Our Story Living With Chronic Disease
How Diabetes and Breast Cancer Became Part Of Our Lives
My name is Nathan and I am the creator of Believe the hypo and a type 1 diabetic.
In late 2016 I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and less than 4 months later my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This is our story.
Life, Plans and Diagnosis
I was 32 years old and felt great. I was married, had a good job, lived in one of the most beautiful cities on earth (Sydney, Australia) and enjoyed little stress. I also exercise regularly and socialised with friends.
My wife and I had recently been discussing plans for our life and had set 3 goals for 2017.
1) Get a puppy
2) Buy our first home
3) Try for a baby
I worked in education and was required to travel a lot. This showed me a lot of Australia and the outback. My first symptom began around mid-2016. I started to get small pimples on my cheeks and this became redder as time went by. I visited the pharmacy and they gave me a treatment for rosacea.
Not long after I started to urinate frequently. When I say frequently, I mean every 30 - 60 minutes. This started to impact my life as I was forced to pull up on the side of the road to go to the toilet, and on a few occasions, I didn't think I would make it.
I booked myself in to see the doctor but was not particularly concerned. I had no family history of any particular issues so nothing was on my radar. I was also exercising a lot and, therefore, drank a lot of water, I thought my water intake may need to be curbed a bit.
My first appointment with the doctor was pretty uneventful. It went quite smoothly and I was told I was in good health but they wanted me to return to perform a fasting glucose test. Even this didn't ring any alarm bells.
The morning of my follow-up appointment, I went to the gym early and walked to the doctor's surgery. This time it was a different doctor who scanned my blood results in silence.
Then, looking up, she says "I'm just going to make a quick call". She proceeds to speak over the phone providing numerous numbers and medical jargon I couldn't make heads nor tail of, and just before she puts the phone down, she says "can you go to the RPA hospital right now?".
Baffled, I replied, "yes. It's in walking distance, so I'll walk over now".
I still had no clue what I was walking into. I walked into the hospital and was shown to the diabetes center. Then escorted into an office with a polite but stern diabetes educator/nurse.
I was immediately informed I had type 1 diabetes. I went to question this but was shot down. "There is no question about this Mr. Spencer". I need you to give yourself an insulin shot immediately." I was shown how to check my blood glucose levels and then how to inject insulin. I was in utter disbelief but not sad or emotional.
The doctor arrived and spoke briefly about how my life will remain the same and that diabetes treatment has great outcomes now. She then said, "you're taking this very well". My response was simple, "that's because I have no idea what you're talking about".
The next few weeks were very emotional as I did the one thing I was warned about. I googled. I then googled some more and a bit more. In hindsight, I would not do this again. It provided a lot of information but much of this was too much, too soon.
Then things changed... badly.
Telling Family and Going Back Home
(for a holiday)
Telling My Family Was The Hardest Thing I've Ever Had To Do
The hardest part of the diagnosis for me was telling my family back in the UK. After ‘educating’ myself by scouring google for 2 weeks, I had to FaceTime them and despite them not really understanding the disease either, I was very emotional.
Three months after initial diagnosis I was back in the UK visiting family. I picked up a cold and due to my relative inexperience with diabetes, I began doing the wrong things. I cut my food intake to counteract my increasing glucose levels and didn’t increase my water intake.
I felt terrible. I had no energy and didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything. I didn’t want to inject more rapid-acting insulin so I didn’t eat any carbohydrates and just had small snacks.
The day of our flight back to Australia I remembered my diabetes educator previously mentioning Ketones, so I checked and I was 1.6. I felt like my life force was being drained from me. I managed to find a blog whereby a mother of a type 1 diabetic said she gave her son lots of water to help with flushing out ketones, so I drank several bottles.
With the flight nearing, we requested assistance from the airport staff and they sent 2 paramedics who promptly performed an ECG on me in the middle of the airport lounge.
The flight was luckily delayed and I was eventually allowed on. I was later told that if I hadn't drunk a lot of water, I would have likely been stretchered off the plane, as my condition would have deteriorated.
Then things went up a notch...
"She Took Her Diagnosis Much Better Than I Did"
One Month Later...
I was attending an eye exam and was informed I had a hemorrhage and scarring. I quickly underwent emergency laser eye surgery to correct this and to prevent a detached retina. Several hours later, I was allowed to go home with strict instructions to return in one week to check that the surgery was successful.
One week later on the day of my eye appointment, my wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
I am unable to articulate the profound impact this had when I hadn't even dealt with my own diagnosis yet. But what truly amazed me was how my wife took this news and treated it like a job. She immediately began to move forward.
Despite this news, we still had to attend my eye appointment to check whether it had been successful. Unfortunately, the eye doctor was unable to assess my eyes at the beginning as tears were streaming from them. Eventually, she was able to take a look and sat back to advise me it had been successful and she didn't want to see me for 6 weeks.
At this point, I stood up and walked to my wife. We high fived and we both said: "let's park diabetes for now and move onto cancer".
Since then, I have watched her take on her own disease with poise and humour. I have been humbled by the impact she has had on others and this has motivated and inspired me to create this website.
There are not enough diabetics with someone to talk to / vent to / empathise with / learn from.
2017 was a series of doctors appointments, 3 surgeries, IVF, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. I began a very low carb diet and it will continue for the rest of my life.
It has been over three years since my diagnosis. My wife and I have made positive steps to change our lives. We moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast, Queensland. We now live on the coast and can honestly say that life hasn’t been better. But it took diabetes and cancer to instigate these changes. This is my one regret.
Diabetes is relentless, but with the support of others, it is more than possible to love life and thrive with it.
Finally, I want you to know there are people out there that go through struggles and understand yours. Diabetes is an insidious disease and this is why this website exists. You’re certainly not alone in this.
Thank you for visiting Believe the hypo
I am a strong believer in the power of education, especially when you are burdened down with a chronic disease. It is imperative you learn about the disease itself and factors that can help you manage it.
Over time, I have accumulated various qualifications but the ones that have assisted me with managing diabetes the most are Sport and Exercise Physiology, Biomechanics and functional anatomy, Fitness development, diet and nutrition, and nutrition and sport. Not all are directly related but have helped me understand my body more.
I am also constantly following the work of 'Low Carb Down Under' who are a team of health professionals led by Dr Rod Taylor. They are educating the world, in particular, the medical professional on the dangers of excess carbohydrate consumption and clearing the way for better health outcomes.