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My diabetic journey

November marks diabetes awareness month and to raise awareness local charity Diabetes Gibraltar has written articles highlighting the symptoms, treatment and stories of those living with diabetes. The articles have ran weekly on Fridays throughout the month of November, with Sean’s story being the last.

by Sean Duarte
I contracted Covid-19 in January 2021. It was a horrible experience which left me feeling quite weak and which led to chronic pain in my thighs over subsequent months. My GP requested a blood test to investigate the source of the chronic pain since no other part of my body felt painful and subsequently, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes on the 2nd June 2021, 4 days before my 30th birthday.

My blood test revealed sugar levels of just over 15mmol, where the normal parameters stand between 4mmol and 8mmol. This diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks and was one of the worst days in my life, second only to the loss of my mother to breast cancer nine months before. I felt like my life was crumbling. I felt scared, alone and ashamed of myself that I had let my health deteriorate so much that I had developed Type 2 diabetes at such a young age.

After being prescribed the test strips and lancets to monitor my blood sugar regularly, I went home but I struggled to tell my family how I felt. Likewise, over the next few days I felt unsure of how to approach the issue with my friends and work colleagues. I knew very little about T2 diabetes so I went online to research it.

However, I ended up focusing on the complications that the disease can lead to and it frightened me, so acting impulsively I went out for a run. Upon my return my foot began to hurt which sent my brain into a panic thinking that this may be the beginning of neuropathy (where nerve endings are damaged by prolonged high blood sugar levels). At this stage I did not know how long I had had diabetes for. Did Covid-19 contribute to it or did it simply highlight what I already had inside me? I was very scared and started to think irrationally about having to have my foot amputated.

The fear led to anxiety and my thoughts turned to having to live the rest of my life with the debilitating and degenerative effects of my diabetes. Would I be able to lead a normal life? Go to work? Provide for my family, including my two-month-old baby boy? I also immediately ceased my intake of all junk food and refined sugar and changed my diet significantly to reduce my food portion sizes and frequency of meals. As I reduced my intake of carbohydrates, I began to feel depressed as the withdrawal symptoms started kicking in. My future looked very bleak to me.

I kept to my diet and began to do some light exercise and two weeks later I got my Hba1c results, which shows average blood sugar levels over a 3-month period. My results were 74mmol/mol. Normally, average blood sugar levels should be below 42mmol/mol. Usually at this stage the doctor would automatically put a person on oral medication or insulin injections as the sugar levels are so high, however my GP advised me to continue to lose weight and keep reducing my carbohydrate and refined sugar intake as he could see that my diet, together with regular exercise, was having a positive impact.

I was to return 3 months later to have further blood tests and compare the results with my present ones to see whether I was moving in the right direction. I was also referred to GHA dietician Melanie Chipolina who took time to advise and reassure me that with the right modifications to my lifestyle everything would be okay as I was young and able to make meaningful changes. Seeing her served to remove a huge weight off my shoulders and clear my mind of negative thoughts about my future. Her advice was invaluable and so positive that I felt empowered to take control of the situation and effect the changes that needed to be done.

I also opened up about my condition to my extended family and my friends. Everyone was very supportive and non-judgemental. My work colleagues were also very understanding and I resumed going to eat with them on Friday lunchtimes. During a conversation about my condition with a colleague, I learned that her mother was a retired diabetic nurse and she offered to introduce me to her.

I accepted and went to her for advice. After talking with Mrs Susan Edwards for about an hour I felt very positive and her advice was phenomenal. Her best piece of advice was that in order to reduce the risk of complications as a result of diabetes one needs to make permanent changes to one’s eating habits and not see it as something transitory like most people do when they diet to lose weight, only to rebound once they tire of restricting themselves of their favourite foods. The secret lies in embracing the changes and the new lifestyle and kicking the bad habits.

My wife Lisa and my son Roman have been my rocks throughout my journey. They have given me the motivation to persevere and improve my health, especially on days when my mood had been low or when I have been under stress at work. My wife has also helped in making healthy changes in our household so we can still eat together and share the same meals. Since June 2021 I have lost a total of 13kg. My last blood test in September 2021 showed that my Hba1c level had fallen to 34mmol/mol. My GP was very happy with my progress and confirmed that I am now in diabetic remission since I had managed to achieve these results without taking insulin or oral medication.

I was overjoyed when I was given the news! I felt that I had taken the necessary steps in the right direction and had reversed a potential nightmare from becoming a reality. My next blood test will be in December 2021, but being young and having so much to live for I can confidently say that my blood sugar level will not be returning to the alarming levels of June 2021. I am healthy and plan to stay this way for many decades to come.

This article is dedicated to all diabetics (both Type 1 and Type 2). Although everyone’s journey is different and I know Type 1 cannot be put into remission, I hope that my story will show that there is hope and that it is possible to take control of your life, of the disease and to fight back.

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