Living with diabetes for more than 50 years

When Sharon Brewer was three-years-old she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

But she has grown up with the disease not really knowing any different.

And last week, in conjunction with National Diabetes Week held recently, she was presented with an award for her victory over diabetes for more than 53 years.

The Dungog Diabetes Support Group was set up 16 years ago when Cheryl Maher and Liz Elliott’s sons were diagnosed with the disease.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body stops producing insulin altogether.

This usually happens when the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells of the pancreas.

People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections or use an insulin pump to survive.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin, and/or doesn’t use insulin properly.

 If caught early, type 2 diabetes can often be managed through diet and exercise alone but sometimes oral medications are also needed to boost the amount of insulin in the body.

Mrs Maher said her son Andrew was 11 when he was diagnosed and Liz’s son Mitchell was five.

“We used to ring up each other for advice and eventually set up the group so there would be more information for people who needed it,” Mrs Maher said.

Donna Dowd and Natalie Bennett from the Newcastle branch of the Australian Diabetes Council came to the branch’s meeting last week to present an award to Mrs Brewer.

A member of the support group, Mrs Brewer has been a diabetic for the longest time.

“When I had the symptoms the doctors said it would be one of three things,” she said.

“It was a process of elimination.

“I started on insulin but being so young I didn’t really know any different.

“I felt a bit different as I couldn’t eat things that other children could but mum was pretty inventive so we had lots of different types of food and she tried to make my life as normal as possible.

“I remember I was given two shillings to buy a music book but instead went and bought lollies.

“Do you know how many lollies you could get for two shillings back then?

“The teacher questioned me about them and rang mum and she said to take them off me and give them back when school finished so I could bring them home.

“But I ate them all on the way home.”

Mrs Brewer said it was great when Weight Watchers food became available as there was a lot more choice of what to eat.

“It sure beat the arrowroot and Sao biscuits I used to live on,” she said.

“Being a shift worker it was hard with trying to have injections and eat regularly but now there are many types of insulin which suits different lifestyles.

“I’ve had it for so long now, it‘s part of my life.”

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