Young and thriving – Shaun Tobela

We speak to 20-year-old Shaun Tobela and hear how he has dealt with Type 1 diabetes during his youth.

Shaun Tobela (20) lives in Midrand, Gauteng with his parents. He is currently studying logistics – supply chain management. 

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed in 2007 at the age of eight (about to turn nine) and was doing third grade. I got extremely sick before the whole symptom phase. No one knew what was wrong with me. I was raised by my grandmother; she thought it was just a bug or infection that could be dealt with. But as time went on, the diabetes symptoms stepped in: I urinated a lot and was always thirsty. My mouth was dry and, at times, I would feel drowsy. I was always hungry and my immune system was weak. My bed was my best friend until I was taken to the doctor where I was declared diabetic.

What medication are you currently on?

I am currently on Biosulin (long-acting insulin) and Humalog (short-acting insulin) and inject three times a day using an insulin pen: morning, afternoon and night. I take the long-acting for morning and night. Then I take the short-acting midday.

How did you handle managing your diabetes at school?

It was embarrassing to have my peers know that I was diabetic and having to take insulin at school. I was looked at in a different way – I was known as ‘that sick kid’, which was not nice.

For a long time, I would go to a private place to inject myself. Thankfully, I finally found the courage and started injecting myself in front of the whole class. They did all stare at me and it would humiliate me – which made me resent the condition. But as time passed, I gained confidence and became proud of my diabetes.

I think more than anything, it has been this experience that has helped me grow – having to accept myself for who I am. Nowadays, I am the one to tell people I am diabetic before they even ask.

In Grade 11, when I gained my self-assurance, I was bold enough to teach my Life Science class about diabetes with no shame.

How did you overcome the embarrassment?

I eventually got over the shame because I accepted the fact that I will always be diabetic and it was something I have to live with for the rest of my life. That changed my attitude. I had to accept diabetes myself before I could expect people to accept me.

What does your diet consist of?

I eat almost everything, but in small portions of course. Nowadays, most food items come sugar-free. As a diabetic, you’re able to eat and live like a normal person, it is just your diet will be slightly different with more sugar-free products.

For breakfast, I have cereal. My mid-morning snack is usually fruits. Then for lunch I have a sandwich and my 330ml can of Coke Zero. At night, I eat meat and vegetables. I try to avoid carbs, but I do eat them now and then and in small portions. Throughout the day, I try to eat protein as snacks: peanuts, meat, fish, biltong. That’s how most of my days go.

Are your friends aware of your diabetes?

Yes, my friends are. I’ve involved everyone close to me – they know the different types of insulin I use and are aware of the times I must take them.

When you go out with friends, do you drink alcohol? 

No, I don’t. Well, I’ve tried and it makes me sick, so I avoid it. Plus, you can still have fun without alcohol. I have my sugar-free energy drink (Red Bull) while my friends consume alcohol and we get the night going.

How have your family supported you?

My family have always been supportive. They help me eat healthy and stay on a good healthy diet. My father had been the most supportive. He made sure I always took my insulin and that my sugars levels were where they are supposed to be. Though, he is harsh at times. I only understand now why he is like that – for my own health.

What bugs you the most about having Type 1 diabetes?

Nothing really bugs me. Though, my biggest fear is missing my insulin shots. I just hate missing them, I feel a bit off.

What is the best thing about having diabetes?

The best thing about having diabetes is the fact that you’re different. You’re unique. You’re not normal and not being normal is a specialty. That’s my personal take on it.

How do you want to help youth who have diabetes?

I want to help the youth by raising awareness. I want to help diabetic kids that are going through what I went through. Especially those that think life is not worth living simply because they have diabetes. I am living proof that it’s possible to live with diabetes and live normally like everyone else. I want to change lives. Someday, I want to start a foundation to teach people about diabetes, even people without it. We need to spread the word.

When you got tattoos did your doctor inform you that your blood sugar needs to be well managed and if not it can slow down healing?

Honestly, I didn’t consult with my doctor before I got my tattoos. But I knew my healing process would take time compared to a normal person if I didn’t manage my sugar levels well.

What are your hobbies?

Playing soccer and lots of video games. I enjoy motivational speaking, bike riding, exercising, cycling and reading.

Do you have any side effects from diabetes?

No, I don’t and I’m grateful to God for that. I’m healthy and still in good shape.


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 [email protected]