By Barry Lord
Many sufferers of type 1 diabetes face a casual ignorance from the public that must be countered every day. People either believe (wrongly in many cases) that they know all the facts about diabetes, or don’t have enough awareness of the realities of managing the disease on a daily basis. For one young man, living with diabetes is simply a way of life.
Bill Fanning, from Bagenalstown Co. Carlow, was diagnosed with the disease in 2009 and he recalled the difficult, often painful first few weeks, post diagnosis, in which a strict medical and dietary regime was drawn up to help combat the disease.
“It was something I struggled with in the beginning,” Bill explains. “I needed help injecting myself for the first few weeks.”
Injecting insulin was a painful process but I did eventually get used to it. Now every time I eat, I have to take an injection. If I don’t take the insulin, my blood sugar level can become very high, I end up feeling weak and drowsy. And if I take too much insulin, I go into what’s called a ‘hypo’ (a hypoglycaemia or low blood glucose, which occurs when blood glucose level drops too low). Either way, I’m drained of energy a lot of the time.
Despite this often gruelling aspect of treatment, Bill remains philosophical.
“Life is far from easy suffering from diabetes, but there are worse things you could have,” he says.
The other aspect of life which Bill must deal with is people’s lack of understanding of type 1 diabetes, not just how it affects people but also the fact that the disease is not exclusive to one “type” of individual.
“When I mention diabetes, people naturally make assumptions,” says Bill. “Some immediately think it’s because of my sugar intake. Other people might put it down to a person’s weight. In my own case, what they don’t realise is that my pancreas is not able to produce insulin for my body to cope with sugar.”
Bill adds: “People have to be told about what type 1 entails. I certainly didn’t know what it entailed before my own diagnosis.”
Bill acknowledged the work done by charities like Diabetes Ireland to educate people about the disease and its impact on lives, but admits there is still a large gap in the public’s awareness of the subject, particularly in some of our sporting institutions.
“I think the matter is slowly being addressed, but there are still gaps to be filled” says Bill.
I played football and huring at my local GAA club and I know there’s an adrenaline rush people get from playing a match. But if you suffer with diabetes, your adrenaline is all over the place. Trainers have given out to me in the past, saying you’re not giving your all.
“I wish Diabetes Ireland would come down and say things to the GAA clubs and lay out some of the facts.
“I used to get a bit annoyed about clubs giving out to me over not fulfilling my potential.
“They just don’t understand the disease and what it can do to you.”
While diabetes undoubtedly had a negative impact on Bill’s sporting aspirations, he has since thrown himself into other interests and hobbies, such as stage performance.
“It’s something I really enjoy” he says. “I’ve made friends out of it and it was important given that I couldn’t give everything I had to sport that I explore other interests in my life.”