Talking about diabetes? One thing is for sure in my personal life, every day, one way or another, I am always bloody talking about diabetes. The difference is, it seldom is in a bad tone – so maybe minus that ‘bloody’ part… The reason I am so open and comfortable to talk about diabetes today is because I found the way initially to accept it into my life, and then it grew from what was once a negative burden which I wanted nothing to do with as a child, into what is now my life’s passion and work. There was at some point a transition stage in my life about living with this condition, and the core purpose of #TADtalk2017 (from what I gathered) was to influence that positive transition stage onto the attending community on the day.
This doesn’t just happen. Everybody is different. And in the audience there was a range of people with different diabetes angles – all on the same team may I add – from the many parents at the event, who would understandably endure fear for their child’s health; the children themselves, who have to find their own path with this condition in life; the experienced pwd, many of whom are active members of the online diabetes community, openly sharing their condition and could have done the job of speaking on stage too; the leading diabetes organisations, perhaps not living with diabetes themselves but certainly talking about how to improve care for it every day at work; and last but not least the medical professionals themselves, none more so valued than the very organisers of the event in Partha Kar & Catherine Peters, who openly expressed how they can in fact learn more from the patients and engage in more practical and relatable ways to make a difference – this event being a shining example.
A friend of mine from across the pond who has had type 1 diabetes more or less since the days of Banting himself, Mr Paul Madden, once said to a group of Young Leaders in 2013: “in life with diabetes we make over 300 decisions each day, so our minds are much more sophisticated.” And with all of that on our minds (quite literally) there is plenty to talk about.
The event was hosted by Sky News presenter Stephen Dixon and I felt that was a great way to operate the event, having a guy that personally lives with type 1 diabetes and delivers the news on our televisions, it doesn’t get any more professional than that! Without going into detail, Steve and I had our disagreements a few years ago and this was the first opportunity we’d had face to face since, and what I can say is from the opening statement he made, full credit to the guy, we agreed straight away: ‘I like type 1 diabetes being in my life,’ he told the audience. That summed up what the day was about – getting to the place where you can feel that way in life; the panel of speakers and Steve as the host all had managed to find it in different ways and therefore were up there to pass on their stories and that empowering factor. The tone continued from that moment, as Jen Grieves, the first patient speaker with full pressure on her, ensured it kept flowing. She effectively set me up as herself and Steve had already given the audience a positive vibe, Jen providing a key message that we ‘can control how we live our lives.’
For my talk, well I like to entertain. There was a plan to it – and that was because I knew the children with type 1 diabetes would be in attendance before the TADpoles sessions – and the plan was to involve the audience and give them the crazy idea that they can make as big a difference as I can, or any of the panel members speaking. The power is in their hands and it begins by being responsible for your own health – that doesn’t mean you get 6.0mmol/l every day without fail – but when the hypos and hypers happen, you react, be aware of them and make the necessary corrections. Opening up, as the attendees at #TADtalk2017 were clearly prepared to do, is the next step to becoming a role model for many others. I wanted to send the message that the power is in their hands to use their experiences to not only improve their own lives, but potentially many, many others living with this around the world.
Humour has always been a feature of mine when speaking, I just feel much more comfortable if we are sharing laughs rather than sharing tears. Be optimistic, not pessimistic – that’s always been my way. The nervy part for many is always when you first walk up on stage to speak, being the centre of attention in front of an on-watching audience who expect something good – otherwise what are you doing there – but I guess my nerves left me probably at some point out running, maybe during the 30 / 30 challenge across Britain when I accidently turned onto a motorway… but the key reason for being able to go on stage and talk and feel so confident and comfortable in doing so is because that is where I am at with my own diabetes, and the people who attended all relate, we are all one community. Though I felt slightly nervous speaking in front of a few thousand medical professionals at ISPAD last year!
A part of me was gutted I was then not around to watch the remainder of the sessions, with Roddy being sat just behind me having recently completed running the 350 mile 6633 Arctic Ultra challenge and finishing 2nd! One of the panellists I was so glad to see be there, to have had the opportunity; in a sense it is what I wanted the message from my talk to be all about, Adrian. Imagine being in Adrian’s shoes where you had the likes of Mel there, an international athlete, Roddy talking about running in the Sahara and then in -30 odd conditions… and myself perhaps too, talking of running about like Forrest Gump. Yet I think there is a fair argument to say he was the most important speaker there to an extent; a prime example that it is not all about being ‘superhuman’ – it’s about opening up, finding yourself with diabetes and in doing so, reaching and connecting with others around you. And that latter part was really the key part of the day, in the breaks and at the bar afterwards everybody was able and willing to socialise and enjoy each other’s company.
The reason I wasn’t watching the remainder of the sessions was because I was supporting the children in attendance with the ‘TADpole sessions.’ So whilst I was gutted not to see the other talks, there was an important duty to serve for the day – at many events I have seen children with diabetes come along and then be taken out of the room to do something which has nothing to do with diabetes, and the parents usually come to me and say “I wish my child heard that.” Of course, young children cannot stay inside a lecture room all day, they would get bored regardless how good the panel of speakers are; so to take them away it was essential they also received diabetes education and more so encouragement from being there on the day. The organisers of the event got this spot on. I thought it would be good to get them moving about, instead of being cooped up inside all day – I guess this was to my own benefit too as I’m still a big kid deep down – so we went out the front to do a ‘sports clinic’ themed routine, squatting low on the shout of “hypo” and jumping high on the call of “hyper!” and then in the afternoon session, joined by Thomas from Team NovoNordisk, we had some story sharing, questions and answers.
It was a fully enjoyable day all round and I’m a strong believer that we have a good system in the NHS which ultimately keeps those of us with type 1 diabetes alive; I have been to many countries who are not so fortunate. So instead of complaining about the NHS, how about we use our voices and experiences to improve it? What is clear is that there are some key professionals, such as Partha, Catherine, Peter, Francesca…. Who are willing to listen to us and willing to work with us. There is a natural gap between the patients and the professionals, but perhaps together we can bridge it for the best interest of our cause and future generations.
P.S – sorry Kev.