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Person with diabetesBorn in Banbury in 1978. Diagnosed Type 1 in Oxford in 1988
Overview: By the time Emma Cherry was diagnosed in 1988, GPs were familiar with childhood diabetes; hospital children`s wards were used to dealing with it, and Emma remembers a wonderful diabetes specialist nurse who showed her how to inject herself, and later called at her home twice daily to supervise her early attempts. Her schools, university, and colleagues at work all accepted her without any fuss, and she has never been made to feel `different`. Injections and blood tests are such a routine part of her life that she wonders how she would cope with a cure!
There is also an interview with Emma`s mother, Zin Cherry.
Well, I‘ve lived in Bicester
all my life. Mum has been a... she‘s been at home, Mum, really, most of my
life. She only started back full-time to work once I went to secondary school.
My Dad works in our family business. He‘s one of the managers in our family
shop selling furniture, so we‘ve always been quite comfortable - never felt
we‘ve really struggled with money, and we‘ve always had the things that we‘ve
kind of wanted, I suppose.
And what are your early memories?
Early memories are probably of
quite a happy household, lots of family things going on together, grandparents
always being around, family holidays, camping, going to the beach, that kind
of thing. Yeah, we‘ve always been really close and done lots of things together.
Have you got brothers and sisters?
I‘ve got one sister. She‘s called
Sarah and she‘s two years younger than I am. I‘d like to think we got along
all the time, but we are like chalk and cheese, so we probably fight as much
as we get on.
And what are your memories of
I always loved school, actually
- really been quite a studious little person. Always done reasonably well,
actually, and mostly looked forward to going to school, rather than trying
to keep out of there.
What kind of school did you go
I went to the normal primary
school just down the road, and then on to secondary school in our local town.
Now, while you were at primary
school you were diagnosed with diabetes. Can you tell me how that came about?
It was really all down to my
Mum, or I feel it was. She was really vigilant, and I remember particularly
one day where we‘d gone shopping with my Grandma and sister to Oxford, and I was just constantly, constantly thirsty. And we had
to keep stopping, going to buy drinks, going to the loos, keep going, just...
I didn‘t stop being thirsty the whole time, and I don‘t know how soon after
that - it didn‘t feel like very long looking back - Mum got me an appointment
at the doctor‘s. Went down to see the GP, he took some urine samples, and
went back the same day and he said "you‘ve got diabetes", and rushed
me into the John Radcliffe. Mum was... it was supposed to be down to Mum,
really, that it was caught so soon. I wasn‘t even dehydrated enough to need
a drip, which is apparently really rare. Usually people are put straight
onto a drip when they‘re diagnosed.
But you say you were rushed to
hospital, so there must have been some sense of urgency?
I think of it as being rushed,
because I remember being in the doctor‘s surgery saying "yes, she has
got diabetes, she needs to go in", and coming straight home, packing
my things in a little case, and Mum and Dad coming straight to take me over
to Oxford, which, I suppose, seems strange at the time, because normally Dad
would be at work and I‘d
be at school. So, I guess in my mind it seems like it was rushed, but it
wasn‘t a big panic or anything; everyone was really calm.
How long were you in hospital?
Ooh, thinking about it, it didn‘t
seem like a long time. I guess it must have been about a week; I can‘t remember
exactly. I can‘t remember feeling particularly scared or traumatised - I
think my Mum was more upset than I was - and I think I just thought... I didn‘t
feel ill, and I think I was dying to get home again, really.
What do you remember about your
time in hospital?
Being able to pick my own lunch
from the menu. The nurses - I had one injection done by the nurse, and from
then on they made me do my own injections, which I thought was a bit sca...
not scary, but I thought it was a bit unusual, because I didn‘t expect adults
to let a small child of ten years old be in charge of giving injections.
But I guess it was really good, because I was never really fazed by it; it
just felt normal as soon as I started.
Were you scared of injections?
I was absolutely petrified of
injections when… well, before the diagnosis. But, I don‘t know - I guess
I must have taken it all in my stride, really, because I didn‘t seem... don‘t
remember thinking "oh my goodness, I‘ve got to do all these injections.
I‘m not going to do it - it‘s too scary". I just remember thinking "this
is how it is; I‘ve just got to get on with it".
How were you taught to do injections?
Interestingly enough, my memories
of that aren‘t actually that clear. I just really think it was a case of
them saying "this is how you do it. You just need to get on and do it
with the minimum amount of fuss". I remember Mum practising on oranges
Was that what she was taught
to do by the hospital?
Yes. It was, I think... I mean,
thinking now, I can‘t imagine wanting to inject my own child; not that I‘ve
got children. But I guess the idea with the oranges was to get Mum used to
putting a needle into something, but I don‘t remember me being nervous about
And you weren‘t told to practise
on an orange?
No, I practised on me! I just…
every time I needed an injection, the nurse would be there to supervise me,
but I was doing it myself and following instructions.
Did all your education come from
nurses or from a doctor?
It must have come from doctors,
but I just remember the wonderful diabetes specialist nurse that I had at
the time. She was just amazing. After I came out of hospital, she came every
morning and every afternoon to do my injections with me, so that meant her
being in Bicester for
And you had the same person when
you were diagnosed in hospital and for the follow-up?
Yes, same lady - Sally Strang.
I don‘t know if she still does diabetes specialist nursing now, but I remember
when I moved from the paediatric clinic to the adults, that I really missed
Were you on a children‘s ward
when you were in the JR?
Yes, I was. I remember it was
ward 4B, because it said… there was a big poster along the wall that said
"follow the bees to 4B", little bees all down the corridor.
What were you taught in hospital about monitoring your sugar levels?
I think, because I was so young,
I knew I had to do blood tests at least once a day, and it was very much down
to Mum and I as a team to read the result. And I knew the boundaries of what
the levels should be, but other than that, it was a case of, I guess, getting
into a routine. I think that‘s what they were really teaching me when I was
What were you using?
For the blood testing? Oh, a
horrible machine, where the pricker came really fiercely and fastly into my
tiny little finger. It was the only one they had at the time, and I used
to hate it. I hated the blood tests more than the injections. And it was
very difficult for me to actually fire off the blood testing pricker myself,
so I used to hold the finger and Mum used to be in charge of letting the pricker
You don‘t remember what it was
No, I don‘t. I can picture it
in my mind. I don‘t think I ever knew what it was called, actually.
And what were you taught about
I think it was, for me, that
sugar wasn‘t going to be allowed any more: no more sweets, no more cakes,
no more icing on birthday cakes, that kind of thing. But I do remember really
well, my Mum, the first shopping trip after I was diagnosed, I can remember
her picking up the cans, looking at the labels on absolutely everything.
And I think the first packed lunch she did for me took her about half an hour
to decide what to put in there, to count up all the carbohydrates and exchanges,
make sure I had fruit and bread. And I just remember it taking her so long,
and me just not wanting to eat the food anyway when it got to lunch time.
This was 1988. I mean, were
tins well labelled in those days?
I think they were reasonably
well labelled, but I think before I was diagnosed, we didn‘t even think twice
about them. I didn‘t even notice that they were on tins then, and I don‘t
think Mum did either. But the dietitian and the diabetes specialist nurse
showed us how to look on the tins, what to look for under the carbohydrates,
and also to look on the ingredients list to see how high up sugar comes on
the list of ingredients.
How did you adapt to changing
Adapt is an interesting way of
putting it. I don‘t really feel... I feel like it was just that‘s the way
it was and you just had to get on with it, really. I do remember my sister
still having sweets, and I remember in arguments, she used to go "I‘m
glad you‘re diabetic, I‘m glad you can‘t have sweets" as a way to hurt
me, and then she used to go off and have her sweets. But I don‘t really remember
resenting not being allowed the sweets and sugar. I think the thing that
I didn‘t like more was the fact that I had to have a certain amount of food
at a certain time. I remember the arguments... well, not so much arguments,
but I remember Mum saying "you must eat another potato, Emma", and
me going "I‘m really full, I don‘t want any more", and having tears
over the fact that I had to eat more than I wanted to, or that I was still
hungry and wanted more, and Mum saying "I‘m really sorry, you can‘t have
anything else. You‘ve already had your carbohydrate for this meal".
It sounds as though your mother
found this all quite distressing?
I think she did, actually. I
remember when I actually got on to the children‘s ward at the John Radcliffe,
I kind of didn‘t take it all very seriously at the time. I kind of thought
"the adults are in charge, they must know what they‘re doing, they must
be doing the right thing", so I didn‘t feel particularly scared. But
I remember Mum sat at the end of the bed, and all the doctors had come round,
and she just burst into tears and said "oh, my little girl gonna die",
and them going "no, no, no - don‘t worry about that", and me thinking
"good grief, this is a bit serious now".
If she thought you were going to die, that would suggest she didn‘t know very
much about diabetes?
I don‘t think we did, actually.
Before I was diagnosed, I can‘t remember anybody else that we knew having
it, and I can‘t think that my parents knew many people with diabetes. So,
I think it was probably the fear of the unknown, and the protective mother
thinking of the worst case scenario.
Anyone else in the family have
Not before I was diagnosed.
Since then, my Dad has had diet controlled diabetes. I can‘t remember exactly
when that came on, but just recently he‘s gone onto tablets. And my late
uncle, he had a similar thing, starting off on diet, then tablets, and he
progressed to injections.
Was there any discussion when
you were diagnosed as to why you developed diabetes?
I think, at the time, they had
the theory that it would be either some kind of illness, either a virus or
a certain kind of cold, that would trigger it off, or possibly an emotional
event, but I actually... we couldn‘t think of any stressful thing that had
happened recently or any kind of cold or virus that I‘d had. So, it was all
a bit of a mystery.
Did you understand much about
Before I was diagnosed, I didn‘t
have a clue about diabetes or what it meant, or I think the fact that it had
a big medical sounding name probably made me think it was a little more serious
than it actually was. But whilst I was in hospital, the specialist nurse
was really good at explaining that it was to do with the pancreas and that
it produced this thing called insulin, which helped get the energy from my
food into my body cells, and for some reason I didn‘t have any insulin any
more, so I needed to have injections to make sure I could get all the energy
properly. I think that kind of knowledge grew as time went on, really, through
going to clinic. And I do remember vaguely some kind of booklets with… Rupert
Bear was the character that they used in the booklets, but by today‘s standards,
they probably weren‘t especially child-friendly. But at first, I didn‘t really
know why I was even in hospital. I remember the little girl in the bed next
to me said "oh, so why are you in here?", and I said "well,
I think I might have diabetes, but I‘m not really entirely sure".
When you came out and started
meeting friends of your own age, can you remember what their reactions were?
I remember I went round to my
best friend‘s house with my Mum, and her Mum was there, and we sat down and
we all talked about it. And we had a nice cup of tea and digestive biscuit,
which was the most exciting cake or biscuit I had at the time, and talking
about what it all meant. Because I spent a lot of time with Emily, I think
it was important that she knew what was going on as well. And I remember
I got a huge card from all the children in my class. It was - when I was
diagnosed - it was about three weeks, two or three weeks before I was due
to go away with the school for a week‘s residential. I think I was more upset
about missing the residential trip than I was about the diabetes. They said
at the hospital, if it had been a week earlier that I‘d been diagnosed, I
would have still been able to go on the trip, but it was just too soon from
coming out of hospital, so I missed out on that, which was a bit upsetting
for me, I think.
And what about reactions in the
Everyone in the family was just
amazing. I remember lots of flowers, lots of cards, people came to see me.
I think the first presents I had were the diabetic chocolates, which, oh,
looking back to them now, they were awful, but at the time it was better than
not having anything at all. Yeah, everyone was great, particularly my Grandma,
who managed to adapt all her cake recipes to include sugar free or fructose,
that we used at the time. Loads of fruit cakes and things, and she‘d scour
all the shops and things to find different things for me to try.
And how did your parents cope with you having diabetes?
I think, after the initial shock,
they dealt with it really practically. Mum and Dad got really involved with
the Oxford Diabetes Parents‘ Group. I remember we did summer fêtes, we went
to the firework displays, met other people with diabetes, although never got
really socially involved with them; just at the diabetes places. And I think
I realised how good the way my parents dealt with the situation was, because
there were lots of people that I came across that - they seemed to think that
diabetes was the most important thing in their life and everything was so
strict, and my parents were laid back. And I don‘t mean laid back in a sense
that they didn‘t care about the diabetes - I mean laid back, they didn‘t make
a huge big thing of it, they didn‘t draw attention to it. You know, if people
bought us chocolates for Christmas, my sister and I, Mum and Dad would take
them and obviously they‘d say, you know, thank the friends for the present,
and then after they went they‘d said "right, okay, you‘re not allowed
those, but it was really nice of them to think". So, you know, I think
their laid back attitude helped me to cope with it, and I didn‘t feel different,
and I didn‘t feel that my diabetes stopped me from doing anything. I mean,
the first summer holiday we had after I was diagnosed, we went to Ibiza.
That, just to me, looking back, goes to show that Mum and Dad weren‘t going
to let it stop us doing anything. And even to the point where, you know,
we went to the clinic, we got the letter so that we could take the syringes
through customs, and that probably is quite a scary thing if you‘ve never
taken anything through like that. But Mum and Dad just took it all in their
stride, and off we went to Ibiza, had a wonderful holiday,
didn‘t even get stopped in customs, didn‘t even need to show the letter.
So, yeah, I think it‘s really helped me as a person to come to terms with
Do you mean there wasn‘t any
sense of insecurity surrounding having diabetes?
Yes, I didn‘t feel different
from my sister. You know, Mum didn‘t used to go "oh, you must only have
this because you‘re diabetic, and Sarah must have this". We all had
the same food, and although Sarah wasn‘t... it wouldn‘t have been fair for
Sarah not to have sweets, it wasn‘t fair for her to eat them in front of me,
but we still... Mum and Dad dealt with it that they would make sure I had
some diabetic sweets to have, and Sarah had some sweets for her to have, so
both of us were getting sweets and neither of us was missing out.
And you say you all had the same
food. Do you mean that the whole family adopted a suitable diet?
Yes. Mum tried to do healthy
food for me, but then she would turn it into that would be our meal for the
whole family, so we‘d have a lot more... everyone had wholegrain bread, everybody
had bean soup if I had bean soup, we all changed from having sugar to sweetener,
that kind of thing. You know, Dad had sweeteners in his tea rather than sugars,
and it all... it just made me feel included, and not this strange little girl
who‘s completely different to everybody else.
And how did your sister react to you having diabetes?
Well, she did taunt me during
arguments when we were small and bickering, but that‘s what children do, isn‘t
it? I think, because of the way my parents handled it and they were so conscious
that they didn‘t want me to feel different, I think, if anything, sometimes
Sarah might have felt different, in that she wasn‘t special because she didn‘t
have diabetes. And everyone was making a big fuss to make sure Emma got diabetic
sweets, but what about Sarah? She‘d quite like some normal ones. But I don‘t
think it caused too many rifts between us, but there was definitely something
there, I would say.
And what was it like for you
I remember it feeling a bit like
an event when I went back into class. Everyone was so pleased to see me,
and I had this... I told them all about it, and then Mum came in and I had
a special box with digestive biscuits, glucose tablets, a spare blood testing
kit, and I think everyone was quite normal about it. But if I felt low in
class, we‘d get the box out and my teacher would sit with me, and I‘d do the
blood test but she‘d watch to make sure everything was going okay, and we‘d
time it all. And it just... it was good, the support that the school gave,
and I also think they didn‘t make a massive thing of it. You know, I could
cope with it in my own way in the classroom, without everyone in the whole
school having a big announcement "Emma Cherry is diabetic. She‘s special
- keep an eye out for her" kind of thing. So, I think their attitude
reflected the way my parents had dealt with the situation. I don‘t know if
that was because my Mum was one of the school governors and had a lot to do
with the school, or just because that‘s the way the school was.
Would you have done blood testing
in front of other children?
I don‘t think I ever really thought
about whether I was doing it in front of other children or not; I just used
to do it if I needed to. I didn‘t go off anywhere into a special little room
to test my blood. I would sit at my seat in my desk, and the teacher would
sit next to me. My friend would probably be interested to make sure that
I was all right, but I don‘t remember any children shying away or being ushered
away to check the bloods. So, I think my whole class must have dealt with
it on reasonably laid back way of doing things.
And did you have to do any injections while you were at school?
Because of the regime I was on
when I was first diagnosed, I only did one injection in the morning before
breakfast and one before supper in the evening, so I didn‘t actually need
to do any injections at school.
You can‘t remember what the insulin
was that you were taking, can you?
I can, actually. I was on Human
Protaphane, and it was only the long-acting type of insulin. It‘s a tiny,
weeny amount, compared to what I‘m on now. It was about four or six units,
I think, and now, being on ten units for breakfast, that‘s a really small
amount. And I stayed on just the long-acting for quite some time - I guess
it must have been quite a few months, and then I mixed long-acting with short-acting,
and still carried on having two injections a day.
At what time were those two injections?
The morning one would have been
And how did you manage your diet
through the school day?
The thing I remember most was
the snacks in between meals - not wanting them. So, break-time would come,
and half past ten I would have two digestive biscuits to eat and an apple,
or something like that. And I just didn‘t want them at all, but I knew that
I had to eat these blinking digestive biscuits. I can remember it now - I
can almost taste it in my mouth, munching through those biscuits thinking
"I‘ve got to eat them - just eat it, get it down you". And the
same again in the afternoons, when I had snacks at about half past three,
so that would have been after school. But that was probably the thing I had
the biggest issue with in the diabetes, not wanting snacks. I remember arguing
with Mum about it as well, and her going "I know you don‘t want it, but
you‘ve really got to, otherwise you‘ll be ill".
And how much exercise did you
have while you were at school?
I think we used to have PE about
once a week whilst I was at primary school, and about… we‘d go swimming once
a week as well. I was never overly keen on PE, although I loved swimming,
but I got even more keen on these sports after being diagnosed, because it
meant I could have a mini Milky Way before I went off to swim, which was obviously
an added bonus, because it was the only time it was really allowed in diabetes,
to eat the chocolate.
Tell me about moving to secondary school, and give the year, if you can?
I moved up to secondary school
in 1989, I believe. I don‘t remember the first year being too much of a problem
diabetes-wise; I just remember being excited about the different lessons and
meeting new people. But after I‘d been there about a year, so I guess in
the second year, about 1990-‘91, I went over to a different insulin regime,
where I went from having two injections a day to having four injections a
day, which meant one long-acting insulin injection before bed and then short-acting
insulin before every meal, which meant I had to do injections at school.
But the school were really great. I didn‘t feel comfortable doing the injections
in the classroom at that stage, and didn‘t really fancy the idea of sneaking
off to the toilets to do it, so arranged with the nurse at the school to use
the medical room every lunchtime. So, I used to nip in there, do my injection
before lunch, and then go round to the canteen. They were really good, actually,
because they arranged for me to have an early dinner pass to get into the
canteen first thing, which meant no delay between injections and eating.
But other than that, I don‘t remember the new regime creating much of a problem.
It actually pleased me, because it meant no snacks in between meals, which
was my biggest pet hate, and it meant I could do things a lot more easily
than I did with the two injection regime. Say dinner was going to be delayed
by an hour and a half, it wasn‘t such a big deal, because you‘d delay having
the injection, therefore there wouldn‘t be any knock on effect of high blood
sugars, and I just loved it. I didn‘t mind the fact it was twice as many
Did you have any problems with
high blood sugars?
From time to time. With the
two injection regime, it was so rigid that if you needed to deviate at all,
like you were late home from school therefore you were late for tea, or your
lunch wasn‘t at twelve o‘clock, it was at half past one, two o‘clock on the
weekends, it just knocked things out of sync - there was no flexibility to
it. But the pen regime was a lot more like your body would work with the
insulin, which meant I could have breakfast at
Did you ever end up in hospital
with high or low sugar?
Right, well, we just stopped the recording there so that you could go and
ask your mother the answer to that question, so tell me what she said.
Well, after a few minutes of
discussion with Mum, we‘ve kind of narrowed it down to me having been in hospital
around ‘90-‘91. I can‘t remember the exact circumstances leading up to it,
but Mum said I‘d been grumpy all week, a pain in the neck to live with, and
she‘d just sat me down to say "what are you doing? Get your act together"
and I apparently passed out. So, went off into hospital, I think in an ambulance.
And I think it was because it was still early days for us, Mum hadn‘t recognised
the signs early on, and the blood sugars had obviously been building up, and
it went so far because we were inexperienced in dealing with those problems.
And did you have any problems
with low blood sugars?
I have never really had much
of a problem with low blood sugars. I think that‘s because I‘ve been better
at eating naughty things when I shouldn‘t than actually being tighter on the
And when you changed to four
insulin injections a day, can you remember what the insulins were?
Yeah, the long-acting one was
actually the same as I‘d been on previously, and I think it was called Human
Protaphane. I remember it later changed its name to Human Insulatard, even
though it was the same insulin. And the short-acting one was Human Actrapid.
And how were you finding having
injections by this time, at secondary school?
I was finding that my tummy was
a very useful place, because if you go out for dinner in a restaurant, you
can easily lift up your t-shirt, do the injection at the table with nobody
noticing. But the injection sites were fine. I‘ve never really had a big
problem with lumpy sites or anything like that; however, blood tests were
a bit different. I‘ve got really bad veins for taking blood from, and interestingly
enough, the consultant who took blood from me when I was first taken into
hospital when I was first diagnosed, we had an understanding that he was not
allowed to try and take blood from me again, because I had such a tough time
the first time round. So, I‘d see him every three months, I think it was,
at the paediatric clinic, and we had this agreement that Dr Dunger would not
be allowed to try and take blood, and somebody else would have to do it.
Now, we‘ve covered your move to secondary school. Tell me about your teen
Teen years were very interesting
in all aspects: discovering new things, meeting new people, going to sixth
form, all that kind of thing. I do remember once I got to the age where you
go to the pub for a drink, that does have serious effects on the diabetes,
‘cause whilst alcohol‘s really sugary and you‘d think would put your blood
sugars up, it also makes your blood sugars go low because of the alcohol effect.
So, trying to get a balance between being high and being low was really difficult,
and when you‘re a teenager, you‘ve got enough things to worry about, other
than blood sugars and how much you can drink.
So, how did you adapt to that?
I adopted a policy where I‘d
have one drink then I‘d have a diet Coke, and then I‘d have another drink
and then I‘d have another diet Coke, which meant I could have as many drinks
as my friends had, but I‘d only have half as much alcohol. And it actually
worked really well, especially when I got up to university. But university
years for alcohol, I probably drank far more than anyone with diabetes, or
anyone without diabetes probably should, but I don‘t think it did me too much
damage, because it was only for a small period of time. But if you went on
like that, drinking every weekend, it wouldn‘t do your diabetes any good at
And what about all the other
teenage forms of behaviour: smoking, drugs, staying up all night. Did you
do anything that affected your diabetes?
I think whilst I was at university,
the going out to the student union probably at least three or four nights
of the week didn‘t really help with the blood sugars, and I probably ran a
lot higher, regularly, than I should have done. I did end up in hospital
a couple of times because of prolonged long blood sugars which led to ketones,
which meant I got really dehydrated and ended up needing to go on a drip and
get things back on track. But I think, because you‘re all over the place
anyway when you‘re a teenager and you‘re at uni, it‘s not surprising that
the diabetes care slips then.
What medical care were you receiving
during your teens?
I was still going to the clinic
at Oxford - same kind of care from
the diabetes team there; that never really changed. I think it was just me
that changed, being a teenager and being a lot more carefree than I had been.
Certainly when I started having to feed myself at university, and didn‘t have
wonderful Mum cooking me all the diabetes-friendly foods, I noticed that,
you know, white bread all the time, cornflakes all the time instead of Weetabix,
that kind of thing creeps in. And perhaps the subtle changes like that contribute
more towards the higher blood sugars, hence it was easier for me to get ill
with ketones than it had been before.
And while you were at university, were you always treated at the JR?
In the beginning, the idea was
that I would stay with the JR, because I was going to be coming back home
after I‘d finished uni, but I actually settled down in High Wycombe and thought
"right, I‘m going to be here permanently, I really ought to change the
diabetic clinic". I went to the one in High Wycombe,
but actually didn‘t like the doctors and team there as much as the Oxford team. I think it was probably because Oxford
was so familiar, and I‘d been there so many years that I actually changed
my mind and moved back to the Oxford
clinic. But since then, I‘ve moved back to the area anyway, so it worked
out in the long run.
Is it important, do you think,
to have familiar medical staff?
I think it is, actually. I mean,
I‘ve always had the same GP the whole time, and I think if you know the doctors
well, you can say "okay, it was my fault. I did actually have that huge
piece of chocolate cake. No I haven‘t been doing as many blood tests".
But if you go to a stranger that perhaps you‘ve only seen a couple of times,
or maybe never before, you are less inclined to tell the truth, and more to
want to say what you think they want you to say.
How much contact did you have
with the medical profession during your teens and your time at university?
I would probably say that I only
really saw them when I went to clinic appointments, which by that stage were
once every six months. I was quite sad when I left the paediatric clinic
at Oxford, because there you go every three months, and then every year
you have like a MOT, where they check absolutely everything. And it‘s like
you only ever really had three months to go wrong before you saw them. But
moving to uni, where all the changes were happening, you‘re less likely to
ask for help when you‘re in that age group anyway, and I felt "oh, I
wish I could be at Oxford paediatrics, because at least they could whip me
into shape once every three months" and I couldn‘t falter as easily.
What did ‘whipping you into shape‘
Usually Dr Dunger saying "you‘re
hopeless", writing it in my notes with a smile on his face, saying "you
must do more blood tests". And I remember once, we had this agreement
that I could come back in three months, rather than a month, if I agreed to
send him, through the post, blood tests for a full week, one for every single
day. And I remember writing it out on writing paper and addressing it and
putting it in the post to him. But he actually got me to do them, which was
amazing at that time, because I was really not keen on blood tests at all.
And during your teens and your
time at university, how did boyfriends react to you having diabetes?
I think they were as laid back
about it as I was. I remember the first boyfriend I ever had - I told Dr
Dunger at the paediatric clinic in Oxford that I had a boyfriend, and he said
"oh right, you can bring him with you next time. I believe in boyfriend
power, perhaps he can get you to do some more blood tests"! And they‘ve
really had... I think every boyfriend I‘ve had really has had quite a good
attitude towards my diabetes. I‘ve said "look, this is what happens.
If I pass out or look like I‘m going to pass out, give me sugar, or call a
doctor if you‘re really worried", and fingers crossed and touchwood,
I haven‘t had to actually have anybody out, up to now.
I like the idea of boyfriend
power. Did you actually take your boyfriend with you?
God, no! I thought "no,
I‘m going to have two of them pinning me down", so I didn‘t take him!
But he thought it was hilarious when I suggested it to him.
And after university, did your diabetes affect your choice of career?
No, it didn‘t, but I think that
was because I was never really interested in the kind of things that I couldn‘t
have done if I‘d have had diabetes. I guess that was kind of lucky for me,
‘cause if I‘d wanted to be a train driver or in the army or something, I‘d
have been thoroughly and utterly disappointed. It didn‘t really affect my
choice in jobs, and even now I don‘t find that it affects it too much - only
that if you have a cold and you‘re off for a couple of days, you‘re probably
off for a couple of days more than everyone else, ‘cause you‘ve got to get
your blood sugar sorted as well.
So, tell me then what jobs you‘ve
Okay, well, I spent a long time
studying at uni trying to get a textiles degree. I actually changed direction
completely. I‘ve done retail work in the past, working in shops. It‘s quite
a bonus, actually, being a diabetic, ‘cause it meant I had to have my lunch
at a reasonable hour, rather than getting it put off till about three o‘clock
in the afternoon, so that was a bonus. Currently, and previously, I‘ve been
in customer service, which I do now, and I‘ve just been promoted to a team
leader‘s job, so I‘m looking after my own team, which is great.
Back in the retail days, did
your bosses or colleagues mind that you had to have lunch at a certain time?
I don‘t think they minded in
principle, but I think when it meant that they all had to take an extra turn
of having a really late lunch or the really early one, which people hated
especially, they might have been secretly a little bit resentful. But I thought
"oh, lucky me being diabetic, I can get to have my lunch at a decent
Did the people you worked with
seem to know anything about diabetes?
People either say "I don‘t
know anything at all" or they‘ll say "oh yes, my sister‘s got diabetes"
- or my Mum or my cousin or somebody that they know from school. So, actually,
since I‘ve got older, I‘ve noticed that people seem to know more about diabetes.
When I was first diagnosed at sort of ten years old, people didn‘t really
know at all or really understand. They thought it meant you couldn‘t have
sugar at all, any time ever, whereas it‘s more complicated than that.
Do you find that they make any
assumptions about the fact that you‘ve perhaps eaten too much sweet food,
Interestingly enough, the situation
cropped up last week, where one of the ladies had brought in cream cakes for
her birthday, and she was offering them around. She said "Emma, have
a cream cake", and I went "no, no, really I mustn‘t", because
I‘m actually trying to lose weight, and the other lady that worked there said
"no, Emma‘s diabetic, you shouldn‘t keep trying to shove cakes and sweets
in her direction". And whilst I thought "oh, how nice of her to
think and act on my behalf", really, people should just... if you don‘t
want it, it could be for any reason, not just diabetes.
So, generally, has diabetes fitted in quite easily with your work?
Most jobs I‘ve had it has, however,
over the last sort of five months I‘ve been on a secondment to the training
team for customer service, the company I work for, which has meant that I‘ve
been up and down the country at various different places training up new customer
service reps. Staying in hotels - probably Monday to Friday, on my own, having
diabetes - has been slightly scary for me, because, whilst I‘m quite laid
back about it, if you‘re in a hotel on your own where nobody knows you, if,
god forbid, you passed out in the night through high blood sugars, there would
be nobody there to notice that you hadn‘t got up or hadn‘t come into work.
So, from that respect, I‘ve been trying to be a lot tighter with the control,
and in turn that‘s made me have more hypos, because I‘ve been being stricter.
So, yeah, I think that has affected that particular job, but moving into the
new position now, it will be a lot more routine based, so I should be fine.
Was that the first time in your
life that you‘d ever felt at all insecure at having diabetes?
Actually, yes, it probably was,
because whilst you can be independent at home, there‘s always somebody around,
just in case it goes wrong, that will notice if you don‘t get up in the morning.
But staying in a hotel, nobody knows that I‘m there to get up, so they wouldn‘t
notice. And I think... I had one really bad hypo whilst I was in... I‘d just
got out of a hot bath and I was talking to my Mum on the phone, and I just
drifted off. And Mum shouted down the phone "Emma, Emma", and I
sort of came back to. And she was worried and I was worried, because she
knew I was in Manchester, she was
down here just north of Oxford, and
if I didn‘t get up or I passed out, there would be no one there to know.
So, she frantically wrote down the hotel name and telephone number, what room
number I was in, and made me promise to ring her when I woke up in the morning,
otherwise she‘d ring me, and if there was no response she‘d ring the hotel.
So, we got round it the end, but yeah, I did feel a bit insecure.
Thinking of the future, perhaps
marriage or whatever, would… No... How shall I express this? What kind of
support would you be looking for?
I think when I finally settle
down, living with my current partner, I think I need to have someone that‘s
not going to be constantly on at me about it, but knows what to do if needs
be. I‘m lucky enough to have a partner who has medical issues of his own,
so he knows what it‘s like to need to be aware of things, but not make a massive
fuss about things.
That sounds quite a fine line to tread between knowing enough and not making
too much fuss. Can you give me some examples?
I‘m trying to think of a good
way to express that, actually. My father would say, if I was going out for
the day, "have you got your insulin, Emma?" as I‘m about to walk
out the door. And I think "of course I‘ve got my insulin", you
know, it‘s second nature, whereas Ian would probably not say "have you
got your insulin?", but go "ooh, are we going to be having lunch
out?", more like a leading question. So, if I know I‘m going to be having
lunch out, then I know I‘m going to have my insulin; that kind of thing.
In the same way that I would never say to him "have you got your asthma
inhaler?" as we‘re about to walk out the door, but if he went "oh,
I haven‘t got my inhaler," I‘d just turn the car round and go back and
collect it, without a huge panic.
Has your diabetes limited your
activities in any way?
For me, not really. If I‘d have
been a really, really sporty person, wanting to do mad skydiving and that
kind of thing, I think I might have been slightly disappointed. There‘s only
really one thing I can think of that I‘m really, really disappointed that
I can‘t do, and that‘s scuba diving, because I would love to do that, but
other than... I mean, that‘s just one small thing. If you think of other
problems other people have, lack of scuba diving‘s not really that bad.
And have there been any changes
in your treatment in recent years?
My treatment‘s really just plodded
along as it has been. The only major change is that I changed from Actrapid
insulin to Humalog insulin, which is a lispro fast-acting, even more fast-acting
than the last one, which means it‘s even better for me, ‘cause I can... it
just works so much faster.
And how do you see the future?
The only thing in the future
that I‘m a bit apprehensive about is obviously if I want to go ahead and have
children at some point, because you‘ve got to be really careful with your
diabetes, make sure everything‘s running spot on for quite some time, before
you can even consider trying for a baby. And obviously the whole way through
the pregnancy, it‘s not just my health that‘s going to be at risk if the diabetes
isn‘t right, it would be the unborn baby as well. That is probably the scariest
thing I can think of. But, if I handle things properly when the time comes,
it‘s just going to mean extra planning, which other people don‘t have to think
Have medical staff talked to
you about what it would be like to be pregnant and have a baby?
I think they‘re kind of nervous
to ask in case you‘re not at all interested or you go "my god, no, not
for at least another ten years". I‘ve asked sort of tentative questions,
you know, "how much time really do you need to have your blood sugars
absolutely perfect, before you can even contemplate trying for a family?".
And I think the information‘s all there for when I want it, but I don‘t want
to know too much about it now, because I‘m not planning a child right now
this minute. Yeah, I think medically it‘s all there for me. My friend does
keep telling me, if you have children, people with diabetes apparently have
massive babies and it‘s a real problem, but that‘s just an old wives‘ tale,
I think, because nobody in the medical profession‘s actually told me that
I guess I don‘t really don‘t
think about it being a part of my life at all. It‘s just that‘s the way it
is, like getting up in the morning, and doing my insulin before breakfast
is just like getting up and brushing my teeth when I‘m getting ready for work.
I don‘t really think about it. I don‘t think "oh, Emma Cherry - diabetic".
I just think it‘s another thing that I have to deal with. I guess I think
it would be strange if I didn‘t have it. I can‘t actually remember what it‘s
like to go and have dinner without having to do an injection first. And I
wonder, if they ever found a cure, how I would deal with a cure and not having
to worry about blood tests and injections, and all that kind of thing, that
are just second nature now.
Are there any positive aspects
to having diabetes?
Definitely: healthy eating.
I‘m very lazy person. I don‘t want to go to the gym, and probably if I didn‘t
have diabetes, I might have a lot more sweets and chocolates, and probably
be even fatter than I am now.
Would you have any message for
someone who was newly diagnosed with diabetes?
I think I‘ve probably got more
of a message for parents of young children that have just been diagnosed.
My parents were really laid back. Whilst they took absolutely everything
in and took it all really seriously, they never made me feel like I was different
in a bad way. And I think, knowing other people with small children who have
taken it all so seriously, and, you know, not being relaxed about it at all,
it‘s really an advantage to make it feel like it‘s just another thing, like
doing your injections is just like cleaning your teeth. It‘s one of those
things you have to do, that‘s irritating at times, but you just have to do
it, and if you do, you‘ll feel much better for it.
Well, doing injections may be
just like cleaning your teeth, but there are other less routine aspects to
diabetes. How did your parents cope with those?
Again, in their same laid back
manner, but with the seriousness when needed. I remember one night, and I
must have been about twelve, I‘d fallen out of bed. I was having a real low,
and I‘d actually wet myself, and my legs wouldn‘t work to get back into bed.
And I remember feeling horrified that I couldn‘t even get back into bed off
the floor, so all I was left with was the option to call for Mum and Dad.
And they both came along, they got me into the toilet, sorted me all out,
changed the sheets on the bed, and never even mentioned the next morning that
I‘d wet myself. I mean, how embarrassing for a twelve year old girl, they
wet their self, their Mum and Dad had to help them into the toilet. You know,
they did the necessary, but they didn‘t dwell on it the next day. They didn‘t
go round telling everybody in the family "oh God, Emma had an awful hypo
in the night. She wet herself…". They never made a big issue about
it, but they were there when I needed them, which is the most important thing.