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Guest Blog

Find out how other's are living with diabetes

You have all read my blog, but read our guest blog from other people who are living with diabetes. Email me if you would like to appear on our guest blog...

The Main Event by Lee Calladine

There was a time once when I didn’t know much about diabetes, but then again, why would I, I was a young man and preoccupied with many other things. I didn’t really know anyone with diabetes and no one in my family had ever really spoken about it. All I knew was you couldn’t eat chocolate and it was something old people had, which is why Nan’s always had sweets in their handbags. That’s why it came as a bolt out of the blue when I fell ill and ended up being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the tender age of thirty three.

It’s a time I can recall very well, in fact I can pinpoint the exact moment when I realised something was wrong. I had gone to stay with my cousin Chris for the weekend. His wife was away on a council training course for a couple of days, so Chris and I decided to have a lad’s night in. We opened some beers, put a horror film on and settled down with our Chinese takeaway. As the evening wore on I kept getting up for glasses of water, on my fourth pint Chris asked me “was I alright because I was drinking like a fish. “It’s OK, I’ve just got a bit of a sore throat” I said.

The following few days went by and the thirst got worse. It got to the point where I was literally drinking litres of water, juice, soft drinks and any liquid I could lay my hands on. Unknown to me at the time, the sugary drinks were just making things worse. I couldn’t even drive to and from work without having bottles of water in the car. In addition to the thirst and not unexpectedly I was weeing for England, especially during the night, which had the extra bonus of keeping me awake. I was also incredibly tired and lethargic. I was rapidly losing weight, getting cramps in my limbs and terrible stabbing pains in my kidneys. Because of the hormone imbalance I was tetchy and emotional with my family and friends too. My emotions were swinging wildly from one extreme to the other and I really didn’t know what was happening to me. At work and home I was tearful and withdrawn one minute and angry and irrational the next. My boss at the time was not very sympathetic or understanding and I was put on written report for snapping at a customer and threatened with dismissal if I didn’t sort my attitude out.

Inside I knew something was seriously wrong, and I know it sounds stupid, but I was too scared to go to the doctor in case he told me I was dying of cancer or something other terrible condition. I convinced myself that I had a virus or bad cold and it would clear up. The turning point came, when I bumped into my good friend Anna who is a nurse. I hadn’t seen her for about two weeks and in that time the physical change in my appearance was drastic, most of all the weight loss, which made me look skeletal. Anna was shocked and upset and made me explain what was happening. I told her everything and she pretty much diagnosed me on the spot. She ordered me to go to the doctor straight away. I didn’t argue and the next morning I was sat in my GP’s surgery having a urine sample and finger-prick-test. Anna was right and I was taken straight to the hospital with a blood-Glucose reading that was off the scale. In a funny way, finding out I had diabetes was a relief.

The diabetes team at the hospital started me on insulin straight away and it wasn’t long until I started to feel better. Initially I needed plenty of support from my diabetes specialist nurse and the dietitian, but it didn’t take long to take the bull by the horns and just get on with it.

I was lucky in one way, because I already had a great understanding of what carbohydrates were and how they worked in the body. I actually began my working life as a professional chef. I undertook three years of classical training at Highbury College in Portsmouth before going on to further training to specialise in pastry and sugar craft (ironically). I even did a stint in the special dietary section of the Queen Alexandra Hospital, which gave me a good insight into the sort of food people eat when they different medical conditions. I went on to work in the hospitality industry as a head chef and banqueting manager for about ten more years before deciding that the hours, pay and conditions were not beneficial to a happy or healthy lifestyle. I decided on a complete change of career and moved literally overnight into consultancy and management for a large blue chip company, which saw me working all over the UK and Ireland.

The fact that I left the catering industry, had nothing to do with my love of food and cooking, in fact I like to cook and bake at any opportunity and still make wedding and celebration cakes for friends and family. Even now I absolutely attribute my background as a chef to the early success of managing my diabetes. A lot of my training was classroom based and involved subjects like food science. If you are going to be a good chef, you need to know the mechanics behind cookery and what happens to certain foods when they are combined or exposed to certain principles of cookery. This knowledge along with my practical understanding of the function of things like carbohydrates helped me to manage my diet and understand what effect different foods were going to have on my blood-glucose levels.

I consider myself very lucky to have been forearmed with this knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, my diagnosis still threw me into a tail spin and in the beginning I experienced many moments of panic, mostly while doing my shopping in the supermarket and trying to navigate my way around the vast number of food labels. But, I think it could have been worse if I hadn’t known what to do.

I always worry about people that don’t have the same luxury of knowledge that I had, which is why I love what I do now. It’s very gratifying to speak to someone who has been newly diagnosed and to help guide them through those overwhelming and scary first stages. I learned a lot from other people with diabetes and now I hope I can return the favour my passing on my own experience. As a person living with diabetes 24 hours a day, 7days a week, I feel a great sense of responsibility to help support people and share my own insights with them.

For the last four and a half years I have been working for the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation www.drwf.org.uk as their Event Co-ordinator. We are a small but national charity based on Hayling Island near Portsmouth. It is my job to plan, organise and execute the charity’s annual programme of educational events. Even though we are a small charity, we pack a powerful punch in the world of diabetes and provide a huge amount of funding for research and educational resources. It’s a great job, which gives me the chance to combine all of my past skills, personal experience and imagination to create our Diabetes Wellness Days, “Active with Diabetes” Walking Holiday’s and Diabetes Wellness Weekends. The wellness events bring together healthcare professionals and people living with diabetes with the aim of helping to inform and educate people about all aspects of diabetes, the possible long-term complications and how to better manage their condition on a day-to-day basis. The events also provide healthcare professionals with a great chance to spend time interacting with people with diabetes in a relaxed, non-healthcare setting.

DRWF is a great place for me to be too. I get a front seat view of all the latest steps forward and innovations in the world of diabetes. I get to see first hand, what research is being done and what new medications; treatments and products are being introduced to help people manage their diabetes. I also work with a large number of dedicated scientists, nurses, consultants and healthcare professionals, which means I have a wealth of knowledge, information and support at my fingertips.

Diabetes is a big part of my life, although it doesn’t define who I am as a person, there is no escaping the fact that it is a huge part of who I am. Over the years I’ve learned to live with my diabetes and manage it to the best of my ability. For the most part, things like, whether I have my insulin with me, whether I have dextrose in my pocket or coke in the car or whether I need to test my blood-glucose levels have become automatic, like breathing in and out. That doesn’t mean I don’t sit sometimes and think back to the innocence and freedom of my pre-diabetes days and how I could take off travelling at a moments notice, or eat what I wanted or do something simple like going swimming, driving or sleeping without planning ahead. I’d love to have that spontaneity in life again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m forever in awe of the men and women that paved the way with groundbreaking medicines and treatments for diabetes and continue to do so. Not a day goes by when I don’t silently thank them. I call my insulin my Magic Potion because to me that’s what it is. It keeps me healthy and alive and for that I have much to be grateful for.

Even though events are a huge part of my life and what I do on a day-to-day basis, for me, the main event in my life so far was being diagnosed with diabetes. Nothing else has come close to that.