Local diabetes campaigner Liz Murphy marked 40 years as a diabetic on Tuesday December 4th. She recalls the challenges she faced after her diagnosis and details her ongoing quest for greater services for diabetics here in Waterford
WATERFORD woman Liz Murphy marked 40 years as a diabetic on Tuesday December 4th – a day which she refers to as her ‘diaversary’. She has had Type 1 diabetes since she was aged 13 but has managed to live a normal life and incorporate her condition into her daily routine.She vividly recalls the day of her diagnosis on December 4th 1978. “It was a wet Monday. I didn’t go to school as I wasn’t feeling well and my Mam got me a late doctor’s appointment,” explained Liz.“I don’t remember much about the appointment other than Dr Maureen asking me to pee into a bottle which I did. It went a bit mad after that. She told my Mam to take me straight to the Waterford Infirmary as I had diabetes. By 5.30pm, I was in hospital where my life changed. I was put on an insulin drip and taught the next day how to inject insulin, using an orange to practice on.”
Liz was told she could no longer have any foods containing sugar – something which would come as a huge shock to any teenager.
“No more sugar in my tea, eating biscuits, chocolate, cakes, sweets and some fruits. I also couldn’t have beans and sausages…so many things were not allowed – how things have changed for the better.” She says her family had little awareness of diabetes at the time. “Diabetes meant nothing to me, my Mam or Dad, but boy what a journey I have had with this chronic lifelong disease which I have lived with for 40 years,” she said.“I wouldn’t wish this illness on anyone. It has taken a lot out of me but I am lucky to still be here and fairly intact.”
To mark her ‘diaversary’, Liz said she enjoyed some cake, sweets and a “sneaky gin and tonic”.
“These days, people with Type 1 diabetes can eat the same as a person without diabetes – everything in moderation,” she said. Despite the efforts of people such as Liz, the condition of diabetes is still misunderstood by many people – in particular the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood; is not associated with excess body weight; is often associated with higher than normal ketone levels at diagnosis; is treated with insulin injections or an insulin pump; and cannot be controlled without taking insulin. Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in those aged over 30 (but is increasing amongst children); is often associated with excess body weight; is often associated with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels at diagnosis; is usually treated initially without medication or with tablets; and it’s sometimes possible to come off diabetes medication.
Liz firmly believes that Type 1 diabetes, in particular, is one of the most misunderstood diseases.“I didn’t get diabetes from living an unhealthy lifestyle or from the food I was fed by my parents from a young age. There is no definite reason why a person gets Type 1 diabetes,” she explained.“Type 1 is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the body’s pancreas – this is where insulin is produced. It cannot be prevented and it cannot be cured.”She continued: “Without insulin, I would die. Everyone needs insulin in order to survive. No matter how healthy I eat or how much l exercise, a person with Type 1 diabetes will never get rid of the fact that they need to take insulin. I take multiple daily injections and I have to measure my carbohydrates to the amount of insulin I inject. I can eat sugar – I eat the same as anyone else within moderation. It’s all about balance. Every single day I try not let to let my blood sugar glucose levels go too high or too low. It’s a full time job that you can never quit from.”
Through the website ‘T1D Looks Like Me’, Liz has calculated that she lived with diabetes for 14,610 days, had 80,355 insulin injections and 87,660 finger pricks to check her levels. “I continue to inject up to six times a day,” she explained.“Sometimes I have a good day then, the next day, having done more or less the same as the day before, I am trying my hardest to level everything out. It’s frustrating. Sometimes I get tired of the constant work I have to put into it but I know that I can’t give up. Sometimes you can feel very alone with this illness but I’ve made friends with many people with diabetes here in Waterford and around the country that I know I can talk to. Social media is a powerful tool for meeting and providing information on diabetes.”
Liz says she wants to help make people aware of what the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are.“The symptoms include, but aren’t limited to, increased thirst and urination, extreme fatigue, unintended weight loss, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, and fruity breath,” she explained.“You can be diagnosed at any age, not just in childhood. I know people who have been diagnosed with Type 1 in their 50s.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May , who is a Type 1 diabetic, has spoken openly about living with diabetes and revealed that she injects herself with insulin up to five times a day to treat her diabetes.
“You just get into a routine. You depend on that insulin and you just build that routine into your daily life. The crucial thing to me is being a diabetic doesn’t stop you from doing anything,” she said in an interview last year.
She has urged fellow diabetics to never allow the condition to hold them back from doing what they want in life.