A story about challenges, love and hope

Nathan and wife

This story is something else. Read Nathan’s personal heartfelt story of how he was suddenly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 32, and not long after, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nathan shares their ups and downs, their struggles and what has helped them in terms of diet and lifestyle. A truly moving story, and we send Nathan and his wife all our love.

I wanted to share my story after seeing the request on your website.

I was living in Sydney, Australia, with my wife. We were very career focussed and both had good jobs. We had plans for 2017; get a puppy, buy our first home and try for a baby. I am also quite a fit person and enjoy exercise and weights sessions in the gym four or five times a week.

Around late August 2016, I began to urinate frequently – around once every 30 mins to an hour. I also developed a skin condition called Rosacea. I booked an appointment with my GP and they performed a fasting blood-glucose test. I was asked to attend the diabetes clinic at the local hospital asap, and I visited immediately. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on September 16th, 2016 at age 32, and was thrust straight into daily insulin injections and management of my blood-sugar levels.

Two months later, I went back to the UK to visit my family and caught a virus. I became quite ill and my ketone levels rose sharply. I was forced to see the doctor at Dubai airport where he performed an ECG on me in the middle of the lounge. I then nearly missed my flight back to Sydney after multiple tests. My saving grace was reading a blog by an American mother who gave her son with type 1 diabetes multiple liters of water to flush out his ketones. I followed this advice and was later told that if I had not, it would have been likely that I would have been stretchered off the plane.

A few weeks after returning back to Sydney, I attended an optician appointment and was informed I had to undergo emergency laser eye surgery to prevent a detached retina. They asked that I attend a follow-up appointment in one week to make sure the surgery was successful.

Three days later, my wife found a lump in her breast and five days later (the day of my eye appointment), she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We obviously had to still go to the optician and they could not perform the checks as I was in floods of tears. We were eventually told the surgery was successful and I didn’t have to return for six weeks. I remember we both stood up, high five’d and said let’s park diabetes and move on to the cancer now.

We had ticked one thing off our list for 2017, though. We had bought a puppy four days before my wife was diagnosed. This turned out to be a saving grace for us as the year was the very definition of traumatic.

2017 consisted of a very steep learning curve managing my diabetes. Testing my blood sugars on average 30 times a day and trying to figure out what foods impacted my blood sugars the most and least. My wife also had three surgeries, IVF, six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of daily radiotherapy.

I started to realise that the information being provided to me by my Drs and dietician was regularly flawed, as it caused my blood sugars to be more erratic. I was advised that I could still live a normal life and eat what I wanted. They told me to be healthy by following the general diet guidlines offered to non-diabetics.

After months of research, I began to create a website aimed at helping newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics. This consisted of getting to know the basics of management, as well as diet, exercise, mental health and relationships.

It became very transparent that carbohydrates had to be minimised dramatically, and I could only afford to have some in specific forms, i.e. leafy green veggies, berries etc. When I spoke to my medical team about this, I was met with judgment and fear mongering of the dire consequences of removing carbs from my diet. There is also a huge divide in the diabetes community as many diabetics blindly follow the ill-informed advice of their doctors and dietitians.

I now follow a very low-carbohydrate diet in which most of the 30 or so grams per day of carbs I consume are from vegetables. This has made a hugely beneficial impact on my blood sugars and has also meant I have enjoyed (so far) two and a half years of a honeymoon phase. This is categorised as only needing small amounts of injected synthetic insulin per day, as we believe the pancreas is still producing small amounts of insulin. By putting less stress on my pancreas by eating few carbs and exercising regularly, I am theoretically extending my time in the honeymoon phase.

I have also found many healthy alternatives to ‘treat’ foods like no-sugar chocolate, ice cream, bread etc. that assist me in having a varied diet without the stress of high and low blood sugars. The theory is that the fewer carbs I eat, the less insulin I need to cover for the food, and the less insulin I inject, results in smaller chances of my blood sugars going too high or low. Overall, this dramatically decreases my chances of developing diabetic complications as I age.

I initially lost weight going low carb as my body got better at utilising fat for energy. Then my weight stabilised and I have not changed more than a few hundred grams in over two years. I also found my energy levels were high and consistent, unlike when I used to have a high carb meal and then crash afterward. I now run regularly and did a 10-km charity run to support the JDRF.

I also used to get twitches in my eye when I was overly tired, but since going low carb this has vanished. I’ve no idea how this has occurred but the only change since was my diet.

Despite the stress and pure exhaustion that managing diabetes brings, I have found purpose and clarity in my life since being diagnosed. It gave me a realignment that acted as a catalyst to change that I needed.

I now exercise daily and eat a wholesome low carb diet. These two factors more than anything have helped me achieve great results with my diabetes. My HbA1c is 5.3% (average blood sugar over three months), and I inject six units of long lasting insulin in the morning and no more than 1 unit of fast acting per meal.

Cancer has also had a huge impact on our lives, but my wife took hold of her disease and has helped countless people through speeches and working closely with various charities. Unfortunately, cancer affected our ability to have children and the ongoing drugs needed to prevent reoccurrence is affecting my wife’s quality of life. However, she also follows a low-carb diet and her health otherwise is great.

We moved to the Gold Coast from Sydney in search of a slower pace of life. It was a great choice and we’ve not been happier.

Starch structureWe’re both doing well and spend our days walking the dog on the beach. We attribute so much to our dog having a therapeutic effect during the hardest times of our lives and he is an integral part of our small family.

Thank you for reading my story.

Nathan Spencer
Age 35
Lives in Gold Coast, Australia.
Married 6 years to an Irish / Australian.

Nathan and wife GC

Comment

Thank you for sharing your story Nathan, and I hope you’ll both be successful at recovering your health and quality of life.

Many, many people use a low-carb diet to better control their type 1 diabetes and it’s often very helpful for blood sugar control, as you’ve experienced. Here’s our full guide on it:

Type 1 diabetes – how to control your blood sugar with fewer carbs

Best,
/ Andreas Eenfeldt, MD

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