ON what is World Diabetes Day, Labour councillor John Maher has spoken of his experience of living with type 1 diabetes for the last 22 years, and offers his advice to those recently diagnosed.
The Cork North Central councillor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 16, in 1998.
“Type 1 stopped me doing nothing and I am proud of that,” he said. “I think the only thing I can’t do is fly a plane and I’m OK with that.
“I got out of hospital on a Thursday and I was away with the scouts on a Friday evening and I was overwhelmed, and nervous, it’s not that I’m different, I was all those things, but I just thought this is it now, it’s part of my life.
“If I weigh up now what it takes out of my day, it doesn’t take that much.”
He said that the stigma surrounding the autoimmune disease has decreased since he was diagnosed as a teenager due to medical advancements and education, with approximately 250,000 people diagnosed with diabetes in Ireland, of which about 10% are type 1 diabetics.
“I’ve climbed the biggest mountains, jumped off the biggest cliffs, travelled to where I’ve wanted to travel,” he said.
“People look at me and say you climbed that mountain, and I say why wouldn’t I? I’m still the same person. The only difference between me and you is that I take my insulin manually, yours works automatically. I need to be a bit more fine-tuned, but everybody should be watching their sugars.”
He said that “education is key” to really understanding diabetes and those diagnosed.
“The thing that annoys me the most is when people think you get diabetes for eating sugar; type 1 is an autoimmune disease, you have no control over it and by highlighting that, it creates awareness.
“My nephew who is 11 knows that’s John taking his insulin, whereas as a 16-year-old newly diagnosed, I couldn’t come to terms with that.
“My first shot of insulin was drawing insulin out of the bottle. The whole idea of drawing the insulin out went way over my head, then the pen came out and it was a snazzy colour like my runners and I thought I was all cool, I laugh at it now,” he said.
He said that the “good type and bad type commentary” shouldn’t be used, as there are only two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.
“Type 1, your pancreas doesn’t work. Type 2 can be dealt with with diet and with tablets. That’s the difference,” he said.
Mr Maher said that he “hated” the thought of going to a diabetes group when he was younger but has since realised just how important it is to have that person to be able to share your experiences with.
“It took me six weeks to tell my friends that I was a diabetic. I’m now a 38-year-old who, 22 years ago, wouldn’t join a diabetic group if you paid me; I thought it was weird and so I understand, but it’s important to have someone to talk to, a nurse or doctor, a family member or a friend.”
Although Mr Maher said he has had his “ups and downs” and is not “the best diabetic or the worst diabetic”, he offered his advice to those who are newly diagnosed and their families.
“What I would say to people is that parents are always going to worry but, especially for the teenager or young adult, diabetes is theirs, it doesn’t mean others can’t have a part to play, but I think you need to let the person get to grips with it and give them that space.”
He also said that it is important to realise that a person who is diagnosed later in life is still new to the idea that they are now living with diabetes.
As someone with an underlying health condition, he has been navigating Covid-19 by washing his hands regularly, wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.
This year, the World Diabetes Day campaign focuses on promoting the role of nurses in the prevention and management of diabetes. Learn more about the theme and key messages and view the resources available.
Nurses currently account for over half of the global health workforce. They do outstanding work to support people living with a wide range of health concerns. People who either live with diabetes or are at risk of developing the condition need their support too.
People living with diabetes face a number of challenges, and education is vital to equip nurses with the skills to support them.
As the number of people with diabetes continues to rise across the world, the role of nurses and other health professional support staff becomes increasingly important in managing the impact of the condition.
Mr Maher took the flu jab for the first time this year as a means to protect those he works with, his family and the vulnerable people his mother works with as a carer, and to take the pressure off frontline staff and “do the right thing”.