Creating a community
Hayley Hakansson, 55, from County Durham explains how Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation has supported her since her diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, and why she loves attending the charity’s Wellness Days
Hayley Hakansson, 55, was attending a routine eye test in 2008 when the optician advised her to make an appointment with her doctor. “I said straight away, ‘It’s diabetes, isn’t it?’ and the optician agreed that she thought it was. It may sound strange, but my first reaction was, ‘Thank goodness for that’ – I was so pleased someone was finally taking me seriously.”
Hayley was 28 when she first became concerned about her health. “I had given birth to my baby three-and-a-half weeks early, weighing 9lb 3oz, so this set off some alarm bells for me. However, the doctor assured me everything was fine.”
Over the following months and years, she noticed many worrying symptoms. “I was tired all the time and thirsty, and was getting bad headaches. As we moved around a lot for my husband’s work, I was changing GPs all the time, but I was back and forth to various doctors to try to find out what was wrong.” It wasn’t until 13 years later, on the recommendation of Hayley’s optician, that she was sent for blood tests that showed she had Type 1 diabetes. She was given a hospital appointment two days later to meet with the diabetes team. “My husband Tony and I went along, and it was so busy with doctors and medical professionals telling me how I needed to start giving myself all these injections. There were so many thoughts and emotions going around in my head, from relief I finally had a diagnosis, to shock that this was something I would now have to live with.”
Over the next few years, Hayley adapted to the challenges of managing her condition. “It was a big thing to give myself daily injections. I would have to pack my equipment and find a toilet to do it if we were out, and I found it difficult remembering and would question whether I had done it or not. “It was a real learning process to know my blood sugar levels and what affected them. I had two paramedic call outs six or seven years ago for severe hypos [hypoglycaemia]. On both occasions I started shaking and kicking in my sleep as my blood glucose levels were too low. I was overcompensating for the carbs I was eating and giving myself too much insulin; it was a hard balance to get right.”
A few years later, Hayley and her husband moved again and she had an initial assessment at her new GP practice. “They told me about a local diabetes group in Hartlepool. I became a regular member and was soon one of the leaders.”
“I’ve made friends from all over the country. The days are always fun and the photographs and memories are absolutely brilliant”
Eleven years ago, shortly after Hayley joined the Hartlepool diabetes group, they were sent a letter from the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation inviting them to one of the charity’s Diabetes Wellness Days. “We thought we would go along to see if we could get any leaflets or anything but didn’t expect to enjoy it so much! Everyone came back with a little bag of goodies and a lot of information.
“My husband Tony attended, too, and thought it was absolutely brilliant. It really helped him as he learnt about what he had seen me going through with the paramedics and what causes a hypo. We normally go out every Saturday night, but when we got back from the Wellness Day we just sat reading information and trying to take it in. We talked through it all and learnt about it together.”
Since then, Hayley has attended every annual Diabetes Wellness Day North and has taken on a volunteering role for the charity, helping to set up for the event, brainstorm ideas, give feedback and assist with practical tasks like finding hotels for the speakers. “I was very keen to help out as they’re such fantastic days.
“At each event, we have a room with lots of stands where people from various organisations give out information and freebies, and another room where you can have coffee and tea and listen to talks. There are lots of things to get involved in, too, like exercise classes and fun workshops – one year we had a group come along to do a short play and they got some of us involved.
“The events have been incredibly beneficial for me in terms of providing information, increasing my understanding of diabetes and learning about new technology and what options are available. I actually learnt about insulin pumps at a Wellness Day about five or six years ago and spoke to my nurse about them, who agreed to switch me over to one.
“The pump has been fantastic – no one would even know I’m wearing it, but it is a brilliant piece of technology that has changed everything for me. It’s basically like wearing my pancreas on my bra! I no longer have to do insulin injections and it reduces the risk of a hypo by stopping giving me insulin if it senses my blood sugar levels are getting too low and sending me a little alarm so I can check the levels. It also works with my continuous glucose monitoring device, which tracks my blood sugar levels throughout the day and night and feeds information to the pump. If I do a download from the pump, my nurse at the hospital gets it and can tell me if something needs tweaking.”
As well as being a fantastic source of information, the social aspect of the Wellness Days is something Hayley loves. “It’s been great to meet with others in a similar situation and I’ve made friends from all over the country. The days are always fun and the photographs and memories are absolutely brilliant.”
“One highlight was a time when a fire alarm went off during the event and we all had to go and wait outside down the road. We decided to kill some time and warm up by doing some wheelchair races! I remember the consultants, doctors and nurses joining in and everyone was laughing and taking photos – it was so much fun. Everyone always gets on and it’s such a lovely atmosphere.”
Hayley has also enjoyed meeting the team who work for the charity, who have been a constant source of support. “Lee – who organises the Wellness Days – and I have become firm friends, and I know if I need advice or to pick someone’s brain on anything to do with my condition, someone from the charity is always at the end of the line and will help me.
“The charity does such a fantastic job at getting the word out there and helping people with diabetes. At our Hartlepool diabetes group, we will often sit around the table with a cuppa discussing what we’ve read in the latest newsletter, which is always full of information – we’re always learning something new. The information, support and social opportunities provided by the charity really are a lifeline for so many.”
THE CANDIS BIG GIVE 2022:
DIABETES RESEARCH & WELLNESS FOUNDATION
DIABETES WELLNESS DAYS
TOTAL RAISED: £13,914
The money raised in the Candis Big Give will help fund the charity’s award- winning programme of face-to-face and virtual educational events. These will enable people with all types of diabetes and their family, friends and carers to share their experiences and listen to talks by experts in diabetes to help them gain a better understanding, improve self-management, stay well and reduce the risk of complications.
The charity hosts three educational events – Diabetes Wellness Days – a year, in the North, Midlands and South. The events include talks from medical professionals; practical cooking demos and exercise classes; and holistic workshops on things such as meditation, mindfulness and tai chi. They are also a great opportunity to meet others, build a community and get peer support.
The charity will use the money to subsidise these events for attendees, who are asked to pay just £5 to register. It will go towards providing the talks, workshops, exhibition room, a delegate bag, tea, coffee and lunch – providing a beneficial day for all those who attend.
Visit drwf.org.uk for more information
WHAT DIABETES RESEARCH & WELLNESS FOUNDATION
MEANS TO ME
Lee Calladine, event coordinator for Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation, tells us what he loves about his job
“I started working for the charity 16 years ago after I saw they were looking for someone to grow their programme of educational events. I came from an events background and also have Type 1 diabetes myself, so the job seemed a good fit and for a cause I was passionate about. My job is to plan a programme of educational events for people with all types of diabetes, to make sure they have got the tools, the knowledge and resources to manage their diabetes and look after themselves. Over the years, we’ve had lots of different types of events, but I’ve honed it down to three annual national events that we call our Diabetes Wellness Days. We have one in the North, one in the Midlands and one in the South, with the South event now in its 13th year and normally with around 300 attendees.
Although planning these events can be very hard work, I love the collaborative camaraderie of our team and also all the wonderful clinicians in the NHS we work with, who give up their time and share our passion for supporting those with diabetes.
Seeing the results of all that work and planning, seeing how much it means to people and how it helps them is so rewarding. Some even tell us: ‘You saved my life – before, I didn’t know what to do with my diabetes, what to eat and how much insulin to take.’ When you hear that, you think: ‘Wow, we’re really making a difference to people’s lives.’ We’re a small charity so are almost like a family, and to see the same people come back year after year to our events is wonderful and we have become very close to them, too. We may be a small team, but we’re also very driven and definitely pack a punch above our weight. Our reports and data demonstrate that we do great work and are holding our own compared with bigger national charities, and our outcomes are very, very good. It’s something I’m very proud to be a part of.”