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“I won’t let it define me” – growing up with type 1 diabetes

Charlotte Woodford was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was six years old. Now aged 21, she shares how she has overcome the frustrations and difficulties of managing type 1 to make sure the condition does not hold her back.

Young person with type 1 diabetes smiling at the camera on a night out

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a week before my seventh birthday. I had been needing the toilet constantly and drinking countless glasses of water to the point where I could not sit through a movie at the cinema. My mum decided to take a urine sample to the local doctor’s surgery. I went to school that morning and by the afternoon I was in hospital. I stayed the night as they gradually got my glucose level down with insulin injections. I woke up the next morning to white snow covering the ground outside. I remember looking out the window as the snow continued to fall as I grappled with learning how to inject myself with insulin at such a young age.

Learning to live with type 1

From that day, life for me and my family changed dramatically. I was bombarded with information. I had to learn how to regulate my blood sugar levels, how to count carbohydrates, how to test my glucose levels with finger pricks, and inject insulin into my leg and bum using small needles. The nurses and doctors at the Royal Surrey Hospital were – and continue to be – extremely supportive, but ultimately the daily burden is down to me, with my parent’s support. When I was younger, my family, particularly my mum, was incredible in helping me inject the right amount of insulin and testing me in the middle of the night, then making me a milkshake if my blood glucose level was too low.

Transformative tech

A year later I moved onto using an insulin pump which was a revelation. It meant I didn’t have to inject every time I wanted to eat something, I just had to type the amount of insulin I needed into my pump. I still have to insert a cannula into my body, but only every three days as opposed to injecting at every meal. Two years ago, I started using flash glucose monitoring which has revolutionised how I test my blood sugar levels. It’s a small coin-sized patch that I place on the outside of my arm. It connects with my phone to give a blood glucose reading. Although the sensor is changed every two weeks it is a world removed from having to do finger prick tests ten times a day.

The ups and downs of growing up with type 1 diabetes

I am now 21 years old. Going through puberty made my levels somewhat erratic, but I am so proud of how I have handled my diabetes and how I didn’t let it get in the way of my aspirations and goals. I was a winning gymnast at the British Schools Gymnastics Association Championships , a regional swimmer, came sixth in the National School’s Biathlon Championshipsand played tennis nationally for my school. I got all A*’s at GCSE and A*AA in my A-levels, which allowed me to study English Literature at Durham University.

But doing all of this hasn’t been easy. To play two hours of tennis my blood sugar had to be around fifteen to allow me to train at a high intensity without it going low. When I was performing my gymnastic routines in a competition the adrenaline would cause my blood sugars to rocket up. It felt such a burden to have to manage my levels around sport. At times I resent the fact that people without diabetes can go for a run if they feel like it without worrying about their blood sugars.

I have found particularly over the last two years I have experienced feeling frustrated and angry about having type 1 diabetes. I remember being at University last year crying on the phone to my Dad that I just wanted it to go away. There have been times when my blood glucose levels have been too low to walk to a club with my friends, let alone dance when I get there, so I have stayed home alone. Other times I’ve had to go home early. It’s hard not to feel envious of everyone else who is carefree, dancing and drinking what they like, whilst I always have to be responsible.

But I won’t let my type 1 diabetes define me, it is only one part of me. I am determined to raise awareness about the physical and psychological impacts of living with type 1 diabetes, whilst organisations like JDRF search for cures.

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