14 Jul National Diabetes Week | Pt 1 | Jemma Bellis
Plenty of exercise, eating well and living a healthy lifestyle are the keys to living with Type 1 Diabetes for 23 year-old Jemma Bellis.
She was diagnosed when she was just seven and like many Type 1 sufferers there appears to be no rhyme or reason why she has it.
“It’s not in my family and from what we tell it was totally random for me. There’s a theory, maybe, that a virus when you’re young can kill cells in the pancreas and in turn lead to diabetes. I had chickenpox, but we just don’t know if it was related,” she said.
Jemma grew up on a dairy farm near Port Campbell and agreed to tell her story to help raise awareness during National Diabetes Week, which is this week.
“I was seven and we were holidaying in Halls Gap. I remember we were climbing the Pinnacle and I just felt really unwell,” she said.
“I had no energy, I was thirsty all the time, I’d lost weight, needed to go to the toilet all the time and ended up at the doctors.
“Even now I can remember going in and being told. It was hard, I understood it was something I’d always have. I was crying and had to pack a bag and mum drove me to the Warrnambool hospital for a week.”
Jemma said the week in Warrnambool was a standard way for children to get their glucose levels under control and learn about diabetes, what it was and how to manage it.
“It’s funny, I remember feeling better by then but it was an important week for us to learn about what we needed to do to manage it,” she said.
“We didn’t have insulin pens and pumps then…we were drawing from a vial, so mum administered my insulin. I was about 10 when I started using the syringe myself.”
Jemma said pens and pumps had made the process much easier. She said she dosed herself with short-acting insulin every mealtime and one long-acting insulin each night.
“I’ve always opted for healthy food and enjoyed exercising, so I don’t think it has impacted me perhaps like it would someone who had a sweet tooth and wasn’t active,” she said.
“That said there have been a couple of times when I ended up in hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis from not getting the dose right or from another illness. It is when your blood sugar is very high and ketones build up…it’s pretty dangerous.”
Jemma said when she was younger and unwell, her mum would test her blood sugar while she slept and, on occasion, administer insulin without her even knowing.
She said as she grew up, she made sure people close to her knew about her diabetes, knew the signs to look out for and knew what to do if she became unwell.
“Most people just accept it and understand it’s something I have and that I have to deal with every day to stay well,” she said.
“My partner has seen me when I’m unwell and he knows what to do for me if he has to. He’s checked my sugar while I’ve been asleep and, while he hasn’t had to yet, can inject me if I need it.”
Jemma said National Diabetes Week provided an opportunity to talk about diabetes, to help other people understand it and let other suffers know that it doesn’t define you.
“For me, daily exercise and watching what I eat help manage it. These are things we should all be doing, but especially diabetics,” she said.
Ingrid Rial, as featured last week in our 2020 Year of the Nurse/Midwife series, is TDHS’s Diabetes Educator. To make an appointment, please contact 03 5558 6000.