It’s bitter sweet, isn’t it? On one hand, no one wants Type 1 diabetes (or any type for that matter) to come knocking at their door. No one wants a life-time of insulin injections, pump set changes, finger pricks and carbohydrate counting. Within the diabetes online community, I often hear people being welcomed into ‘the group that no one wanted to join, but everyone is glad to be in.’
Why is that? Because on the other hand, the illness itself can be incredibly motivating and, for many, can provide a sense of empowerment. Those with diabetes develop will-power; they develop knowledge about the human body, they exercise their brain 24/7 by staying one step ahead and thinking like a pancreas, they exercise their bodies and treat them well, they become mini mathematicians through carb counting, measuring blood glucose levels, calculating correction and bolus doses… the list goes on and shows that, in fact, having Type 1 diabetes can make us incredibly determined, empathetic and bring purpose to our lives. Type 1 diabetes, through its bad points, allows us to create our own unique skill-set.
This brings me to talk about the incredible weekend that I’ve just spent with 132 youngsters, from 12 countries, who all have Type 1 diabetes. The cause… To provide them with the opportunity to meet other people with diabetes from all over the world, to share stories, experiences, expertise and to support each other throughout a Junior World Cup. The event was organised by Medtronic, showing that we all speak the universal language of diabetes.
Looking at the players you wouldn't have a clue that they had diabetes and honestly, 99% of the time I forgot that they did! Leaving the airport with the Spanish team, the kids were beyond excited as they danced, laughed, showed off a few moves that they would be saving for the pitch the next day. It wasn't until I saw a tiny piece of pump tubing poking from underneath of one of their tracksuits that I remembered why I was actually there. Why we were all there. It was diabetes that had bought us all together, however, as someone who has diabetes herself, the best part was seeing them getting on with things and not letting their diabetes stop them. It really was hugely satisfying to see how little their diabetes bothered them and that the most important thing at that time was getting together with their new friends.
This year's UK team were all insulin pump users. The aim of this was to raise awareness about insulin pump technology and what it can provide for young children and teens. It was interesting for me to watch the team, and their accompanying parents, throughout the weekend, noting that the kids were pretty much in control of their own pumps, their testing and treating highs and low. And rightly so! This technology (especially when linked with a CGM) should allow for parents to relax a little, give them the confidence they need when their kids are off doing their own thing and provide them with some comfort that the kids can safely manage the technology. Of course, the worry will always be there, but one of the aims of an insulin pump is to alleviate some of that. For the kids I could see that the pumps promoted independence with their diabetes, something that I imagine was very important for them as many were heading to secondary school within the next few weeks!
Not only that but for growing guys and girls; flexibility seemed to be key in their lives!
"I can now eat what I want, when I want."
"I usually take it off for football matches and check at half time."
"The pump allows for my sugars to be better controlled before, during and immediately after sport."
"The CGM lets me watch my sugars closely before and after sport as well as when I am playing."
The bonds that were made looked tight. The team were just that - a team, and despite only meeting each other on the weekend they had a couple of things in common! Diabetes, football and instagram were the main topics of choice. I was even persuaded to re-start my instagram account as I wouldn't be "cool" unless I used it. It was evident that the team had two main goals that weekend, having fun and learning! That's what the event was all about and the UK team certainly did that from what I saw.
Charging up and down the pitch, the kids took it all in their stride. Testing before the match, playing for 10 minutes, testing and treating a hypo (if necessary) during half time, then getting straight back to it. "I'm 8.8!" I heard someone shout, "Me too!" said someone else as they shared their blood glucose levels after a match. Looking around me other teams were doing the same. Some comparing pumps, pens, numbers, football boots, blood glucose meters... Though I couldn't understand what they were saying it didn't matter. I knew that when I saw someone handing their friend a bottle of juice it was because they were hypo.
Diabetes and support doesn't always need to be heard to be understood, but it does needs to be seen. Parents will know, people with diabetes will know... Often you just have to look at someone with diabetes to know exactly what they need. I think that's a really important lesson when it comes to gaining more of an insight into our condition and definitely something that this event proved. Type 1 diabetes goes far beyond what has been written in a book or a leaflet, what is delivered in lectures or during sales pitches, and it goes far beyond the 15 minute appointments that we recieve. The condition is personal to each of us, to each of the kids that I saw on the weekend, and can't be treated with a 'one size fits all' approach. Flexibility and understanding are key in the self management of diabetes, whether that's gained through sharing experiences, tips, advice or just sitting back and listening to others. More importantly though, learning through real experiences, through seeing, not just hearing, is what it's all about and I believe this is what the event showed on the weekend, if that was the aim or not.
So well done to the teams, you've taught me, you've taught your team mates and you've taught many people that diabetes is a language that can be understood by everyone.
The UK team - Winners of the Fair Play award
For more information about Medtronic and the products the have please visit their website here - http://www.medtronic-diabetes.co.uk/
For information about how you can be a part of the Junior World Cup 2016 please 'like' the Junior Cup Diabetes facebook page or 'follow' them on twitter.
To view more pictures and videos of the event take a look at my facebook page, Ninjabetics, and twitter account @ninjabetic1