HAPPY (diabetes) ANNIVERSARY TO ME! WRITTEN BY- SAMANTHA OXENHAM


Today marks 32 years since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  Happy anniversary to me- and I say that with complete sincerity. 

People often ask why I celebrate such an occasion, one that you would think begs misery.  Let me explain. Managing diabetes well is not an easy task. I’ve always said that barely a movement is made without first consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) thinking about how diabetes will be managed in every situation. For good control (and reducing the risk of unsavoury and somewhat deadly complications), insulin must be adjusted according to food, activity, hormones, illness, stress and even the weather.  To complete this arduous task, modern technology has provided us with tools to assist. Let me be clear, they don’t in anyway cure the condition, they merely assist the difficult task. And lets be honest, it’s not normal to ask someone to test their blood sugar 8-10+ times a day, inject insulin 6+ times or wear robotic-like devices such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors and adjust them accordingly (sometimes on a minute by minute basis.  You need to be your own P.A, ensuring your diabetes management is always an hour plus ahead of the task you’re about to undertake. At the best of times, you need to possess the skills and knowledge of a mathematician, Dietitian, doctor, exercise physiologist and pharmacist. You need to be self-driven, disciplined, and for your efforts there are no holidays, sick days or payment.  And even when you do your best, sometimes split-second decisions can be the wrong ones. Sometimes, some things are just out of your control, and you bear the consequences of low or high-blood sugars, which have far-reaching consequences for the hours that follow.  I do my best to take it on the chin, learn from the experience and try again next time.  Diabetes may win the battle every now and again, but it will never win the war. 

So yes, the anniversary of the diagnosis of this disease is cause for celebration. For all the hard work that goes in to attempting to manage it well on a daily basis. Every. Single. Day.  For 32 years/11680 days I’ve faced diabetes head on, and said screw you. 

I say screw you, tongue in cheek though. I actually prefer to think of Diabetes more as my friend than enemy. This year I’ve also decided I want to celebrate my body and say thanks, in all its hormone-challenged glory. Odd? You see, I not only have diabetes, but I also have 2 other autoimmune conditions (Addison’s and Hypothyroid). So I’m sure I could be forgiven for thinking my body has failed me, not once, not twice, but three times. But whilst my endocrine system may be imperfect, my reproductive organs have made up for it in spades. Almost 5 months ago, I gave birth to my son, 20months after my daughter was born. I was lucky enough to conceive quickly, and aside from the arduous task of managing these conditions through pregnancy, I had two relatively easy pregnancies (as far as pregnancies go).  I have been able to breastfeed both my babies, and both are perfectly healthy and strong. My body has done enough in this regard and after having two absolute miracles who are the light of our lives, our family is complete. And taking into consideration the afore mentioned work involved in managing diabetes, the unpredictability and exhaustion of it all, the condition is akin to having another child to look after, or at least it feels like it sometimes. So that makes 3 children if you ask me.  

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In hindsight, diabetes did in fact prepare me well for motherhood. A crucial part of managing diabetes in pregnancy is the tight control one must maintain 24/7 for 38+ weeks straight. Devices like continuous glucose monitors, in my opinion are essential for completing this task well, and they sure make it significantly easier. However, they are certainly a love-hate relationship. When you set the limits between 3.9 and 6.7, there isn’t a lot of leeway before alarms beckon frequently. So it wasn’t uncommon to be woken multiple times a night at various stages of the pregnancy. What do you know, that’s just like getting up to a newborn needing to feed multiple times a night, or a toddler yelling out ‘mum mum mum’ demanding action immediately. 

32 years of diabetes has ingrained in me that to do tasks well, I need to look after myself first. Diabetes related, this means taking insulin, testing blood glucose levels, eating well and exercising etcetera etcetera. From a mother’s perspective it means eating meals, showering and self-care/love. Some sage advice given to me prior to having children was that babies cry. It’s their only means for communication, and if that means bub cries for a few short minutes while I make and eat breakfast (yep I can do that quickly) or have a shower, then I am better prepared to look after bub and be a better mum. 

Being a mum is hard though, harder than any job I’ve ever undertaken. It’s also the most rewarding, but there’s no denying it’s hard work. And after 38 weeks of intensive management, you really can’t wait to lessen the controls on the tight levels, and think about diabetes a whole lot less.  Sadly though, whilst baby brain takes hold, the diabetes doesn’t dissipate. The one savour to it all has been CGM. Having it connected, means I only need to check my BGL twice a day and I have glucose levels staring at me whenever I need to look. Without it, I wonder how many hours would pass before I’d get out the meter. There’s also heaven-sent alarms (the ones I also love to hate) that reminds me I forgot to bolus for my lunch, change a site that’s been left in a day too long. It essentially keeps my BGL in check while my brain is elsewhere in these early months as I learn to be a mum to two beautiful (but exhausting) children. I’d love to say I’m perfect at managing my diabetes, and I’ve often felt that pressure, with a background in dietetics, diabetes education and working for one of the well-known diabetes device companies. But I’m human, just like the next person with diabetes. 

So over the past few months, I’ve been giving back to the body that has given me more than I could ever ask for, even though sometimes I wonder if we’re on the same page.  I’ve begun to exercise more and eat better and lose some excess weight. That also means I need to better control my diabetes, focus on the little things again (changing sites on time, bolusing before meals not during or afterwards).  I’m far from perfect, I falter often, and there’s a long road ahead. Diabetes, I’m certain, chose me to teach me the art of patience, which isn’t my forte. None the less, each day I try to make a positive change for the better. After all, the need to be healthy and manage my diabetes well is not just for me anymore. It is for the two little miracles and my amazing husband that are relying on me to do well.  

But for now, just for today, can I get a hip hip hooray.  Happy anniversary to me!  


SAMANTHA OXENHAM- Samantha is a 37 year old mother to Grace, 2, and Henry, almost 5months. She lives with type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease and hypothyroidism, all of which led to her day job (when not on mat leave) as a dietitian, diabetes educator and working for one of the countries highly regarded a diabetes device companies. Her motto, say yes first, and figure out the how (with diabetes) later.
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