As an eight-year-old in hospital, Shepparton's Debbie Ayres was playing what was made out as a game – injecting water into an orange with a large glass needle.
Little did she know she would soon be turning that needle on herself, the water replaced by insulin.
Now, 50 years later, during National Diabetes Week, which runs until Saturday, July 18, Debbie is being recognised with a Kellion Victory Medal by Diabetes Victoria for living with the condition all these years.
Diagnosed with type one diabetes was – and still is – a life sentence and while she is happy to be here to receive the honour it has rarely been easy for her.
National Diabetes Week is designed to raise awareness about the serious, complex and lifelong health condition which requires careful management and constant attention.
If diabetes isn’t managed carefully, it can strike back with serious complications including kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, vision loss, amputations – and death.
In Victoria, there are currently more than 346,000 people registered with the National Diabetes Services Scheme but Diabetes Victoria estimates another 125,000 Victorians are living undiagnosed.
Although Debbie said the incurable disease had never stopped her doing what she wanted, living with the disease hadn’t been a walk in the park.
“I guess I was stubborn in the fact that if I wanted to do something, I’d find a way to do it,” Debbie said.
“But it can be mentally tough – you go through times where you just don’t want to do this anymore,” she said.
This year’s National Diabetes Week has focused on supporting the emotional and mental health of people with diabetes and drawing attention to gaps in diabetes service and care.
Debbie said the two most important things to have when living with the disease were a great support system and regular health checks.
“My theory has always been there’s someone always worse off than me – and this is treatable,” Debbie said.
“And you really need people around you who can help you with your diabetes.
“The guys at the hospital here (GV Health) are absolutely fantastic, the educators are the same and they have dealt with me for years now – and because of its link with food a dietitian is also good to have around you.
“You need to get your blood tests done; you need to see your endocrinologist. Some people just see their GP and think that’s enough, but often it’s not.
“Whoever you are you need a good team around you,” she said.
Debbie said she took things one day at a time and urged people to build a team around them and talk to them if they felt down.
“I don’t really consider myself any different to anyone else,” Debbie said.
“And I know it could be worse.”
From being forced to have those glass needles eight times a day, diabetes technology and treatment have significantly improved in the past five decades for Debbie.
She has to prick her finger only once or twice a day as a digital pump and glucose monitor work together to automatically inject insulin into her system.
“The pump is like a little computer. You just test your sugar level, put it into the pump, it works out how much insulin you need, and it goes into your system,” Debbie explained.
Although she is receiving her award, Debbie has also nominated her parents for a Kellion Carer Victory Medal for their selfless role in assisting her to live a full and satisfying life.
In their case it recognises a virtual lifetime of love, dedication and support.
“I was really lucky because my parents didn’t treat me any different to my siblings” Debbie said.
“And I am always glad they did that because it probably made me stronger.
“It has never stopped me from doing anything – I played netball as a kid, I did all the things you do at school, I’ve had two kids, got married, ran a business and worked most of my life, so it hasn’t stopped me doing anything,” she said.
More local news