When were you diagnosed and with what type of diabetes?
“I was diagnosed in 1999 with Type 1 Diabetes.”
Has there been a moment in your life when you were grateful for having diabetes?
“There’s never been a single moment where I’ve thought ‘Thank God, I’m diabetic,’ but I think having the disease has made a huge, and mostly positive difference to my life. For example, I think it was thanks to the discipline I had to develop when managing my glucose that helped me work hard and get in to Oxford University. And I’m pretty certain that if I wasn’t diabetic I wouldn’t have run the London Marathon, having to marshal the disease as well as condition my body gave me the extra motivation to even begin training. I wanted to prove to myself that diabetes wasn’t going to stand in my way.”
Have you done anything to benefit the diabetes community?
“When I was 18 I wrote “Joe’s Rough Guide to Diabetes” to help people learn how to take control of their glucose while living a normal life. It was published by Wiley and 20,000 copies were bought and distributed by Sanofi. Since then I’ve re-written the book for a second edition, and designed “Joe’s Small-in-one”, a carry case designed to take all you need for 24 hours. Together, these products mean that you can learn how to manage your diabetes and very conveniently put that knowledge into practice.
I give talks about diabetes to lay and professional audiences, telling people what it’s like to live with a long-term condition, myth-busting and helping to improve the relationship between healthcare providers and their patients.
I chair the project management group of a joint King’s College, London – Warwick Medical School study looking at the impact of digital communication on the treatment of long-term conditions in the NHS. And I encourage all diabetics to get involved with research if they can – it’s a fantastic feeling to be helping to shape the discussion of what future healthcare should look like.
I am also now working with Sanofi to create an innovative patient event for World Diabetes Day. It will be the first of its kind in the UK, bringing together people with both types of diabetes to talk about the issues that really matter to us.”
Does diabetes define who you are?
“In some ways, it does, yes. It’s impossible to be involved in trying to improve the treatment of the disease without being defined by it in some way. On a deeper level, I think it defines me in that the major achievement of my teenage years was learning to take control of my diabetes and overcoming the stigma of disability I felt upon diagnosis. But there’s definitely more to my life than just diabetes. I’m lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, I have great family and friends, I have a penchant for bad jokes, I laugh loudly and (I’m told) I talk a lot. On top of that, I’m writing a Tudor novel! Of course, all those things will be tinged with diabetes if you think enough about them, but mostly I think of myself as ‘Joe’, not ‘Joe the diabetic’.”
What is the best advice you would give to a newly diagnosed person?
“I think the fundamental thing if you’re newly diagnosed, is to take responsibility for your diabetes. It’s a nasty shock and it’s hard to take sometimes that you’ve lost a bit of your freedom. I know I found it difficult. But once you have the mind-set that says ‘this is my problem and I am going to find a way to solve it’ everything flows from there. After that, look to get educated, learn to carb count, and discover how exercise and alcohol and illness effect you. Don’t be afraid to experiment, one high blood sugar may feel a bit horrible but if you learn from it, it can give you a lifetime of understanding and improved control.
Oh, and get on a pump! They don’t work out for everyone, but mine’s been a blessing. It restores almost all the feeling of independence you can lose on diagnosis. And it doesn’t feel weird, honest!”
What is your greatest accomplishment?
“There are a few things I’ve done that I’m proud of: getting in to Oxford, getting a Distinction in my first year (I’m a geek, sorry!), writing the book and then having it published, giving a talk to about a thousand people at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference, designing the Small-in-one and seeing it sell, appearing in the Times to give an interview about diabetes, running the London Marathon, and (fingers crossed) writing a novel before 30. But I think my greatest accomplishment has been much less obvious than any of those; overcoming the depression I felt after diagnosis and taking control of my life. Without that, none of the other achievements would have been possible.”