Welcome back to our Diabetes Partner Follies series, in which the partners of people with diabetes (“Type 3′s” or “Type Awesomes” as some call them) share experiences of living with diabetes from their point of view.
Today, the lovely wife of type 1 entrepreneur John Sjölund recounts their story of “boy meets girl,” with a few interesting international twists!
A Guest Post by Susan Sjölund
Once upon a time…
Eight years ago I was living a full life in Cape Town, South Africa, and terms like ‘Diabetes’, ‘Type 1’, ‘Hypos’ or ‘Bolus’ were not at all part of my vocabulary. In fact, my vocabulary consisted of things like ‘wine tasting in the Stellenbosch region’, ‘hiking up table mountain’ and a number of PR-related terms like ‘press release’, ‘networking’ or ‘let’s have a drink’!
Then I went on a group hike where 16 of us walked for two days in the most incredible nature around the Cape of Good Hope and I met a boy. On Day One I noticed his sculpted cheekbones, but wrote him off when I realised that he was two years younger than me. On Day Two we had lunch together and discovered that his favorite movie (Old School) and mine (Kill Bill) had a certain sense of corniness in common. By the time we weary hikers arrived back at the car park we had exchanged numbers and discussed seeing our favorite movies as soon as he got back from a trip to Europe the following week.
Fast forward a month and I had all but given up hope of hearing from this boy again… His trip was meant to be for two weeks and I had already filed him into the ‘typical boy’ category. Then a few days later, I noticed a missed call on my cell phone from ‘John Sjölund’ and my heart skipped a beat.
Falling for a D-Boy
A week later he showed up at my apartment clutching a bag of pretzels and a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke. “A boy after my own heart!” I thought (because in male-dominated South Africa men don’t drink diet). We settled on the sofa and watched the first movie. Afterwards we strolled down the road to have a pizza and glass of wine at the local Italian eatery. Very casually he took out an insulin pen, dialed up a dose and administered it at the table. “I hope you don’t mind me shooting up, but I have diabetes,” he said. My ears started buzzing and I thought terrible thoughts like ‘What about our children?’, ‘I don’t want to grow old alone’ and ‘This clearly can’t work.’ But then he started explaining how the insulin would help balance out his blood glucose levels while eating and how he often tested his blood sugar levels during the day to correct — by eating sugar when they were too low, or topping up his insulin when they were spiking. His attitude towards diabetes was so calming, and he was clearly so well in control of his condition, that it immediately set me at ease. This would be okay. (And thank goodness he couldn’t read my mind — children? growing old? On the first date… oh boy!)
The First Hypo
Fast forward a couple of weeks more and we were in the full swing of a new romance! (Oh, how nice it is to be newly in love!) Our newly combined vocabulary included terms like ‘wine tasting in the Stellenbosch region’, ‘blood glucose monitoring’ and… ultimately… that killer little phrase, ‘I love you.’ We were driving along the coast, enjoying the summer sun on our arms and the wind in our hair when I noticed that he had gone quiet and quite pale. He pulled over and asked me calmly to open the glove compartment and hand him some glucose tablets stored in there. It was the first time I was faced with a hypo. Shortly thereafter fat drops of sweat were running down his face, drenching his T-shirt, and I had never felt more helpless in my life. He rested back in the seat, chewing his way through a pack of glucose tablets. I was close to tears. Then, magically, ten minutes later the color started returning to his cheeks and his energy seemed to return. I got into the driver’s seat and we were back on the road, laughing and carefree again. It was my first hypo experience.
The Big Apple
Four months into our relationship, John received an offer from his company to relocate to New York and join their office there. Now, I grew up in Namibia, the country north of South Africa, and had spent the past eight years living in Cape Town. New York was a place far, far away and it had never been part of my plan to live there. But my boy was convinced that it was the right career move for him and, without hesitation, I jumped into it. I was relocating with my man. Two months later, six months after our first date, our plane touched down in the snowy, foreign and exciting Big Apple and life took a fanciful turn for this girl from Africa.
We moved into our first apartment together and I quickly learnt that I had to give up a whole shelf in the fridge for insulin pens and other diabetes paraphernalia. We also had to lay down some rules about the good chocolates not being for hypo treatment (my rule) and to let John take care of his own hypo (his rule). Our lives together fell into perfect harmony and I honestly think back on this time without a single memory of diabetes preventing us from doing anything we wanted. It was during this time that I came up with what we soon coined, ‘The Sniff Test’ — it involved me smelling John’s belly up and down, hunting for an insulin pen needle injection site (the insulin leaves a very discernible smell on the skin) whenever he couldn’t remember whether or not he had taken his habitual insulin injection. It didn’t happen all that often, but when he was having a particularly stressed day, or we were chatting up a storm while cooking dinner, he could sometimes sit down at the table and look at me with question marks in his eyes. ‘Did I, or didn’t I, just take my insulin shot?’
Side note: Unfortunately for me this also happened occasionally with his long-acting insulin, which he takes before bed… in his butt. A girl will do a lot for love, but we all have our limits! After three years in New York, a City Hall wedding and many trips exploring the U.S. John’s company had another offer of relocation for him. This time to London, a city we both had loved on previous visits and one that would put us in the same timezone as both our families!
London — Birthplace of Timesulin
By the time we arrived in London in 2010 the thought of John leaving his current company to start his own had been floating around for a while. The ‘Sniff Test’ had been around for a good couple of years by this time too and though it was mostly reliable, it was not very socially acceptable. What would you think if you saw someone sniffing her husband’s belly in a restaurant? Ha ha!
So after much deliberation, John gave notice at his company and started working on Timesulin — a simple replacement cap for insulin pens that has a built-in device to show the time that has passed since the last injection. It was a tough decision that we had to make together — he gave up a salary, a secure position within a company he had been with in three countries over five years and, with the costs of living in London being as high as they are, we were taking an enormous risk. Additionally, I had launched my own communications consultancy shortly after arriving in London, working with interior designers from the U.S. and UK to help them introduce social media into the way they communicated, so there was very little job security between the two of us. If either ventures were to fail, it could have had disastrous effects. But we were both convinced that Timesulin was needed, and that it was going to work out, so we plunged.
While helping John browse pitches for PR agencies to help launch Timesulin via the media, it soon became clear that I would have to take Timesulin on as a client. After all, as part of the concept creation team and someone who became more and more passionate about helping people with diabetes lead full lives, there was no one better for the job!
And so we broke the cardinal rule of not mixing business with pleasure and, together, launched Timesulin to the media. In the first month we secured press coverage in the Financial Times, here on DiabetesMine, at the Huffington Post and a host of other leading news outlets. Seems the D-world was ready for the simplicity that Timesulin offers. We also attended a number of diabetes conferences together and I met some of the outstanding people in the DOC (diabetes online community). I soon started referring to myself as someone living with Type PLUS 1 diabetes, and during this process John’s diabetes became completely demystified for me — something I am so grateful for. I don’t fear it at all and I know how to help him — and also when to let him simply help himself. That said, I am very lucky in that John has always been a big blood glucose tester and he takes extremely good care of his diabetes. It would be very hard for me to see him neglect this part of his life as I know that anyone with good control over their blood sugar levels can lead a long, healthy life with diabetes.
After two years in London we decided to relocate to Stockholm, Sweden, where John’s family lives. Another move. Another tumultuous adventure, but this time one that would be a little more permanent. We purchased an apartment and, within the first year, I became pregnant with twin boys (due any day now, actually!). After eight years together, I can honestly not say that loving someone with diabetes is any different to loving someone who has a fully functional pancreas.
Our relationship continues to deepen and grow, and I so look forward to adding two babies to the mix. (Timesulin has been our baby for the past three years and it’s been so rewarding to see it grow into a toddler, just now starting to run around independently!)
Part of this is an exciting launch into the U.S., recently announced via the popular Indiegogo crowdfunding platform. The U.S. market has been a tough nut to crack for the Timesulin team due to many factors including the cost and intensity of approvals required for medical devices in America, the cost of marketing, and the sheer size of the country, which makes logistics hard… but we hope this campaign will allow people to help us bring this handy tool to their shores.
Because no one should be forced to perform ‘The Sniff Test’ on someone regularly, even if they love that person with all their heart!
I say, ‘Timesulin to the rescue!’
Thank you, Susan. We can see that you certainly stand by your man — and his clever D-product! Best of luck to both (all) of you!