100 years of insulin – what would a cure mean?

This is the 100 year anniversary of the discovery of insulin, which was co-discovered by Canadian, Fredrick Banting in 1921. His birthday was on the 14th November, and it’s remembered each year as World Diabetes Day. Without his discovery 100 years ago our type 1 diabetes story, along with many others across the world would be very different. Insulin not only unlocks the energy for our body but it also unlocks many stories that wouldn’t be here today without it.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Earlier this year, the charity Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) contacted me to ask if I might be interested in joining others to do some filming for their ‘One night in’ charity event in February this year (2021). I’ve been in touch with JDRF several times over the last couple of years and they’ve been a great support for our family, so I was delighted to be asked. The brief was that I answer some questions and film it on our mobile at home and then send it over. Simple and straightforward. And because it’s the 100 year anniversary of the discovery of insulin, the theme was, what would it be like to have a life without type 1 diabetes. In other words, if a cure was found tomorrow what would that mean to us as a family.

In case you don’t know, our little one was admitted to hospital with DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis) and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the summer of 2018 at the age of two. As a result, we’ve had our fair share of tears, tantrums and needles.  But my initial thoughts were that I don’t like to think about there being a cure, as the hope can be too much to bare sometimes. It sounds dramatic and I know there’s amazing research going on in this field and a leap in discovery feels close from what I’ve researched, but I just tend to focus on today when I can. However, because the question had been asked, I started entertaining what it could be like. I filmed my answers which focussed on little things like not carb counting or bringing our scales with us on an outing and NO MORE needles of any kind. After I submitted the footage the thought stayed with me and I realised something much bigger. If there was a cure, it wouldn’t be a magic switch to what we were as a family before that fateful diagnosis – we would be different, we would be better!

Whilst the journey of living with type 1 diabetes has had its many life-changing challenges that I’ve written about in the past. It has brought things to our lives that we might not have known before. Firstly, and most importantly, we’ve learnt that our bodies do amazing things for us, that we don’t normally have to think about. We’ve learnt that with the right training and support around us, which we have been so fortunate to have, we can inject our little one with needles. We can work out how many carbs some meals are, just by looking at them now. We can deal with hypos aka hypoglycaemia episodes, which are when sugar levels are running low. We can deal with hypers – hyperglycaemia episodes, when sugar levels are high. All of this means we can give our little lady a healthy start in life so she can do what other little ones do. 

It’s also helping with the current home schooling situation. Our little one is in reception, so we’ve incorporated type 1 into her learning. We are getting her to help with measuring out her food and reading the glucose numbers on her new glucose monitor. She adds the carbohydrate number to her insulin pump and these small acts all help with counting. We talk through the sugar contents of foods that she’s eating and she’s learning about what healthy foods are, as are we. I’ve always been relatively healthy, but I have a new understanding of different sugars and what part it plays in our bodies. 

What it’s also shown us is the importance of insulin. This tiny hormone that we don’t normally give a second thought to, is literally one of the keys to life. It helps to unlock the cells and turn sugars into energy for our bodies. If you didn’t have these keys to unlock the cells, the sugars just stay within your blood stream and are eventually passed through the body without providing you with any energy.  At first this leaves you tired, thirsty and lethargic. But over time, if the absence of this hormone is not checked early on, this develops into a more serious condition called DKA. 

I know that it sounds cheesy, but what we’ve also learnt as a family that as a team we can get through this together. Having love and support (and clearly insulin) is what we need. When the cure comes, it will potentially mean goodbye to the insulin vials but not the love and support that will always be there. 

There are many individuals and families out there getting on with life thanks to insulin and as we all wait for those amazing research teams to find that cure, I think we’ve all shown what a wonderful legacy Fredrick has created in this 100th year.

If you’d like to know more about the amazing work that is going on for young people with diabetes, then please take a look at JDRF

I write about caring for an amazing child who is type 1 diabetic as well as writing children’s fictionThis article is also featured on Medium

Email me at: hello@michelle-mckenna.com

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