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INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN, EPISODE 6 - WORLD DIABETES DAY

14 Nov 2018

INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN, EPISODE 6 - WORLD DIABETES DAY

14 Nov 2018

 

November 14th is World Diabetes Day; a day dedicated to raising awareness and promoting the importance of diabetes as a global health issue. 

This year in order to raise awareness and contribute to the cause, we have collaborated with the inspirational Rachel Portelli. Having been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in her childhood, Rachel is a pillar of strength in the face of the adversity her illness causes. Rachel has created a community of support and education through her website SUPPORTING1ANOTHER.COM; a forum of motivation and shared experiences for people suffering with Type 1 Diabetes.

As part of our collaboration with Rachel we have designed an elegant and functional engraving to be worn as a medical alert necklace. A stylish piece that can also be a life saver in emergency situations. We will also be giving away 20 FREE Type 1 Diabetes Medium disc engravable pendants. Furthermore we will be giving 15% OFF Type 1 Diabetes Medium disc engravable pendants. Coupon codes will be available by contacting Rachel through her social channels, linked at the end of this blog.

As an individual Rachel embodies the value we hold close to our heart. A determined and strong will propels her to fight for her cause; creating a family of supporters focused on bringing awareness to this chronic illness. In addition to our collaboration we sat down with Rachel, asking a series of questions about how this inspirational woman has dealt with her obstacles, overcome them and turned adversity into achievement. Keep reading below to learn more about Rachel’s journey.

Can you tell us about your journey with Type 1 Diabetes? Your diagnosis and how   you’ve persevered through it? 

I do not remember the day of my diagnosis. My parents had started noticing several things about me – I was sleeping more, drinking more and wetting the bed amongst other things. These are typical symptoms of type 1 diabetes but they did not link them with the condition at first. At the time, there was no awareness on diabetes as there is today, my parents did not even know that children can be diagnosed. It was only when my father over-heard two men on the street saying how much people with diabetes drink that it came into the radar. To make matters worse, the family doctor had sent us immediately to see a Diabetes specialist and the first thing that the specialist said was - “Look, once a diabetic, always a diabetic. Here is a prescription for the medication you need. You can pick them from the hospital’s pharmacy. After that, go home and tell your family doctor to contact me.” They were shocked by my diagnosis and also by the way it was presented to them.

Despite this, my parents were determined to give me the best normal life that they could. They did not want to let this diagnosis stop me and after the shock wore off, they did their best to raise awareness and help other families deal with such a diagnosis. I grew up in an environment where it was ok to check my blood sugar and take insulin as needed, however stepping outside of home was a different story. Comments such as “you are too young to have diabetes”, “You are not as fat as a diabetic should be”, “eat properly and exercise so that you can live a normal life” or “at least it isn’t worse” always made matters worse. As a young girl, diabetes was rarely my best friend. I saw diabetes as a burden and it was exhausting dealing with everyday teenage life and diabetes. I went through years of diabetes burnout where I felt tired of managing my chronic illness and just wanted to give up. Hate wasn’t a strong enough word to explain how I felt about all of it. 

However, as I grew older, I realised that I was only doing harm to myself and my family. I started university and for me that was a fresh start to becoming a new healthier me. Even though my diabetes may cause me some fear, I still have goals and dreams as a woman which I would like to achieve. My choices and actions should not be limited by type 1 diabetes. When my brother got diagnosed as well, I noticed how much better it was for him to understand when he had someone else who was going through the same thing. From there, I got involved with the Maltese Diabetes Association, started meeting others going through this and started raising awareness. From all this I had the amazing opportunity of doing a six month internship at the International Diabetes Federation in Brussels. I am now a Secretary within the Association’s committee, I have met hundreds of people both locally and internationally living with T1D and am involved in various projects including the International Diabetes Federation Young Leaders in Diabetes and the Queen’s Young Leader Programme. I also launched a new platform called “Supporting 1 Another” where I aim to raise awareness on type 1 diabetes as well as support those living with this chronic illness. 

What lessons has your journey with diabetes taught you? 

Not every day is the same, therefore I am still learning from diabetes. But over the 21 years that I have been living with T1D, it has taught me how to be responsible since I always need to be careful on what effects my blood sugar, whether it is the food I eat, the exercise I choose to practice or not and much more. However, sometimes my blood sugar has a mind of its own and even though I do my best to keep perfect control, life gets in the way. Whether it is catching a cold, stress, excitement or others, my bloods will always be effected. Therefore, this has taught me how to be patient and understanding. It took me years to understand that it is ok if I go a bit high or low, it is not always my fault. I am doing the best that I can to live as healthy as possible. 

It also taught me that I am never alone. I have amazing family and friends that always support me. I have also met other people within the diabetes community that continue to inspire and raise awareness worldwide. We are there for each other and understand when we feel for example excited about a number or when we feel frustrated when we cannot keep our numbers under control.  Such a community brings hope that even though we may go through difficult periods, we know that there is someone standing beside us cheering us on!

What qualities are important for you in coping with Type 1 Diabetes? 

I think that the most important are strength and determination. Living with diabetes is not a walk in the park, and every day we continue to go through different obstacles. It may be a hidden chronic illness, however on the contrary, a person living with T1D and his/her family have it under spotlight. Personally, I never thought I was a strong person. I always focused on the moment, especially the negative ones. After months or probably even years, I always ask myself, how did I get through all of it? The answer is most often ‘I don’t know’ but what I do know is that without strength and determination, I would probably still be locked up waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel instead of getting up and try to find it myself. 

What is most valuable to you? 

I guess it is quite cliché – my family, friends and people from the diabetes community. These are the people who not only stay by my side when I am succeeding. They are also there when I am angry, sad and frustrated about my chronic illness. My family and friends are always there to support me and they are the ones who helped me get through difficult times such as when I was diagnosed with diabetic Retinopathy (eye complications) less than a week before my university finals. They were with me through the appointments, laser treatment and surgery. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go through all that. 

The diabetes community on the other hand is more powerful than one could imagine. People from around the world are sharing their stories, giving support to those who are going through a difficult time and much more. I was a very private person, sometimes I still am. However, speaking up can help so many other people. With this I created the ‘Supporting 1 Another’ Platform which shares information from health professionals as well as share stories written by people who live with type 1 diabetes (whether they have it personally or know someone close to their heart who does). This platform can help show people that although T1D can be exhausting at times, we are never alone. It will also help societies understand what it really is and help them realise symptoms in cases of emergency that can help save lives! By not sugar coating it, people can be more aware of what having diabetes really entails. 

What was the reason behind getting your engraving from Mvintage? 

As one might see from ‘Supporting 1 Another’ I always loved stories and believed in the messages behind objects or things, whether it was a book, movie, song, jewellery or more. I always look for something meaningful and love simplicity. With Mvintage’s values of individuality, perseverance, and female empowerment, I always loved the designs. They were simple, yet stood out with their message. My first necklace was the hope pendant and the Lotus in bloom pendant which is symbolic of purity and rising above, promoting perseverance and strength. 

When the new collection of engravables was released, I immediately thought of medical alert jewellery. I previously had bought ones from abroad, however, I never really wore them. I was never really happy with these purchases. Some of them even lost the meaning of being a medical bracelet since there was more focus on the bands rather than the pendant which said ‘Diabetes’. I wanted something simple, stunning and gave the message at the same time. Such a piece may save lives, prevent minor emergencies from becoming major crisis, and it will protect the wearer against possible medical errors made at the time. After meeting with Mvintage and working on the design, this pendant became my everyday necklace. I make sure that I always put it on and loving it every time. It looks amazing and it may also save my life in possible emergencies. 

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed? 

When you look at me you do not see diabetes, before anything else you see a person and this is something we must always keep that in mind. Even though our diabetes may cause us some fear, everyone has goals and dreams which we would like to achieve. Our choices and actions should not be limited by type 1 diabetes. The advice I would give to another person who is diagnosed is that he/she should never give up. If you want to study, study. If you want to travel, travel. If you want to get married and raise your own family then do that. Although diabetes may have its effect on our daily life, we should never let it control us and lock us up in a dark dungeon. With all these new technologies and innovations, we are able to live a healthy life and achieve what we want. Do not ever give up!

You can follow Rachel and learn how to get your hands on a Type 1 Diabetes Engravable pendant by clicking the links below and getting in contact:

Rachel's Website

Rachel's Instagram / SUPPORTING1ANOTHER Instagram

Rachel's Facebook / SUPPORTING1ANOTHER Facebook 

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