Look, I could write a whole post here about why and how you can just put aside the idea of buying silly little Xmas gifts for Lois in accounting, and how Reginald in HR really doesn’t need more boxes of Lindt balls because people only truly like one type (dark chocolate for me) and the rest get thrown out.

I could remind you that it’s freaking hot in Australia right now, so the idea of gifting a rose, basil and chai scented candle is ridiculous because why would anyone want to light it and add another heat source to their already overheated house? (Also, stop making candles scented with chai.)

I could moan about how I despise the whole idea of Kris Kringle/Secret Santa, because honestly, I do. It’s nothing more than a waste of time and money.

I could tell you that I am pretty sure that the $30 gift voucher you are thinking of shoving into an envelope for Uncle Angelo is going to languish in a drawer and probably be forgotten.

I could tell you that the book of inspirational quotes that you are going to buy for the cousin you only see once a year will never be opened – and probably be re-gifted (possible back to you) next year.

You know, so I don’t need to tell you, that the half-wilted poinsettia you’re buying at the last minute at Woolies as a gift for the person hosting one of the three hundred Xmas drinks things you’re going to will wind up in the bin after the next three-day heatwave because your host can’t remember to water themselves, much less a seasonal plant.

I could urge you to put down the bath bomb because no one, and I mean NO ONE, needs or wants a bath bomb.

I could do all these things. But there’s no need; I’ve done it before and you know it all. If you really need to read those posts: here’s one. And here’s another. And Grumps has written about it here.

Basically, the message is the same. Think about forgoing those little gifts, and instead make a donation to Life for a Child, and know that THIS gift is actually meaningful. And by meaningful, I mean it will save the life of a young person with diabetes. That’s right: Save. Their. Life.

Insulin is expensive. And yet the dollars you were going to spend on a pretty mindless gift will provide life-saving insulin for around six months. Which sounds a lot better, right?

Good thing you know all this, and I don’t need to write about it again. And it’s also a good thing that you know all you need to do is click here to save a life.

P.S.

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Is there a more contentious issue when it comes to diabetes than food? Possibly, but when it comes to what we eat as part of our diabetes management plan, there is a lot to wade through.

For those who have had diabetes for more than a few years, it is highly likely that guidelines will have shifted, if not outright changed directions. The food plan that was ‘in’ for me at diagnosis is different to what is recommended now. In the last twenty years I have heard and read so many different ideas about the best ways to eat to ensure optimal diabetes health. My head has spun – and so has my stomach at times – with the chopping and changing ideas. To be honest, I can’t keep up.

Plus, we live in a world where everyone from celebrity chefs to movie starts are health gurus, tricking us into believing they have the answer to nutritional nirvana… if we just take this super elixir or this mushroom and cacao supplement. (Yes – I’m looking at you Ms Paltrow. Shush now, please. )

The DEEPtalk event last week was under the ‘mealtime challenges’ banner, but it covered more than just what happens when we sit down to eat. Because, we all know there is much more to food than sustenance and the sum of a nutrition panel. If that was the case, we’d be happy eating things that looked and tasted like, and had the texture of cardboard.

Considerations around the food we eat are social, political and environmental. We need to think about what we will be doing with that energy we have going in. It has to look, smell and taste appealing. Food triggers memories and deep emotions. But it can also be a source of difficulties. The eight different topics at DEEPtalk took in a lot of those different issues.

Phylissa Deroze welcomed us to her holiday table, enticing us with a seemingly endless buffet of delicious foods. But that festive spread became an obstacle course as she explained how difficult it could be to ensure she felt she was being true to eating the foods that she felt she wanted – and needed to eat – while dealing with the challenges of food pushers. ‘The two main ingredients in holiday food is carbs and love,’ Phylissa told us. As it turns out, both challenge her diabetes management.

Speaking of carbs, Antje Thiel reminded that just thinking about carbs when trying to assess how food impacts glucose levels was naïve and short-sighted. She listed a veritable shopping list of other factors that need to be measured. From hormones, to the timing of eating to the weather…these factors (plus a hell of a lot more) all impact in some way.

Quinn Fisher and Leighann Calentine shared the stage together and did a great tag-team presentation about how being a kid, and now teen, trumps diabetes any day, announcing early in the talk ‘Cake is totally bolus worthy!’ which seems as good a motto as any by which to live one’s life. Quinn is 14 and has had diabetes since she was three, and her family’s practical approach to how she manages things like sleepovers and birthday parties makes good sense.

Sara Moback spoke about a topic that simply does not get enough airtime: diabetes and eating disorders. She shared the story of her anorexia nervosa diagnosis and the treatment she received following that diagnosis. And she also reminded us that the focus on food, and the constant striving for a perfectly straight, unmoving CGM  trace are surely contributing factors to why girls and women with type 1 diabetes are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder.

Paul Louis Fouesnant’s presentation had my heart racing as he explained how he managed his diabetes and the fears of low glucose levels after a broken down car left him stranded for a couple of days in remote Madagascar. Clearly he is the type of person you want around in emergency situations: he can make fruit puree from foraged berries. Paul Louis’ presentation was about the challenges of travelling to countries where food may be a little different to what we are used to. But he is firmly of the belief that you try everything in front of you – and enjoy your travels.

Bruno Helman introduced us to his vegan life with type 1 diabetes, explaining the road he took to becoming vegan and how he manages his training to run marathons. (Oh, and when I say ‘marathons’, I mean 27 in a year. As you do…) For me, Bruno’s talk probably challenged many of the ideas about diabetes eating than any of the others, simply because it was the most different to the eating plans that I have subscribed to over the years. As someone who absolutely loves vegetables, and incorporates them into every single meal, I still think there is a lot more I can do to increase the plant-based component of what I’m eating. (And I don’t just mean more carrot cake..)

Melanie Stephenson eloquently shared how she moved from adding marathon running to sprinting, and how she carb loads to ensure that she performs at her peak on race days. Can I say how refreshing it was to hear someone talking about carbs as nothing more than a form of nutrition, rather than something to be demonised and feared. Mel and some friends decided that not only would they run a half marathon, but they’d also break the world record for the number of people with diabetes running in it. They did that in June this year.

And finally, Bastian Hauck rounded out the event, using one of the best analogies for diabetes management that I have ever heard. The audience was mesmerised as he challenged everyone – except those of us with diabetes – to commit to a week, and then a month of daily dental flossing. With caveats: it had to happen twice daily at 8am and 8pm. Oh, and any other time food or drink was consumed. Plus, the correct amount of floss needed to be used each time: 5cm for each 10grams of carbs…no more, no less. And, of course, people were required to keep a record of all they ate. How many people in the room were prepared to even try this challenge? One. That’s right…one person. Thanks, Doug!

Eight topics; nine speakers. And this just barely scratched the surface of the different ways food can be used as part of a diabetes management approach.

My job was to introduce the event, the speakers and tie together the theme for the event. In other words, I had the easiest job for the day.

I listened to each DEEPtalk twice – once during the rehearsal and then for the official event. And they brought home the message that there is no one size fits all to eating when it comes to diabetes, in exactly the same way that there is no one way to do any aspect of diabetes management. The speakers also showed that food is never, ever only going to be about diabetes. Sometimes, an apple is just an apple, not 15g or 20g of carbs, requiring <X> units of insulin.

Guidelines are all very well. I understand that they are based on best practise and evidence. I also understand that HCPs like guidelines because they make things so much easier. But for those of us living with diabetes…our days are not lived according to guidelines or checklists or evidence. Our lives are lived by morning coffees, and neighbours dropping in for cake, and someone bringing cookies into work, and mango season. And, damn it, I just want that piece of chocolate/pizza/watermelon…

DEEPtalk showed us how just a handful of people with diabetes manage the challenges, success and joys of everyday eating. We all have our stories about what works for us. I love that this event allowed people to share them in a safe and non-judgemental way. We need a lot more of that.

If you’ve not watched the DEEPtalks yet and would like to catch up, the link is can be found in this post

L-R: Antje, Leighann, Quinn, Bastian, me, Sara, Paul Louis, Melanie, Bruno, Phylissa

DISCLOSURE

The DEEPtalk event was hosted by Novo Nordisk and was held at one of their facilities in Copenhagen. I was invited by the Global Patient Relations Team to moderate the event. Novo covered costs for my (premium economy) flights (I used my own frequent flyer miles to upgrade flights) and two nights’ accommodation as well as transfers and meals while I was in Copenhagen. There is no expectation from the Global Patient Relations Team (or Novo Nordisk more broadly) that I will write about the event or other activities held while I was in Copenhagen and what I do write is mine. All mine. 

On Monday morning, I was invited to an event at the Novo Nordisk facility in Malov to hear about the latest in diabetes and stem cell research. (Disclosures at the end of the post as always.) 

We heard from researchers from the site, as well as Sanjay Dutta from JDRF, and were given a tour of the labs to get a better understanding of the research process. Going into this event, I knew very little about stem cell research and its application in curing diabetes. (I should point out I still know very little…) Before I write more, I do want to highlight that the ethical sensitivity of stem cell research was addressed, although was not a focus of the event. It is undeniable that there are some people who refuse to accept stem cell research, or any treatments that come from it. I am not one of those people, but I was pleased to see the researchers acknowledging that this is an issue for many people around the world.

One of the speakers was Novo researcher Louise Winkel who gave a fantastic overview of stem cell research and how it applies to type 1 diabetes. If Louise was a senior school biology teacher, her students would all go on to study science at tertiary level. She made it interesting, understandable, and translated just what this very technical area of research could mean to those of us living with diabetes.

Jacob Sten Petersen shared how he has been working with Novo in diabetes research for 27 years. That’s a lot of time examining and investigating type 1 diabetes, trying to get a better understanding of just how diabetes works. Despite all the years of experience, and all the time spent with leading researchers and healthcare professionals, Jacob made a point of saying that it wasn’t until he actually met people with diabetes that he realised just how little he truly understood about life with diabetes.

That understanding increased exponentially when his young daughter was diagnosed with diabetes. You might think that having a child diagnosed with diabetes after you’ve given most of your career to researching it may make things a little easier. But listening to Jacob tell the story of his daughter’s diagnosis it was clear that the impact and devastation was no less at all.

As Jacob outlined the timeline of research, I was a little startled when he starting talking about this being the way forward to curing diabetes. I was even more startled at just how confidently, and almost casually, Jacob was talking about the cure. He was putting timeframes out there, saying that he firmly believed that no one in the room would die from, or because of, type 1 diabetes. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one surprised by this declaration.

Both Louise and Jacob were discussed the challenges of finding treatments, and ultimately a cure, for type 1 diabetes. Plus, there is the autoimmune response – you remember, the one that destroyed our beta cells in the first place – that needs to be addressed. Encapsulation will assist with that, but that also has challenges that need to be overcome. (It probably should not have come as a surprise when Louise told us the beta cells are the most difficult and sensitive cells, posing a number of trials, including how they stop secreting insulin the second oxygen concentration drops. Precious? You bet!)

However, despite the difficulties, Louise and Jacob were very clear about their goal and where their research was going: to cure type 1 diabetes.

I am very wary when it comes to talk of a diabetes cure. I don’t know one person with type 1 diabetes who has not heard some version of ‘The cure is just around the corner’. Sometimes that’s quantified with a timeframe. The old ‘five years’ chestnut is popular. At diagnosis, I was told five years; ten at the most. Well, here I am at twenty years and either I’ve not turned the right corner, or my first endocrinologist was being over-optimistic. I think it is probably the latter.

But I thought I’d made peace and accepted that that there would not be a cure in my lifetime, instead turning my hope – I have so much hope – towards better treatments, smarter devices, improved meds. I do not feel sadness or despair when I say I don’t believe I will be cured. I feel hopeful that thanks to ongoing research, my life will be less and less limited by diabetes.

Yet here I was, holding onto each word, and unlocking the part of my mind that I had, perhaps reluctantly, packed away many years ago. Would I allow myself to even think that a cure in my lifetime was a possibility?

The event concluded with a panel discussion, and as questions were invited, I raised my hand to ask how we balance talk about curing type 1 diabetes with managing expectations. Hope is important, but so is not being disappointed.

The discussion that followed was candid. I loved that the researchers could understand my apprehension – and that of a number of others in the room who also shared their reluctance to use the word cure. And that ‘cure’ meant different things to different people.

Because: what is a cure? I don’t think there is a simple answer to that. For some, it would be a fully functioning closed-loop automated insulin delivery device. But that would still involve an element of ‘user input’. Even if calibrations are not required, there will still be the need to change sensors, refill cartridges, change infusion sets.

For others, a fully implantable closed loop device which only needs ‘topping up’ with insulin occasionally would be considered a cure.

I know people who have had islet cell transplants, and pancreas transplants, but they require immunosuppression therapy and I don’t know that necessarily constitutes a cure.

Encapsulation may negate the need for immunosuppression, but would the cells need to be topped up…and how frequently would that need to happen? Would glucose checking still be required?

It is subjective and each person with diabetes would have different criteria they use to accept what is and what isn’t a cure. I don’t know what my criteria is yet.

I like the idea of not dying with – and certainly not dying from – type 1 diabetes. Do I think that is a reality? I don’t know. I feel that my adamant claim that there will not be a cure in my lifetime has been challenged this week and I’m okay with that. Because what hasn’t been challenged is the hope I have.

If in my lifetime with diabetes, the day to day tasks are reduced, the emotional burden is lessened, the fear and anxiety can be diminished, treatment of diabetes-related complications improves, then I feel that I am still somehow out in front. I may not be cured. But each step forward is a step in the right direction. Even if I don’t make it the finishing line and handed a cure.

DISCLOSURE

The DEEPtalk event was hosted by Novo Nordisk and was held at one of their facilities in Copenhagen. I was invited by the Global Patient Relations Team to moderate the event. Novo covered costs for my (premium economy) flights (I used my own frequent flyer miles to upgrade flights) and two nights’ accommodation as well as transfers and meals while I was in Copenhagen.

I was also invited to attend an information event where Novo employees spoke about current stem cell research in diabetes.

There is no expectation from the Global Patient Relations Team (or Novo Nordisk more broadly) that I will write about the event or other activities held while I was in Copenhagen and what I do write is mine. This summary of the stem cell event and presentations is all my own interpretation and has not been reviewed by Novo Nordisk prior to publication.

I am en route back home from a flying visit to Copenhagen. I was invited by Novo Nordisk to moderate the first ever DEEPtalk event. (Please read my disclosures at the end of this post.)

I will write all about the event in detail, but in the meantime, here’s a video of the livestream, where you can see and hear nine fantastic speakers share how they manage diabetes specific challenges are found food and mealtimes. And see and hear me bumbling my way through.

DISCLOSURE

The DEEPtalk event was hosted by Novo Nordisk and was held at one of their facilities in Copenhagen. I was invited by the Global Patient Relations Team to moderate the event. Novo covered costs for my (premium economy) flights (I used my own frequent flyer miles to upgrade flights) and two nights’ accommodation as well as transfers and meals while I was in Copenhagen. There is no expectation from the Global Patient Relations Team (or Novo Nordisk more broadly) that I will write about the event or other activities held while I was in Copenhagen and what I do write is mine. All mine. 

Yes, we know that diabetes is a so-called invisible condition. I’ve written about it a lot both here (and here, and here, and here) and other places as well. And I’ve also grappled with how I feel when I realise that my carefully and deliberately shrouded condition actually becomes visible without me knowing it.

Our diabetes does not wear a cast or make us immediately look different in any way. We are not identified as someone with diabetes until we tell someone that is the case. Even when diabetes is impacting on us in the moment physically – for example if we are actively dealing with a low or a high – and there are around others, most people would not automatically think ‘diabetes’.

As a condition that can be hidden, diabetes is referred to as invisible. But lately, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this idea, because I think it is a little murky when thinking about just whothe condition is invisible (or visible) to.

So I decided to ask a few people what they thought: people I know well, family members, work colleagues, friends and acquaintances. Just about everyone I spoke to said that they thought diabetes was invisible. They said that rarely would they think diabetes when around me, unless we were specifically talking about it, or they noticed me ‘doing diabetes’. Someone I asked actually said ‘Oh, I forgot you have diabetes,’ which I guess points to just how invisible some people see (or rather don’t see) my diabetes.

The only people who said they didn’t think diabetes was invisible were friends with diabetes. ‘How could I think that?’ someone said. ‘No one living with diabetes thinks it’s invisible. It’s always in our face.’

That’s exactly how I feel. When we say diabetes is invisible, what we are saying is that it is invisible to others. The invisibility cloak only applies to people looking at us, not those of us whose diabetes is under that cloak. For us, it reminds blindingly visible and present. It’s the devices on our bodies (even if we hide them under our clothes); it’s the scars from puncture wounds; it’s the always-present glucose meter; it’s the blood stains from pricking our fingers or removed CGM sensors or pump lines; it’s the glucose strips that get into every crevice of our homes, our cars, our pockets, our bags, or workplaces; it’s the alerts and alarms that sound from our phones and devices; it’s the pop up reminders of medical appointments or to fill repeat prescriptions or pick up NDSS supplies. And they’re just the things we can see and hear, not taking into consideration the constant presence of diabetes in our minds, our hearts, our souls…our very being.

To a degree, we can control just how visible we want diabetes to be to others. Personally, I like that I can chop and change how noticeable the physical signs of my diabetes are. Today, I am walking around in a tank dress and the Dexcom on my arm is obvious for all to see. But throw a denim jacket over it and it disappears, sending my diabetes incognito.

For some people, making diabetes invisible is important. Others like it to be front and centre. There are myriad reasons for making decisions around this, and those decisions and choices will be different for everyone.

I do wonder how much of that decision is made exclusively by the person living with diabetes, and how often we change the level of visibility based on what we believe others may expect. Are we wearing our diabetes loudly because we feel we have to or because we feel we should? I know I have been the loud, out there advocate because I’ve felt I should be.

Or is there something about the shame and stigma of diabetes that makes people want to hide it away? Or are we trying to minimise the visual, or audible signs of diabetes to protect others? Or to stop others from feeling burdened, bored or worried about our diabetes? I also know I do that a lot.

But try as we might, for those of us living with diabetes, we cannot conceal it from ourselves. It lives with us, in us, around us. And it is always visible.

I spent a lot of the weekend feeling a little sentimental. Our beautiful girl turned 14 and as usual, we reminisced, telling the story of the day she was delivered. And I reread my pregnancy diary, the feelings of intense excitement, anxiety, fear and anticipation flooding back. I remembered how, 14 years ago, the only way to check glucose levels was to do blood glucose monitoring. And I was doing that up to twenty times a day. My poor, poor fingers.

While I was remembering all this ever the weekend, I was holding onto an embargoed secret, knowing that an announcement about the expansion of the current NDSS CGM funding program was about to made. In between organising a weekend of birthday celebrations and wrapping gifts, I was also planning for the media announcement which would be taking place early on Sunday morning at a local women’s hospital. I took breaks in preparing food for Sunday’s birthday lunch and read running sheets, familiarised myself with the ‘talent’ who would be explaining what the new funding meant to them, and made sure that I knew where I had to be at 8.30am the following morning.

And amongst all that, I prepared myself for what I knew would be coming: disappointment. There would be a lot of disappointment because the funding package was not going to include everyone, and those who missed out would be upset.

This is my personal blog, and although I work for Diabetes Australia, this is about my own life with diabetes, and to a degree, my life around diabetes. I write a lot about what is going on in the ‘diabetes world’ – both in Australia and more broadly. Sometimes what I write is directly applicable to me; other times, it’s not.

Today, I am writing about the announcement that was made yesterday and I guess that the line between personal and professional is potentially going to get a little murky. Please read my disclosures at the end of this post carefully, because my bias needs to be strongly acknowledged – by anyone reading this piece… and by me while writing it. But I hope that also, people understand that I need to write about this personally too.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s announcement delivered an extra $100 million dollars to fund CGM to women with type 1 diabetes planning for, during and after pregnancy;  people aged 21 years and over who hold a concession card (and meet clinical criteria); and children and young people with ‘other insulin-requiring diabetes’ (for example, cystic fibrosis-induced diabetes). This is all on top of the current $54 million funding which provides free CGM products to children and young people up to the age of 21 who meet the clinical criteria. Also, Flash glucose monitoring has been added to the list of products available, meaning more choice for people with diabetes.

This is good news.

And yesterday, as I chatted with women with type 1 diabetes who had just had babies and were planning more, or were currently planning for a pregnancy, I knew just how much of a difference having access to this technology would mean to them.

Kelly and baby Grace with Health Minister, Greg Hunt, and CEO of Diabetes Australia, Greg Johnson.

I thought back to when I was pregnant and how it would have been so much easier had CGM been available then.

How wonderful that these women, and thousands of other women like them can breathe just a little easier knowing that they will be supported with this tech while planning and during their pregnancies – and the period afterwards. Oh – and then I remembered breastfeeding hypos, the jars of jelly beans on every flat surface in our house – including the back of the loo – and how, when home alone, I used to feed our baby girl on the floor in case I had a bad low and dropped her. CGM alerts and alarms would have been so brilliant then!

CGM is out of reach for so many people. It is expensive technology and I know there are people making sacrifices to be able to afford to use it. I know what that is like – back before pump consumables were on the NDSS, we had to budget $300 per month for lines and cartridges, tightening our spending on everyday items, forgoing holidays, meals out and other things we wanted to do so that I could continue to drive my pump.

Is it fair that the technology we use to keep us alive means we need to make such sacrifices. It certainly doesn’t seem so. And I know that is how people are feeling after the funding announcement was revealed yesterday.

Am I disappointed? To a degree, yes, I am. I believe that I, and other people with diabetes like me are every bit as worthy as women with T1D planning for to have a baby, and kids and young people with type 1 diabetes, and adults on healthcare cards. I completely disagree that type 1 diabetes is harder for kids than it is for adults, because actually, type 1 is tough at any age, and each age and stage of life has its own particular challenges.

But I refuse to see yesterday’s announcement as anything other than a positive step in the right direction, just as I saw the initial funding for children and young people a good thing.

People have missed out; people who will still not be able to afford CGM; people who desperately need this technology to live the best diabetes lives they possibly can. And that’s why yesterday is not the end to the CGM funding story. In fact, it’s a new beginning.

Also, I think it is important to point this out: An announcement like this does not happen quickly. It comes from years and years and years of work. CGM  has been in Australia for over ten years now. Yes – that’s right. Over ten years. So when you hear people referring to this as new or emerging technology, or saying it wasn’t around five or six years ago, that’s rubbish.

I can remember that pretty much as soon as CGM was launched into Australia, Diabetes Australia and JDRF Australia started to fight, lobby and advocate for this to be funded. How do I know this? Because I sat in meetings back then as we tried to nut out just how to approach the government for funding. What would work? What sort of model was achievable? How would the people who were most at need benefit? There are no easy answers to these questions. All we have to rely on is evidence and what the evidence shows is that there are some groups that benefit most from CGM technology.

Diabetes Australia, JDRF Australia, the Australian Diabetes Society (ADS), the Australian Diabetes Educators Association (ADEA), the Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group (APEG), and the Australian Diabetes in Pregnancy Society (ADIPS) have worked together to form an alliance to provide evidence-based submissions and information around CGM technology (amongst other issues). Why is this important? Because bringing together the peak consumer bodies with the peak professional bodies means that all stakeholders are represented, and it’s pretty hard to disagree when we combine PWD sharing our own stories for why this tech matters alongside HCPs talking about the clinical benefits.

At no time has this alliance ever pushed for anything other than funding for those with high clinical need. The idea of an upper age limit was never, ever promoted by this group – we never fought for access to be only for children and young people. Our original funding submission is a matter of public record and can be seen here and you can clearly see that we were advocating for what the evidence pointed to.

I am proud to have been a part of this work – for over ten years now. It is the very definition of ‘slow burn’. This slow burn is not all about being in the public eye and yelling about what we do. In fact, it is all very much out of the public eye. It’s monotonous at times; it can be repetitive and it takes time.

Yesterday we celebrated. Today we’re back at work, looking to how we get the next bit of funding secured.

And finally, we can yell and stamp our feet and say that we should have fully funded CGM for all people with type 1 diabetes. But that is never going to happen. If we look to other countries where there is funding available to people with diabetes of all ages, there is still clinical criteria that must be met in order for people to access reimbursed sensors and/or transmitters. Nowhere has a policy where anyone and everyone with type 1 diabetes can simply show up, put out their hand and be given a CGM. Instead, clinical need is used to determine who has access. I think that we need to be realistic about expectations of what funding will look like in the future.

DISCLOSURES

I have worked for Diabetes Australia since January 2016, and prior to this role, worked at Diabetes Victoria for over fourteen years. I have been involved in CGM funding submissions from Diabetes Australia and the alliance which includes JDRF, ADS, ADEA, APEG and ADIPS. I was also on the Department of Health’s implementation Committee after the initial $54 million CGM funding was announced. I have been involved in writing information and education resources about CGM and hosted a number of national webinars after CGM products were first listed on the NDSS. I have spoken at technology events held at Parliament House, sharing my personal experience of why I use CGM, and, more broadly, why this technology is beneficial to many people living with diabetes.

I use CGM full time. I do not receive any subsidy or discounts for using CGM, and fully fund transmitters and sensors myself. I am fortunate to have friends in Europe who have occasionally provided me with sensors when they have spares, and I am currently using a re-batteried Dexcom G5 transmitter. At the beginning of November, I spoke at a health professionals workshop for ADS where I demonstrated how to use the Dexcom G5, and was provided with one sensor for this demonstration.

The cutest baby ever.

I have just returned from two days of meetings for the HypoRESOLVE project for which I am a member of the Patient Advisory Committee (PAC). Read more about this project here (and watch the short video at the end of today’s post).

This is a huge project. Sometimes its scope hurts my little brain, but at the same time I love some of the almost audacious objectives and goals that have been set.

I left the two days of meetings with a similar feeling that I’ve felt after the previous meetings. And that is just how little we know and understand about hypoglycaemia.

This is one of the challenges when trying to define exactly what hypo is. Putting rings around something that is so personal, so diverse, so complex and so difficult to define for different people with diabetes is almost impossible. Our current classifications seem clunky at best; dismissive at worst.

I am one person with diabetes, but my own experiences of lows is inconsistent. I used to have lows that lasted for hours and hours and hours. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were the times I clocked the lowest reading on my CGM or BG meter. Those numbers could have just been sitting at or around the low threes for those couple of hours, not trending up – no matter how much glucose I inhaled – but, thankfully, not trending downwards either.

And then there are the lows that would send me into full overdrive of shaking and sweating and a pounding heartrate, but there may not have been consistency with the number. I could have felt like that at 3.3mmol/l or when my meter was not registering a number other than LOW.

I understand that classifications use numbers because when glucose hits certain levels, we can measure things such as cognitive impact or physiological responses. But numbers when it comes to hypoglycaemia – and all aspects of diabetes – are only a small part of the picture.

Sometimes I feel that the more I learn about diabetes, the less I know. And I have also come to learn that the allocation of numbers is sometimes almost arbitrary. They may make sense to researchers or regulators. But the reality is very, very different.

The problem with this is that there is no way ever that diabetes is going to be able to be classified by fixed numbers. There needs to be wriggle room and agility in interpretation.

I love that HypoResolve is trying to come up with innovative ways to satisfy all groups. Regulators need clear definitions to use as guides when considering new and different therapies. Clinicians and researchers need thresholds to point to. And people with diabetes? Well, we need to understand those definitions and the apply them to our own particular brand of diabetes…and how it may shift and change over time.

And that’s where the PAC comes in. Our role is to make sure the real life perspective is front of mind all the time, and to remind everyone else on the project that there is nothing static or simple about living with hypoglycaemia.

 

My health condition may be invisible, but it absolutely isn’t silent.

Going through security at an airport the other day (I can’t remember if it was Singapore of Heathrow), I set off the metal detector, a loud buzzing sound alerting security that they better check me out.

As I was getting a full body pat down, my handbag, patiently sitting next to me waiting for its own inspection, started squealing. Running through the airport at speed had caused the fall rate alarm on my Dex app to sound. Thankfully I’d already explained that to the security guard who was swabbing my insulin pump at the exact moment it elicited three short beeps. ‘Temp basal rate,’ I explained, knowing full well that would make no sense to anyone. ‘Also – diabetes is quite noisy, isn’t it?

She smiled at me as her own machine, which had finished analysing the swab announced that I was safe, and not a danger to anyone other than myself when near a handbag store at any airport. ‘You’re good to go.’

I’ve customised my Dex alerts to vibrate rather than ring out – except for the fall rate alert (as it is a brilliant way to help prevent lows), and the urgent low alarm, which cannot be turned off or set to vibrate. But even with the vibrate settings activated, there is still noise. And while the urgent low alarm very rarely makes an appearance these days (reason I love Loop #2,394,821), when it does, it’s piercing!

I quite like the comfort of my pump alerting to let me know when Loop has activated a temp basal rate (pretty much most of the time….). It’s not a loud and intrusive alarm, so the three beeps are very much background.

There are the constant sounds of diabetes that have become very much the soundtrack to my life: the gentle clunk of my lancet device; the pop when I open a box of strips and the sharp snap as I close it; the clicks as I push a CGM sensor into my arm, retract the needle, and then place the transmitter into the sensor; the beeps indicating my pump line is priming. There’s the sound of lows: a straw being pushed into a juice box after being released from its plastic wrap, and the subsequent quick slurping; the ripping of paper being unwound from around a tube of fruit pastilles,

I’ve just spent a couple of days with friends with diabetes, and there’s something undeniably comforting about hearing others’ sounds of diabetes. Even more comforting is the way we all generally ignore those sounds. No one ever jumps when we hear the low alarm from someone else’s Dex. We trusting that they’ll deal with it in their own time and way (and also know that the last thing they would want is someone treating them like a child and fussing). We just hear it, maybe look up, maybe not. Although sometimes…

‘Is that you or me?’ one of us will say when we hear a CGM alarm.

‘That’s definitely not me…Is that you? What is that?’ we’ll say when hearing an unfamiliar alert from a device that’s different to our own.

‘That’s not you, or me…’ I said the other night whilst sitting in a restaurant, knowing it wasn’t coming from our table. ‘Does someone else in here have diabetes?’

Often we become immune to the sounds of our own diabetes. Those sounds that are there to alert us to a low battery or the need for more insulin in our pumps easily get ignored, until the urgent wailing which indicates that our portable pancreas needs more juice (of the battery or insulin kind) NOW, and the only way we can stop it is to respond.

I used to sleep through hours of low alarms, only realising they would have been ringing out the following morning when I checked my Dex trace. And Aaron too had become impervious to them after a while, and stopped waking…and then waking me…when I was low at night.

There have been times that I have been going along doing my thing and it’s taken someone to say ‘Do you need to do something about whatever is beeping?’ to even realise that diabetes was talking to me.

And sometimes, it takes hearing another PWD’s sounds of diabetes to acknowledge and respond to our own. (Another benefit of peer support!)

But even if it seems that we stop hearing the sounds of diabetes, it’s indisputable that it is a noisy beast. Which I guess makes sense. Because exactly in the same way that our condition is never really invisible to those of us living with it, it is never silent either.

Shush now.

The other week, as I sat on the stage as part of a panel session at the HIMSS conference in Brisbane, a term kept getting thrown around that had me squirming in my seat. It was not said with any malice – in fact I believe it was being used under the perhaps misguided idea that it is represents positive and empowering language. But as I sat there and the term was being used, almost with abandon, I knew that we were going to have to have a chat about it. As per exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Activated patient? No. Just no.

When the moment was right, I took a breath. I’d been asked to comment on the current My Health Record situation, and whether I thought it was something that would benefit people living with chronic health conditions. ‘Before I answer the question, can we just consider the term ‘activated patient’ and how it is being used here today – and often in other contexts too. I’ve heard from people on the stage and in the audience use the term ‘activated patients’. I’m really not a fan of this term. In fact, I think it is really quite problematic.’

Activation is something that is done to something. Think Pete Evans and his activated nuts. Or yeast when making bread or cinnamon buns. Or my pink debit card that came in the mail with a sticker across the front telling me how to activate it. Pete Evans’ almonds were just passive little nuts before he decided to activate them. And before the warm water was added to the yeast, it was just powder sitting in a sachet. My pink card was simply a piece of plastic before I called a number, pressed a few other numbers once the automated message was played and agreed to a heap of terms and conditions, making the card able to work.

Those inanimate objects had something done to them to become activated – it didn’t happen on their own. Beforehand, they were passive.

I was not ‘activated’ to become a participant in my own healthcare. I was not given permission to lead the agenda of how I want to engage. I chose the people I would see; the health service I would use; the devices I wear strapped to me. I have never been a passive participant in my healthcare – or any other aspect of my life, for that matter. I have always been active. Of course there are times that I struggle with motivation and may be less active and pro-active, but getting out of those times was never an exercise in activation by others.

The idea that people become activated because they are given the opportunity reeks of the typical paternalistic attitudes that are still rife in healthcare.

Look, we can have a long discussion about the ‘consumerisation’ of healthcare, and how that is what is to blame for terms such as this. It is business lingo and while many think it probably refers to people being in charge of their health, it actually suggests the opposite.

Words that suggest something is being ‘done’ to a person utilising the health system are not empowering. They are not putting the person at the centre. They don’t indicate that the person is driving their care.

The term ‘activated patients’ provides a narrow interpretation about how a person is in charge of their healthcare, because it always is used to highlight people who are loud advocates for themselves, walking into every appointment with a list the length of their arm of things to discuss, therapies they want to use. But not everyone wants to do healthcare that way. Just because someone prefers – and chooses – to have a healthcare professional drive the direction of their care does not necessarily mean they are not ‘activated’.

Also – consider this: if a person can become an ‘activated patient’, that means there must also avenues for them to become a ‘deactivated patient’. That’s certainly not being person-centred. In fact, suggesting that we become something only because we have been given the right to be that way is the opposite of person-centred.

World Diabetes Day is celebrated each year on Frederick Banting’s birthday. Banting, of course, is credited with co-discovering insulin. That happened back in 1921, so it seems almost unimaginable that people are still unable to access insulin because it is so prohibitively expensive. And yet, that is the reality for children and adults all around the world.

Children like Manuel:

Frederick Banting said ‘Insulin does not belong to me; it belongs to the world’. Insulin belongs to Manuel as much as it does to you and me. But until he, and thousands and thousands of children and adults just like him, can access insulin easily and affordably, Life for a Child will continue to try to bridge the gap.

Read all about Manuel here. His story should be told just like anyone else’s, and in his own words. He is living with diabetes; his diabetes story is his own.

And then, once you have listened to his story, consider making a donation. (Please note that there has been a recent change to where you donate. Start by clicking here.)

Each year, on 14 November, I thank Frederick Banting for my life. I can’t think of any better way to honour his memory than donating to Life for a Child.

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