Life before diabetes

By | 18 June, 2010
A diagram of Tim's pancreas, yesterday

A diagram of Tim's pancreas, yesterday

Just the other day we had an interesting discussion over on the Shoot Up forums (there are some sensible debates over there you know. It’s not all weak puns and inane banter. Well, not entirely).

We were discussing the difference between people’s experience of diabetes depending on whether they were diagnosed at a very early age (and so knew nothing other than injecting) or whether they were diagnosed much later in life and so could remember what it was like to have a working pancreas.

I was diagnosed with Type One at the relatively ancient age of 28 and so spent a healthy chunk of my adult life not knowing what the hell diabetes was – something to do with chocolate and injections or something or whatever. So I very much knew what it was like not be in the failed-pancreas club.

Immediately after diagnosis I was just pleased to have found out what had been wrong with me all those months and thankful I was no longer drinking pint after pint of water and feeling absolutely wreaked all the time. However, as the days passed, I did have the occasional bought of self-pity (and why not?) in which I shook a metaphoric fist at my broken pancreas. As we all know, getting the balance of good diabetes control right is not easy and occasionally my frustration at not getting it right all the time turned to regret at having damn diabetes in the first place.

But since those early days, I’ve not really looked back with any sense of regret about being struck down with diabetes. It sounds trite, but you get on with whatever hand of cards you’re dealt with. There’s no going back to having a working pancreas and a cure is very unlikely. Unless, of course, you have a handy TARDIS to travel back / forward in time. Which I don’t. Pity.

So, no, I don’t harken back to the days before my diagnosis – I just keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. But what do you think? Is it best to have had a pancreas and lost it or to have never have a pancreas at all?

37 thoughts on “Life before diabetes

  1. Mike

    I’m in a similar scenario to you Tim.. Had some decent years under my belt before my pancreas simply gave up hope! I’m not sure it has bothered me at all really, even after diagnosis and going out with friends etc…

    I sometime wonder what difference it may have had upon my life, if any? I would kinda like to have a break from all the daily crap that goes with diabetes though!

    Would be interesting to hear Alison’s point of view seeing as diagnosis was at such an early age for her?? Is it a case of “outside” looking in, especially when growing up and particularly the teen years?

  2. Mike

    Oh nice picture by the way.. You have a monochrome pancreas! Me like πŸ˜‰

  3. Hairy Gnome

    Not something I’ve really thought about; mind you, as a T2 I had a fully functioning endocrine system much longer than most on here. At the end of the day I reckon the old quote works best, “Grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference!”

    By the way, I’m sure I’ve got a pristine, pink pancreas, but me lungs are black, does that count? πŸ˜‰

  4. Alison

    I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a working pancreas, but growing up without one was fine. I don’t remember life before diabetes which I’ve always assumed makes things easier for me, but to be honest I think attitude is the most important factor in all of this. No matter when you’re diagnosed, the only thing you can choose is what attitude you take to life from then on.

    Having said all that, if I had to choose an age for my pancreas to break, I’d pick 103. I think I’d have pretty much finished with it by then anyway.

  5. Scott S

    Tim, the pancreatic beta cells which actually produce insulin constitute less than 1 per cent of the organ mass for the pancreas by volume and weight. Although it may be popular to call ourselves pancreatically-challenged, the reality is that pancreas organ continues to produce all of the digestive enzymes required to digest a host of different foods that we eat, so the size of the organ may indeed be quite large, and with good reason, it still functions!!

  6. Tim Post author

    @sstrumello – Very true. But pancreatically-challenged is somewhat quicker to say without the explanatory clarification in parentheses afterwards πŸ˜‰

  7. Cecile

    Fortunately my Ξ²-cells put up with it until 23, because I think I would have gone up in green smoke if I’d not been able to shovel in unlimited sweetmeats and participate wholeheartedly at pudding.

    And in the temporary absence of the forums, this one’ll have to hang about here for the moment: YpunY (poor thing is so weak, it needs 2 crutches)

  8. Tim Post author

    @ckoei – forums should be working again now – try refreshing your browser if they’re still not appearing.

  9. Mike

    Diagnosed at 21 and quite happy with that given the options. Gave me a few years to get myself settled before the kids came along with their own special brand of turning-everything-in-your-world-upside-down distraction. Don’t envy anyone who had/has to go through their teens coping with all this palaver though.

  10. Annette A

    My pancreas is purple and green. Just because.
    I think that, had I been diagnosed later in life, I would have found it more difficult to accept how I had become, just because that’s the way my mind works. So for me, being diagnosed at age 4 was better, as it gives me less things to feel sorry for myself about, when I’m feeling that way inclined!
    But it’s definitely an indivdual thing, how you deal with it.
    @alison – I agree – challenged and found wanting (specifically, wanting fully funtioning beta cells) but not (yet) dearly departed.

  11. Nicole


    I just found your blog today thanks to Google. My husband and I are moving to Durham from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, at the end of August. We’ll be there for three years while he pursues his PhD. I’m quite nervous about the change, but I am also excited about this new adventure. I hope to learn much about diabetes care in the UK.

    To answer your question, I’m not sure which one is better. I was diagnosed with T1 at 27, and it was a huge struggle and adjustment. I still have times when I say to myself, “I can’t believe I have diabetes. This is so strange…” I’m on a pump, which I love very much (as opposed to multiple daily injections, of course, not as opposed to something like ice cream), and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to have it my entire life.

    Thanks for existing and making my upcoming transition to England that much smoother.

    Cheers (trying out my British English)…

    1. Hairy Gnome

      @Nicole – Hi Nicole, and welcome to the madhouse, I’m sure Tim and Alison will welcome you properly soon, but as the token T2 amongst all these pumped up T1s I thought I’d get my oar in first! You never know, you could even get a serious answer to a serious question, but that’s not much fun. The irreverent attitude on here to pancreatic problems is much funner! πŸ˜‰

  12. Annette A

    @Nicole – hi Nicole, as one of the aforementioned pumped up T1s, I’d like to second Terry’s greetings. As to getting a serious answer to a serious question, if you ever get one, report it immediately to Tim or Alison, who will deal with the perpetrator in a manner fitting πŸ™‚

  13. Tim Post author

    @nicole – hello! Despite what @teloz and @annette have said above; Shoot Up is actually a very serious web site, filled with learned discussion and erudite debate on the important diabetic issues of the day. Or something like that.

    I’ve never been to Durham, but I understand that there are worse places in the world πŸ™‚ If you need any help with dealing with the wonderous NHS or anything similar then please do post anything you like on the forums or email me or Alison directly – we’ll be glad to help! πŸ˜€

    In the meantime join in with the misery and despond!

  14. Mike

    Oooops.. Sorry that should have read “that’s not what you told me last week”.. Right butter fingers today..

  15. Alison

    @nicole Welcome, I’m glad you found us. I have been to Durham and it’s a beautiful place, in fact I nearly went to uni there but that’s another story.

    I’d be fascinated to know how you get on with the NHS. I love the way lots of American’s act like customers when it comes to healthcare and drive the system to deliver – if you need any help navigating the system, drop me an email.

  16. Charlie

    I really drew the short straw didn’t I? Diagnosed T1 at 14 – what a bugger! I was told I wouldn’t live to see 25 (cheery news hey!).. but just to show them who’s boss, I’ve managed to finish school, graduate uni, get married, have a baby (lots of complications, and he arrived just over 7 weeks early – ahh) and as of Friday, hit the grand age of 36… or as I like to describe it, 18 for the second time – but no, not willing to repeat much of it!!

    So if I get a little aggravated at times, please forgive me, I do feel a bit hard done by, but at least I’m alive to bother to all (you know you’d miss me really!)

    @ Nicole – welcome! – just trying to maintain the stereotype of our strange sense of humour!

    1. Hairy Gnome

      @Charlie – I really don’t know where these fuckwit doctors get their degrees, probably off the back of a cornflakes packet! Years ago, my GP told me that because I smoked I would be dead before I was sixty. Sixty-four and counting… πŸ˜‰

  17. Tim Post author

    @charlie – were you seriously told you wouldn’t live past 25?

  18. Annette A

    I was told I’d be in a wheelchair by the age of 25 (on my 18th birthday, which I spent in hospital – but not because I had any major complications, rather because I had an @r$e of a consultant who decided he was going to sort out my ‘horrendous’ control (HbA1C at the time was round about 7.5. Go figure.) – had no effect on me other than upsetting me at the time.)
    Nearly 19 years later, I have no particular complications.
    Just backs up the recent conversation that consultants are too far up (etc) to appreciate they’re supposed to be helping us, not pi$$ing us off!

  19. Tim Post author

    @annette – Holy Cow! That’s horrendous.

    By the way, do feel free to swear on Shoot Up, rather than using whoosy @r$e and pi$$ing. Remember, kids, swearing fucking rocks!

  20. Tim Post author

    (‘swearing’s cool’ – says the person who uses the exclamation “Holy Cow” above…!)

  21. Tim Post author

    @mikeinspain – you’re going to have to try harder than that Mike πŸ˜‰

  22. Annette A

    @Tim – wasnt sure if you had any arsy spam filter type things in that might stop posts with ‘inappropriate language’ (inappropriate for what, you might wonder…) – now I know you don’t, I may let rip if the mood takes me…

  23. Tim Post author

    @annette – hell no; there’s only a whole bunch of anti-spam stuff (which if we didn’t have the blog would be FULL of comments about nude pictures, erection drugs and so on – it’s a thoroughly depressing job deleting all the crap each morning!)

    1. Hairy Gnome

      @Tim – I know the feeling my friend, I had the same problem on my village website! Fucking spammers, they should be shot on sight, like graffiti painters (as opposed to graffiti artists) with an IQ akin to their shoe size, and practical jokers!

  24. Tim Post author

    Heavens above – just because I said swearing is okay, doesn’t mean every comment has to f-this and f-that! πŸ˜‰

    Fortunately the CATCHPA thingies cut out most of the crap, but a surprising amount still gets through. Bah!

  25. Charlie

    oooh! tell it like it is – I do!! Yes, I was told I’d be dead before I got to 25.. I think that was meant to make me look after myself better, but instead, I just thought, fuck it, if that’s all the time I’ve got I’ll do what I like..
    I don’t think it’ll come as a suprise to any of you, therefore, that it took a long time for me to come to terms with “the ‘betes”.. I have counselling now, and the pump just before Christmas has sorted me out.. During my later teens I stopped taking any short acting insulin, and became acceptable to my peers at school by being extreemly thin, but unfortunately for me, extreemely ill… and it just continued from there..
    I have been lucky that so far I’ve “got away with it” and not suffered long term complications too much. So yes, I’ve been there, got the t-shirt and a hell of a lot of other baggage and my hopital file needs its own trolley to move it about… but I’m here to tell the tale. Don’t do it kids! It’s not big and it’s not clever – I’m lucky to be alive (and healthy’ish) 11 years past my use by date…. huh.. *breathe*

  26. Tim Post author

    @charlie – I’m genuinely shocked by your doc’s attitude, that was appalling.

  27. Charlie

    @Tim – Thanks Tim… I can’t say life has been easy, but I’m getting by. That’s another reason why this blog is so fantastic – real people with diabetes talking about normal everyday stuff that bothers/infuriates us.. (unlike a certain magazine you mention that deals with toe amputations for 80 yr olds!).. that’s all I had to go on back then, so looking at a bleak future didn’t inspire me to do much about it..
    So a huge thank you to you and Alison for providing this amazing site, and everyone who joins in the daily debates about real life issues for us pancreaticaly challenged and managing it all rather well – gold stars all round.

  28. Tim Post author

    @charlie – thanks Charlie, your kind words are much appreciated!


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