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Last month, I clicked over eighteen years of wearing an insulin pump. Every day in those 18 years – that’s over 6,500 days – there has been a cannula inserted into the skin on my stomach, sides or thighs. And for pretty much all of those days, a pump has been housed down my bra. (When I first started pumping I used to wear it on my waistband, but tired of the attention that drew so shoved it away. Out of others’ sight; out of others’ minds.)

Add to that there is the CGM I have worn on and off for the last eleven or so years – and for the last five, it’s been there pretty much every day. Oh – and about 18 months ago, a RileyLink also became a permanent fixture, also shoved down my bra. It’s an out-and-out diabetes tech party down there.

So you would think that after all this time, it is no big deal seeing, feeling, or acknowledging these devices and how they are housed on this body of mine. You would expect that I would be completely and utterly accepting of the devices by now, and how to accommodate them on my body.

And yet, I’m not.

Now, I need to say that I love my diabetes technology. I understand that it makes my life with diabetes much easier. I also understand – and never forget for a moment – just how lucky I am to have it. I absolutely wouldn’t be without it and I know that for me it is the best possible way to manage my own diabetes.

But thinking for a moment that I forget that I’m wearing these devices is wrong.

I find it fascinating when I hear people say that for their child/partner/friend (or for HCPs, PWD they see) that their diabetes device is just part of their life, it’s normal, it’s just part of them.

No. It’s not. My devices are additions because a bit of my body is broken and doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. We may not make a fuss about it or just seem to tuck them away (or leave them out on show), but do we really consider them just ‘part of our body’?

I don’t think I will ever be fully comfortable with how they feel or look on me. There is some serious body image stuff going on when I see the tape gripping these devices on to me. When I throw on a bathing suit for a day at the beach, the devices I need to consider and the way they are on show make me feel painfully awkward.

They are a reminder every time I see them – every time the tubing nearly gets ripped out when I go to the loo or catch it on a doorknob; every time I get too close to the doorframe and knock my CGM; every time I’ve put on a bra that doesn’t really work and my RL falls out; every time my pump and RL shift a little and become starkly obvious – that it is not normal to wear a pancreas on the outside of one’s body.

It’s a reminder every time my kid snuggles into me when she is sitting on my left side and leans her head on my arm. ‘Your diabetes is sharp’, she says to me and we have a little giggle as she wriggles around until her head finds real estate not taken up by Dexcom. Or in bed at night, as I go to roll over and find I can’t move because my pump has found its way under my husband. It turns out that it’s not just me needing to accommodate my external pancreas, making me even more conscious of its presence.

The beeps and buzzes and vibrations that these devices emit means I make noises different to others. The way that sometimes it’s just impossible to ignore the constant reminders and just accept it all as ‘part of me’.

Perhaps the only time I get close to not feeling the constant reminders of my tech is when the people around me are also wearing these devices. We spy a CGM on someone’s arm, pump tubing winding its way out from under someone’s top or hear the tell-tale beep of some sort of diabetes technology and we can ignore it because it’s not our own and everyone else is doing it too!

We do a lot to normalise the realities of diabetes. We do that for our own benefit, but I know that I also do it a lot to limit concern of those around me. This is one of those things I do to minimalism how diabetes affects me and to normalise something that is…well, not normal. I would never make a big deal about how I feel about wearing this technology because I sound whingy and precious, (possibly the alternate title for this blog post). But don’t for a minute think that you can dismiss it as not a big deal or just part of us. Because it’s not and never will be.

Devices on the beach.

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We all do a good job at undermining ourselves at times. We use a four letter word that diminishes what we are doing, and limits the value of our experience and expertise. That four letter word is ‘just’.

In diabetes, we hear it all the time: ‘Oh, I just have type 2 diabetes’ as though it is insignificant and doesn’t have any challenges. ‘I’ve lived with diabetes for just a couple of years’ because we think there is only currency in decades of living with the condition, when really any length of time with diabetes is meaningful.

And we are all about minimising our experience when it comes to the treatment of our diabetes. ‘just use diet and exercise to manage my type 2 diabetes’ or ‘I’m just on tablets’ or ‘I’m just on injections twice a day’ or ‘I’m just on MDI’. The list goes on and on. And on.

I realised just how ridiculous we have become with this when I heard myself, during a conversation with a fellow Looper, ‘Oh, I just use Loop’. (More on that later…)

At the Ascensia Social Media Summit at ATTD we spoke about this, specifically how there is almost a stigma within the diabetes for those seen to not be using the shiniest and brightest and newest of technologies. It seems that some people almost feel embarrassed if they are not constantly updating their technology toolkit with the most recently launched product.

The idea that anything that we are using today is ‘yesterday’s technology’ is wrong. Blood glucose monitoring can’t be ‘yesterday’s tech’ if it is what most people are using to track their glucose. And syringes and pens can’t be considered the ‘old way to deliver insulin’ when that is how the vast, vast majority of inulin-requiring people with diabetes get insulin into their bodies. Plus, every single one of us using a pump must be able to deliver insulin this way because machines break.

Somewhere in discussions about our treatment technologies, we seem to have forgotten that, actually, not everyone wants to be using the latest kit. And that is okay. There is a spectrum of diabetes technology, and as long as we are on it somewhere and managing our diabetes the way that works best for us, then elephant stamps all around!

There is clearly an over-representation of people at one end of that spectrum dominating on and off line conversations. Spend a couple of hours in a diabetes Facebook group and it would be a reasonable assumption that most people are wearing pumps and CGM. But that’s not true.

And it could appear that DIYAPS is the way to go for most people with T1D, when the fact is that numbers are relatively low. It’s hard to estimate exactly, but there may be somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 worldwide how have ‘built their own pancreas’. That is just a drop in the type 1 diabetes ocean.

It’s fantastic for those of us interested in this technology to be able to (virtually) congregate and talk amongst ourselves. I learn so much from my peers in these groups – just as I have with all aspects of life with diabetes. The lived experience continues to trump any other way of learning about diabetes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking about technology used by limited numbers. Of course we should. We want others to know about it so they can make an informed choice about whether it may be right for them.  We want our HCPs to know about it and to support those of us using all sorts of technologies and treatments.

Where it becomes problematic is when there is the misconception that this is the norm. Or when those not using the newest technology feel that they are wilfully doing diabetes the ‘old way’. It’s unfair to think for a moment that those who are not using the tech ‘don’t care’ enough about themselves – especially when decisions are made based on a very good understanding of what is available and what they have decided works best for them.

So, back to my ‘Oh, I just use Loop’ comment. It was directed to someone far more technologically advanced than me; someone who runs all sorts of other programs alongside their DIYAPS. They generate lots of reports and make lots of changes and seem to have far more bells and whistles than I even knew were available.

I nodded as they told me all they were doing and then, when they asked me how I manage my diabetes, I answered that I just use Loop. I heard myself saying it and stopped and corrected myself. ‘I meanI use Loop. It works for me. Perfectly.’

We don’t need to make excuses for doing diabetes our own way. If we truly have choice (which I know is not always the case), and we have made the choice based on what we believe to be the best possible treatment and technology for us at that moment, then surely that’s a great thing. We shouldn’t ever be made to feel less committed to our own health and wellbeing. That’s not how it works.

DISLCOSURE

I was invited by Ascensia to co-chair the Diabetes Social Media Summit at ATTD (#ATTDDSMS). I did not receive any payment or in-kind support from them for accepting their invitation. I have co-written a piece for the blog, however this was not edited (apart from inevitable jet-lag-induced typos) and all words are those of mine and the piece’s co-author. You can read that piece here.  

I never thought I’d be one to think about back-up plans the way I do now. A few years ago, I remember being extraordinarily proud of myself as I wrote this post about my diabetes spares bag. And then a couple of years ago, I thought I was remarkable and quite brilliant at being able to easily manage when I got to work and realised my insulin pump hadn’t made it with me. I thought I had every contingency sorted and was fabulously good at diabetes. Give me a medal, please.

But in the last six months or so, I’ve come to see I’m not quite as prepared as I thought. I probably should point the finger right now at David ‘Bionic Wookiee’ Burren for this. He has highlighted holes in what I thought was a well-planned strategy a number of times (‘What’s your RileyLink Bluetooth address, Renza? You don’t know? You should.’), shaming me into wanting to do better, and really making me question all my life choices at the same time.

Back-up planning has been covered in both the Australian and European Social Media Summits hosted by Ascensia (disclosure at the end of this post) and it is interesting to see that the level of organisation and preparation varies so much in those of us living with diabetes.

Some people have thought out every possible contingency and have a plan for each one. Others have a fixed idea about what might go wrong and have made accommodations for those (that’s me). And others figure that it will all work out and the diabetes gods will sort it out.

I guess that personality type comes into how well-equipped we all may be. Some of us have a far more lackadaisical approach to planning for the apocalypse than others. But I do agree that it never hurts to be prepared or to consider things that may never have entered your mind before.

So here are some things that I have learnt in recent times that have completely changed the way that I think about my back-up planning.

It’s not just about kit (1). It’s all very well to have back up for what happens if (for example) your pump dies, but if that means returning to MDI until a replacement can be delivered, actually knowing how to do MDI is important. (Bless my endo who always asks if I need any long acting insulin ‘just in case’. She gave me some in-date long acting insulin and we had a discussion about what doses would look like after I proclaimed ‘It’s been 18 years since I gave myself a dose of long acting insulin. And it was Protophane. I have no idea what I am doing.’Lovely endo didn’t even roll her eyes at me when she walked me through exactly what I’d need to do to ensure my basal dose was right and the timing of the injections.)

It’s not just about kit (2). Look – my back up plan to my pump dying is another pump. I have a couple in the diabetes spares cupboard and always travel with one. But I don’t carry one around with me on a day-to-day basis. If I was a couple of hours from home and my pump died, I’d need to know what to do in the meantime. Again – it’s been 18 years since I was on MDI, but I always have a spare syringe and insulin with me so I can bolus until I get hooked up again to a working pump. My injection technique is scratchy – very scratchy, but in a pinch, I can manage it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for some re-education on something for which you may be a little out of practise.

Apparently my long-held belief that the DOC is my back-up plan is not actually adequate, because who is going to be able to provide me with insulin/pump consumables/spare pump/battery/RileyLink at 3am when things like to go wrong. (This is despite the success of the whole Pumpless in Vienna story.)

Equally, having a neighbour with type 1 diabetes two doors down is great when I need a Dexcom sensor at breakfast time. But it would probably stretch and test the neighbourly spirit if I woke her and her family in the middle of the night because I desperately wanted my loop to turn back to green and needed a sensor to do that.

I need a back-up of EVERYTHING I use if I want to be able to seamlessly manage any issue that comes up. With Loop that means a spare Loopable pump, a spare Riley Link, a spare G5 transmitter as well as all the necessary consumables. That takes expense as well as organisation.

CABLES!! They need to be part of my back up plan. I was at a conference last year somewhere (can’t remember where) and remembered as I was about to sleep that I’d forgotten the charger to my RileyLink. And just last month didn’t charge it overnight, meaning that my Loop turned red while I was at work and I was unable to do anything until I got home. Carrying the right charging equipment for all devices is important.

But! If I don’t have all these things, I need to ensure that I have a suitable, easy and fully ready-to-go option that will get me through until I can assemble all required to return to normal service.

When your back up plan becomes someone else’s back up plan, you need to do something about it. Case in point: at the DOCDAY event at ATTD, a friend leaned across the table and asked me if I had a spare battery for her Loopable pump. Of course I did, because there is always at least one in my spares bag. I handed it to her and made a mental note to pick up some more AAA batteries next time I passed a convenience store. Of course, I forgot all about it until Loop started complaining and that the battery was running low. Down to 4% battery and starting to feel a little nervous, I found a tiny little store in a backstreet in Brussels, crossing my fingers as I walked in that there would be a stash somewhere of what I needed. There was and I changed the battery just as my Loop app was showing 0% battery.

Beating ourselves up about our perceived or real lack of planning is unnecessary. As Sophie, one of the participants at #ATTDDSMS, said: ‘Life gets in the way.’ And it does. I challenge anyone not living with diabetes to do their normal life, live with diabetes and not only think about all the ‘just-in-case’ scenarios, but also prepare for each and every one of them.

But mostly, what I have come to see is that the point of a back-up plan is for it to be smooth and simple, with as little disruption to our day as possible. A plan that requires a cast of thousands, hours of travel, is insanely complex and relies on a number of external factors that are potentially beyond our control is not really going to make executing our plan all that easy, or give us peace of mind. And that’s a big part of what this is all about – feeling confident that we can manage whatever gets thrown at us.

That is, after all, the nature of this condition we live with.

DISLCOSURE

I attended the ATTD conference in Berlin. My (economy) airfare and part of my accommodation was covered by DOCLab (I attended an advisory group meeting for DOCLab), and other nights’ accommodation was covered by Roche Global (I attended the Roche Blogger MeetUp). While my travel and accommodation costs have been covered, my words remain all my own and I have not been asked by DOCLab or Roche Global to write about my attendance at their events or any other aspect of the conference. 

I was invited by Ascensia to co-chair the Diabetes Social Media Summit at ATTD (#ATTDDSMS). I did not receive any payment or in-kind support from them for accepting their invitation. I have co-written a piece for the blog, however this was not edited (apart from inevitable jet-lag-induced typos) and all words are those of mine and the piece’s co-author. You can read that piece here.  

My third ATTD, and as soon as I started reading through the program, flagging the sessions I planned to attend and the technology I was keen to get my hands on and learn more about, a familiar feeling started to settle over me. It was there the first time I attended the conference and again last year.

And that feeling is that this conference, more than any other, reminds me just how unlevel the diabetes landscape is. With the shiniest of the shiny and newest of new technology and the most impressive treatment options available to people with diabetes on show, the vast gap between the haves and have nots is stark.

I was not the only person to acknowledge this. My first full day in Berlin saw me in an advisory committee meeting with diabetes advocates from across Europe, and when asked about the most pressing issues in diabetes, access was at the top of the list for every single one of us. Most (if not all?) of us in that room live in places with outstanding funding and reimbursement programs for diabetes drugs, technology and education – having to go without or ration insulin isn’t something we have ever needed to consider. Even those of us self-funding CGM are in a position of extreme advantage to be able to cover the significant out of pocket expense. But we all know that for millions of people across the world, this is not the case.

And then, later in the week at the Ascensia Diabetes Social Media Summit, another issue that came up again and again was choice. Choice refers to range of factors in diabetes. Choice of the type of technology we use, including the different brands; choice of the healthcare setting we feel best suits our brand of diabetes; choice of the specific healthcare professionals we see. It is also the freedom to be comfortable with our choice of technology, not feeling we need to conform to what others believe is the right thing.

But just how real is the whole idea of choice in diabetes? And when it comes to technology, how much of the decision about what we are using and how we are managing our diabetes is truly our own?

When access to basic education and treatments is severely limited, there is rarely any choice at all. In some places, a diabetes diagnosis is life and death, and surely in those cases all that people are choosing is life. How they manage that is probably not contemplated at all. In countries where diabetes does actually equal a death sentence, no one is debating whether TIR and A1c is how they would like to track their diabetes management.

But we don’t need to look to countries where outcomes are still so desperate to see lack of choice. Just this week, a very distressed mother of a young child with diabetes called me because they had just been told they were not permitted to use the pump they had chosen after careful deliberation and research.

This isn’t uncommon. Diabetes clinics across Australia make it difficult for PWD to be able to use the technology we have decided is the best choice for us. Sometimes that means not being able to use the specific technology we want (i.e. refusing to sign the necessary paperwork for a pump), or it could mean not being given the right to choose the brand of device we prefer.

At ATTD, I frequently heard about how healthcare is being transformed, and that may be true for those of us not disadvantaged by the country where we live and are trying to access care. We should celebrate the advances being made and the better outcomes so many of us have seen. But at the same time, we need to find a way to not get so far ahead of ourselves that we leave the most vulnerable further and further behind.

Click for original tweet.

I have been interested in discussions about time in range (TIR) for some time now. It has become a key way that I assess just how I am tracking with Loop and, as I wrote earlier this year, really the only measure I’m interested in. I like it because it can give me real time information about how I am tracking. It shows that when I am at a conference and not eating properly, but doing more activity than I normally would, my TIR is going to be less than if I was at home in a regular routine. It also shows what happens when I’m not Looping for ten hours (thanks to a variety of factors) my TIR plummets!

At ATTD this year, there was a symposium dedicated to the topic and from the standing-room-only crowding of the hall, it’s clear that a lot of others are interested too. In the few presentations I attended about the Medtronic 670G, TIR was frequently referred to (in one study there was a slight increase in TIR after PWD had been using the device for 8 months, although significantly lower than what people using DIYAPS are reporting.)

Just as I did while live tweeting the session, I have to address the issue of access to the technology. TIR is all very well, but it takes tools, and those tools are prohibitively expensive. Some places have no subsidies available for CGM or Flash, others have limited reimbursement programs. And, of course, there are places around the world where accessing glucose strips is a near impossibility.

TIR is a measure for a very, very privileged few, and as much as it’s held up as the future of diabetes, it is simply incorrect and misleading to suggest even for a moment that most people with diabetes have this data at their fingertips. (They barely have finger prick data at their fingertips.)

But, this is a conferences about the latest in technologies and treatments, so let’s talk time in range…

Dr Irl Hirsch is an MD from University of Washington, Seattle. His session as listed in the program was: ‘Time in Range vs. HbA1c: Are our patients ready to change?’, but he changed it to a far more suitable ‘Time in Range vs. HbA1c: Are our patients and health-care colleagues ready to change?’

Irl’s short talk was an absolute cracker and started by exploring what we already know – A1c is flawed. We’ve known this for years, but it’s taken having easy access to CGM data to truly appreciate just how flawed. The two points he raised to back this up were A1c levels can’t be compared between two people (and yet that happens all the time!); each A1c comprises a wide median glucose range. In other words, A1c sucks (they were his words, not mine!).

And then the talk got fun as the focus shifted to just how ready different groups were to shift from a focus on A1c to TIR. The three groups were: people with diabetes (and their families), endocrinologists and non-endocrinologists. Irl presented the results from a survey of diabetes HCPs asking their thoughts on the readiness of those three groups to embrace TIR. Here are the results:

The HCPs surveyed all believe that PWD are by far the most ready to change from A1c to TIR. At the same time they believed that no non-endo HCPs were ready. We really have a problem.

The survey participants offered a lot more than just their assessment of the readiness for this shift. They provided extra comments about some of the barriers to the change. This is how some of the HCPs (all working in diabetes) assessed the inclination for PWD to move to TIR:

But perhaps the most unsettling was what they thought about non-endocrinologists willingness to start to talk TIR. (I think that they were mostly referring to primary care physicians.)

As the list was read out, and the audience responded accordingly, my confidence level about how likely it was that TIR would start to become the norm shrank away. This is despite the way that many PWD have already adopted the measure and use it daily.

In the online groups where I spend a lot of time playing, it is clear that we are already very comfortable and committed to talking TIR. People frequently post their Dexcom Clarity data showing the super-nifty image of how much time they have spent in and out of their self-determined range. This is the language we speak.

But despite my unease about just how quickly the shift will happen, it has definitely begun. The International Consensus on TIR was presented which included targets for people with type 1, type 2 and for women during pregnancy. Plus there was evidence presented that showed TIR can predict the likelihood of diabetes-related complications. With all this, and the demand from PWD, we will be hearing about this more and more in coming years.

Looking for more?  This piece by Irl Hirsh, Jennifer Sherr and Korey Hood was just published in Diabetes Care is a really interesting commentary on the issue.

DISLCOSURE

I attended the ATTD conference in Berlin. My (economy) airfare and part of my accommodation was covered by DOCLab (I attended an advisory group meeting for DOCLab), and other nights’ accommodation was covered by Roche Global (I attended the Roche Blogger MeetUp). While my travel and accommodation costs have been covered, my words remain all my own and I have not been asked by DOCLab or Roche Global to write about my attendance at their events or any other aspect of the conference. 

Let me tell you what is worse than jet lag. Jet lag combined with food poisoning. These are the two extra circles of hell Dante forgot about.

While I am recovering and trying to get my body to accept coffee again, here are some photos from last week’s ATTD conference which was in equal measure amazing, overwhelming, frustrating, intimidating, brilliant and exhausting. I’ll explain more in coming posts, but for now, enjoy the images.

How to deal with jet lag when arriving in Europe #1: night time walk to major tourist site and be amazed.

How to deal with jet lag when arriving in Europe #2: find (half) decent coffee.

How to deal with jet lag when arriving in Europe #2.1: drink all the coffee.

And then drink some more.

#docday is always a highlight. Little dogs called Jamaica make it even better. (Jamaica on the left; Bastian on the right.)

Hello Solo… New pumps headed our way.

MySugr is ALWAYS on message.

Flavour of the conference #1: DIYAPS

Flavour of the conference #2: Time in Range

Vegetables. I craved them.

Because there were so, so, so many dense carbs!

Not that I was complaining. (Especially when mini doughnuts came in Diabetogenic colours!)

Oh – did I say that #SpareARose was mentioned? A lot?

Such as at #docday. (Grumps looking especially grumpy because I’d just announced #SpareAFrown.)

And then? Then there was the smile-a-thon, as we smashed through target after target.

Next week, I’ll go into detail about some of the different sessions, highlights and satellite events I attended. It was a frantic few days – so worthwhile in every possible way. And as always at these conferences, finding those who live diabetes – themselves or with a loved one – provided the necessary grounding throughout the conference. This year, that support was even more pronounced with every single person who was asked to step up to promote #SpareARose doing so in spades. This is all the community. That is what it is all about…

DISLCOSURE

I attended the ATTD conference in Berlin. My (economy) airfare and part of my accommodation was covered by DOCLab (I attended an advisory group meeting for DOCLab), and other nights’ accommodation was covered by Roche Global (I attended the Roche Blogger MeetUp). While my travel and accommodation costs have been covered, my words remain all my own and I have not been asked by DOCLab or Roche Global to write about my attendance at their events or any other aspect of the conference. 

It’s hot in Melbourne today and it’s going to get warmer over the next few days. I’m loving the bone-warming sun that just makes everything look so sparkly and bright. So, I’m spending as much time as possible soaking up the rays (and adding to the ridiculous tan mark around my Dex), because the cooler weather will be here before I know it. I’m trying to build up those vitamin D stores to last me for when winter hits here and I’m reliant on quick trips to the northern hemisphere for work to see the sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Anyway, diabetes doesn’t take a break over the summer. Or winter. Which means, there is always lots to read and see about it. Here are some of the things I’m catching up on now.

Hospital life in pictures

This piece from the guardian will break your heart. Explained pictorially, it’s easy to see that the medical system is broken, medical education is broken, hospitals can be incredibly cold and anxiety inducing places, doctors are at breaking point. And patients in the system are left to deal with the fallout from the disarray.

IDF comps

The International Diabetes Federation is working to reduce the stigma association with diabetes-related complications, with a focus on how the language used can make people feel judged and stigmatised. Last year, they launched the #DiabetesComplicationsTalk Facebook page, encouraging people with diabetes to share stories and support each other.

It’s really great to see the IDF in the #LanguageMatters space, encouraging people to openly speak about diabetes-related complications to help reduce the stigma associated with them. More here.

Diabetes Voice

Still on news from the IDF, the organisation’s quarterly magazine is now available electronically. The first edition is an absolute cracker. Start with this incredibly powerful piece from editor, Elizabeth Snouffer, about diabetes-related stigma. Read it. Share it.

Patient Revolution

If you’ve not checked out the Patient Revolution website, now is a great time to have a look.

Start with this page, which is a library of stories you can click through, finding any specific topics that you are interested in.

Also, there is a Patient Revolution chat which uses the hashtag #WhyWeRevolt. To keep up to date with their chats, and to take part, follow @PatientRev on Twitter.

1,200 mason jars

Do you ever find yourself in the midst of a Twitter thread, wishing, in equal measure, that you hadn’t started, but can’t get enough of it? Sometimes these threads are diabetes-related; sometimes they’re not. Go here for one that is definitely not.

I have spent far too much time in the last week invested in this bizarre tale. There is a lot to take away from the whole saga – maybe starting with: don’t pay USD$169 to hear someone ‘teach’ you how to ‘be you’. And there are a lot of unanswered questions, such as what the hell is going to happen to the mason jars.

Happy reading. (You may need a drink …)

Diabetes in the US

I will never understand the US health system. My head and heart hurt as I hear the struggles of friends with diabetes, and the difficulties they have accessing insulin, and diabetes tech and supplies.

This piece from the New York Times talks about non-medical switching, where insurance companies decide which drugs (and devices) they will cover and subsidise. In Australia, the government decides which drugs will be listed on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme). If a drug is on there, it is the same price for everyone who has a prescription. There are some drugs that require a special prescription to be provided at the subsidised price. But there is no extra negotiating or pleading, or any involvement, with insurance companies.

In a system that is broken beyond measure, this seems like one more roadblock to make just surviving with a condition such as diabetes impossible.

Going beyond

Beyond Type 1 has grown to include a new platform for people with type 2 diabetes. Check it out!

Real life Loop stories

The team at diaTribe has a new series of personal stories of people who have been using DIYAPS solutions. Adam Brown’s story was first, and Kelly Close has now offered her experiences. Such a great idea to get a number of different insights into what has worked, what hasn’t and hopes for the future of DIYAPS.

Sharing and caring

Also from diaTribe, this great piece from Kerri Sparling which provides her own and others’ perspectives on sharing of CGM data. There is no one way to share data – it is personal, individual and can change over time, depending on circumstances. Some choose to; others don’t. I love this piece because it is balanced and offers some interesting thoughts.

Ascensia and CGM

More tech choices for people with diabetes is always great to hear, so Ascensia’s recent announcement of their move into the CGM market has been met with enthusiasm from the community. Read their release here and Diabetes Mine’s take on the announcement here.

SoMe at conferences

I believe social media engagement and use at all health conferences is a critical and necessary part of any communication strategy. There is no better, easier or more effective way to share details of the conference that by encouraging the people attending to broadcast using their own social media networks.

This article explores that, referencing the ridiculous photo ban at ADA in 2017 (which thankfully was changed in 2018).

Menopause and T1D blog

Sarah Gatward is a blogger from the UK and she is writing a series sharing her experiences of living type 1 diabetes and going through menopause. Yes! And thank you, Sarah. Start here.

NDSS reminder

Now is a good a time as any to make sure your NDSS details are up to date. Remember – the NDSS is not just about subsidised diabetes supplies. It also provides information and support for people affected by diabetes.

Go here to make sure your registration details are correct.

Bin the fax

All my dreams came true when I read this article in the Limbic today! Finally calls to get rid of the archaic fax machine in health care. Halle-bloody-lujah!

 

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.

ADATS on Friday was a great day of diabetes technology and treatment advancements.

There was a lot about automated insulin delivery (AID) systems, which, when you think about it, is really what is at the cutting edge of available diabetes therapies in 2018. David Burren, the Bionic Wookiee, gave a keynote on his experience using DIYAPS and why it works for him. And smart endocrinologist Dr Barbora Paldus gave what I heard was a fabulous talk about different AID systems, including what is coming onto the commercial market as well as DIY systems, and providing details (using terminology that made sense to everyone!) about the different algorithms. And fuzzy logic. I’m so annoyed I missed her talk, but it was on at the same time as the session I was chairing (and it’s bad form for the chair to leave the room to go to hear other speakers).

Before going any further, let me say this – not as an statement of tokenism, but as absolutely heartfelt and something I believe one hundred percent. We can talk about systems that automate insulin delivery with the aim to improve diabetes outcomes, but until these are affordable, accessible and available for everyone who wants to use them, we must acknowledge that these technologies will not be able to be used by most people with diabetes. Everyone ‘working in diabetes’ has an obligation to work towards improving access and affordability to minimise the ‘haves’ and ‘haves not’ landscape that we are already seeing, and will see even more in the future.

I chaired a session that focused on the current MiniMed 670G system trials underway in Australia and then hijacked the panel discussion in the afternoon about the topic because the consumer rep. had to leave early. So, where are we with approval for this system (and how long before lucky people can get their hands on one)? Well, the pump is now approved through the TGA, however is not being provided to PWD yet. The new sensor has not received approval yet, and the system as a whole has not either. Medtronic Australia is saying that they are hoping it will be available by the end of the year. The approval process is out of their hands, but I know they are working super hard on their end to get this to PWD as soon as they can.

I have spoken with a few people who have done the trial here in Australia. We need to remember that trial conditions are often not ‘real life’ conditions, so what I am writing about today does not necessarily reflect the experiences of people using the 670G every day and outside of trial conditions. (The system has been launched in the US and there are lots of stories online from people who have chosen to use this system and I would encourage anyone thinking about using it to search for and find what they have to say.)

Research guinea pig and 670G study participant, Leanne Foster.

The session last Friday was comprehensive in that it included presentations from HCPs in the private and public sectors, adult and paediatric settings, a dietitian, and (thankfully) a psychologist. For me, the highlight was hearing from self-proclaimed research guinea pig, (and friend for over fifteen years) Leanne Foster, who has been a long time diabetes technology study participant and was involved in the study.

From listening to the details of the study design, this was not trial for the fainthearted! There were significant demands placed on participants, and expectations were high. To be clear, participants were not given the system, provided with a bit of training and sent on their merry way to simply live alongside the device back in their everyday world. There was a lot of logging, counting, device wearing (not just the pump and CGM that make up the 670G system).

I think it is important to mention this, because one of the themes that was repeated by several speakers was that for many participants, their own burden of diabetes – how much they thought about their diabetes and what they were required to do – increased while using the system on the trial.

It is also important to mention that this is a first generation device. The system that will be launched here is likely to be the same as the one in the US, yet there have already been more sophisticated and aggressive algorithms developed and tested as part of this trial.

While possibly unfair, it is impossible to not compare experiences of people using the 670G and DIYAPS, because these systems are endeavouring to do the same thing: automate insulin delivery, increase TIR, reduce what the PWD is required to do.

And there were some things that struck me as really widening the gap between the two systems.

Firstly, the concept of added burden was astounding as my personal diabetes burden is the lowest it has ever been in the twenty years I’ve lived with diabetes. Since Looping, I think about diabetes far less than I did beforehand.

That burden is not only applicable to PWD. Many of the HCPs who presented said that they found themselves required out of hours significantly more with people using the 670G. I have not once called my HPC about any diabetes-related matter in the last 15 months I’ve been Looping. Obviously, I wouldn’t be contacting her if there was an issue with the system, but I’ve not contacted her for any general diabetes trouble-shooting that would result in me making changes to any of the settings on my tech.

There was a lot of talk about the 670G system ‘booting out’ of auto mode, meaning that automated insulin deliver doses stop, instead going back to the fixed basal rates set in the pump. This happened every day for many people; several times and for a number of hours at a time. I can say that in my experience, my system loops continuously. There are extremely rare times where my green circle turns red, and the pump reverts back to delivering what is set as my basals. But I am always able to troubleshoot by following a few basic steps and Loop will inevitably return to green.

One thing that struck me, was the number of times we heard about the system struggling to cope with the day-to-day lives of the trial participants, and the only way around that was for them to amend their behaviour. There was one moment that had me sitting there in disbelief when I heard the example of one trial participant who was having recurrent lows overnight and the only way to remedy that was for them to have 10g of carbs before bed. Suddenly, I was thrown back to 1998, being on Protophane and Act Rapid, and the only way I could keep horrid night-time lows at bay was to have a glass of milk with corn powder before bed. (Anyone else do that?)

The very idea that new devices being developed will require PWD to change their behaviour for said device to ‘cope’ with our real life is astonishing! This is, without a doubt, a step backwards in my mind. I know that my experience of Loop is that it has easily been able to adapt to my incredibly un-predictable life that includes far too much travel to different time zones, a varied and sometimes erratic diet and days where I have walked 30,000 steps with others where I’ve been horizontal for most of the day. I haven’t had to modify my behaviour in any way to please my Loop, and I’m not sure I would be so enamoured by it if I did.

What is definitely not a step backwards however – in fact it’s a monumental leap forward – is the potential of this technology and technology like it. As a convert of automated insulin delivery systems, the idea that people will be able to soon access devices that commercially available, under warranty and supported by the company’s customer service is only a great thing. Not everyone wants to build their own system, not everyone is comfortable using a DIY system, especially if they don’t feel they have complete support of their HCPs. Once the 670G becomes available, many of the concerns PWD have will be alleviated. Adding choice is only ever a good thing.

But perhaps the most telling sentiment about how the technology impacts on real life came from Leanne. She loved the idea and experience of automated so much (even with all the disclaimers of the trial requirements) that when she was forced to hand back the 670G system when she finished her part of the trial, she as having none of it! After begging to keep hold of the system (which she knew simply could not happen), she had everything ready to go to build her own DIYAPS and has happily joined the Loop family for now. The capabilities of the 670G technology – the automation and the results – such as the improved sleep – were too much of a good thing and she was not prepared to go back to what she had beforehand. And THAT is telling.

Automated insulin delivery panel. L-R: David O’Neal, Sue Wyatt, Kerryn Roem; Jane Speight, Tim Jones, Spiros Fourlanos, me, Jane Holmes-Walker, Melinda Mus

Disclosure

My flights from Melbourne to Sydney were covered by the National Association of Diabetes Centres (NADC), the organisers of ADATS. I am on the organising committee for the conference.

I am not involved in the Medtronic MiniMed 670G trial. I have worked with and consulted for Medtronic on other projects.

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