Turning an illness into 'a gift from God'


A GOOD LIFE: Author John Keeler enjoys his life as a diabetic but believes public perceptions of diabetes lag behind other medical conditions.

John Keeler describes having diabetes as "his gift from God", although he admits, laughing, many people wouldn't share his view.

"If I hadn't had diabetes, I may not have met the people I met, or done the things I've done.

"Having lived with diabetes virtually all my life I can see the good, although I went through a lot of bad."

Almost 30 years ago he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at four years of age.

Speaking to The Irish Times from Canada where he now lives, Keeler says experiences, such as going on weekends away or completing the Four Peaks challenge with young people with diabetes, has brought the best out in him.

As a teenager Keeler felt isolated by the lack of services and frustrated with preconceptions of what diabetics were capable of. He found medical advice often did not make allowances for "real" life.

This led to him writing Living Life with Diabetes, an autobiographical account of a young person living with diabetes.

"I wrote the book for people afraid to talk about it. To let them know they are not the only ones going through it."

An active teenager who swam and played football, a turning point for Keeler was the Four Peaks Challenge. On a rainy weekend in August 1997 Keeler and eight other people with diabetes climbed the highest mountain in each province, beating their target of 36 hours by seven minutes. "Three of us were super-fit but the rest were fit. The point is, achieve what you want, no matter what your level."

Physical fitness is a theme in his book and Keeler says his diabetes is much easier to control when he is active. "It is easier for me to be fit, be healthy, to eat as much as I want and know how to manipulate my insulin around it rather than visa versa."

His confidence was boosted by the Four Peaks and Keeler went on to facilitate weekends away for young diabetics. He now hopes to study in Canada before working in this area full time.

Keeler is annoyed at the lack of public awareness of diabetes. "I hate being called a 'junkie' just because I inject insulin or check my blood sugar level in public.

"I don't drink. I don't smoke, I've never done any drugs. Yet when people see diabetics checking their blood there is a lack of awareness. As a result, people with diabetes tend not to take insulin or test their blood in public".

Keeler believes public perceptions of diabetes lag behind other medical conditions like asthma. "If someone is using an inhaler, people tend to know it is for asthma.

"What we need is an honest public awareness campaign. \ people could be told something and then meet a person with diabetes, like me, eating ice cream and say 'you're not supposed to be doing that'. We have to live. If I want ice-cream I have to take more insulin, that's diabetes."

Living Life with Diabetes by John Keeler is available in Easons, Waterstones's and Hodges Figgs's. Price € 9.30. Published by Wiley.