan-ahead all the time. It was so much work that never ended. Having to take an insulin shot and test my glucose multiple times a day felt so unfair. One day I just did not want to do it anymore. My mom sat me down and simply said, “If you want to live you need to do this.” And that was my last diabetes tantrum. Children are surprisingly resilient. There are still days when it is hard and there will be more. I just must do what I need to do.

Life transitions

Due to be being diagnosed as a teenager, my mother played a huge part in keeping my glucose controlled. After matric I left home to study in Stellenbosch and ended up with DKA for the first time.

I soon learnt that stress was my biggest enemy as I was hospitalised a few times after I’d finished my exams. I am constantly learning and adapting the way I manage diabetes as my life transitions from school to university to working.

After two years in Stellenbosch, I moved back to Port Elizabeth. The older I got, the more interested I became in diabetes so I decided to get involved and learn more about diabetes.

DSA Port Elizabeth

I first started attending the monthly DSA meetings at the Malabar Community Centre and later at the Newton Park group. The talks were done mostly by medical professionals and I learnt a great deal.

Not only did I want to learn more, but I was looking to meet other young people living with diabetes. I soon realised that I had been living with Type 1 diabetes for most of my life, yet I had not met any other Type 1 diabetics.

This was strange, but understandable as most of us don’t advertise our broken pancreases. I hid my diabetes and wouldn’t test and inject myself in front of strangers. Nor did I explain why I drank Coke Light (back then it was called a diet coke) which was a ‘big no’ for a skinny teenager.

I reached out to Martin Prinsloo, the Chairman of Diabetes South Africa Port Elizabeth, and asked if there was a group for youngsters and if there was any way I could get involved. I further explained that I would like to meet others.

A few weeks later, in September 2017, I met again with Martin and his wife, Elizabeth, where they told me there was an opportunity to start up a group for youngsters.

DSA Young Guns

In September 2017, my journey as the co-ordinator of DSA Young Guns, started.

Young Guns is a support group where children, teenagers and young adults living with diabetes get together at least once a month for fun activities while spreading awareness.

There is no set date each month as it’s difficult to schedule around school holidays and school events. So, we, as a group, decide together when the best date is and what we would prefer doing when we meet up.

The aim is for children, teenagers and young adults living with diabetes to meet others while having some fun. There is something extremely special in meeting another person who truly understands the ins and outs of living with diabetes. We live by the motto: “I am greater than my highs and greater than my lows

Young Guns shows kids that they are not alone. Diabetes can be incredibly frustrating and having a buddy who understands and provides support is much needed.

We also host an annual fundraiser in November at Gravity Trampoline Park, Port Elizabeth, called Jump for Diabetes.

There is another support group which has branched-off Young Guns for the parents of the kids in the group. At these meetings, the parents meet and share tips and support one another.

For more info on DSA Young Guns, please contact me at 073 895 0707 or Darren at 082 393 7747.