Ever wonder what it’s like living with this exasperating illness in the far reaches of the world? So do we! That’s why we created our Global Diabetes Series — a sort of “virtual tour of the world” via testimonials from people with grappling diabetes all over the globe.
Today, we bring you a story from the (former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia, or in their own language: Република Македонија. Where the heck is that? On the central Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe, with Serbia to the north and Greece to the south (we knew that of course — NOT).
Student Renata Jakimovik is a young native of the place, eager to share her experiences there with type 1 diabetes:
A Guest Post by Renata Jakimovik
My name is Renata, I am 20 years old and I live in Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia, which is a small country in South-East Europe full of wonderful tradition and amazing places that you can visit.
On the 27th of August 2003, when I was 9 years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Everything started about few weeks earlier. I started to drink a lot of water, to urinate a lot, to have headaches, and to get thinner, even though I was already a thin child. At first my mother thought that I drank so much water and urinated so frequently because it was summer. But when they took me to the hospital the diagnosis was different – type 1 diabetes.
Because I was in the hospital, where I was taught about my nutrition, how to take insulin therapy and monitor my glycaemia, I missed the first week of the new school year. When I returned to my everyday activities and to school, I will be honest, things were a little bit different. Taking the insulin therapy, monitoring my glycaemia and the diet, did not bother me at all. Although I’m the first one in my family with diabetes, my parents, my older sister and my younger brother supported me a lot, they followed the same diet as me and learned about diabetes alongside me.
But things were a little bit harder in school. The teacher and the children knew about my diabetes and not long after came the teasing and the offensive comments by my classmates. It was hard at first, but my mother kept telling me that I should not give in to such comments. I started to take folk dance lessons, to learn about traditional Macedonian dances and songs, and after a year, my parents let me go on a tour in Turkey with my sister, which lasted for ten days. My parents trusted that I can take care of my diabetes on my own and everyone that was with us on the tour organizers knew about my diabetes and were of huge support to me. As the years passed by, I started to realize more and more that I lived in a cruel world where children with diabetes were insulted by others, so they had to hide and were afraid to speak about it. Our society was in need of better education about diabetes and still is!
In 2009 I had the honor to meet Dr. Goran Petrovski, my current endocrinologist who helped me a lot. Together with him I went to the first camp for children with diabetes in Ohrid, where I met 20 other children from different countries. The motivation to create an organization for people with diabetes came from our exchange of experiences and the education that we received. The organization was meant for all people with diabetes, especially for the young persons, age 15 to 30, because that was a group that did not exist anywhere.
At one of the camps in 2011, our guest was Team Type 1 founder Phil Southerland, who told us his story and told us how he monitored his diabetes. He encouraged us and gave us one more reason to take care of our diabetes. I also met (Phil’s now wife) Biljana Southerland, who was a Doctor Advisor at the Cabinet of the Minister of Health and Creator and Leader of of the National Diabetes Program. She included in the program the possibility for us to try different insulin therapies, to get 125 test strips a month, and most of all to be able to get an insulin pump. In our country, most type 1s use a CGM but also we have a lots of young people with diabetes type 1 who wear insulin pumps.
We have a mix of public and private health insurers in our country, and there was a recent health reform in which the public primary health care (PHC) organizations were privatized. Since then, we still have good benefits for diabetes care and supplies: the Ministry of Health keeps supporting this program and is trying to make it possible for us to have all needed tools to regulate our diabetes. For us is easy to get to our supplies that we need and I feel that we have good, easily accessible care in Macedonia, which is governed by the Nacional Diabetes Program.
On the 31th of October 2012, after all the preparations, gathered experiences and research, a group of experts and advocates finally founded an organization for people with diabetes, which we called “Alegria.” Our goals are better education not only for the people with diabetes, but for the whole Macedonian society. We want to raise awareness about the need for physical activity and a healthy diet, to share our experiences about how we live with diabetes in Macedonia, how young people take care of their diabetes daily and what are the consequences if it is not managed well. But our primier goal is to show everyone that people with diabetes are not at all different from those who do not have it and that diabetes is not stopping us from fulfilling our dreams!
We started to fulfill these goals by celebrating World Diabetes Day, competing in the Skopje Marathon, participating in different camps and accomplishing a great campaign for raising awareness about diabetes.
Today I am a law student and a president of “Alegria.” I’m on insulin pump almost 5 years now, and once a month I see my endocrinologist, who is also my diabetes educator — and sometimes I see him more often in a month when need. I think that I can say for myself that I am a girl who is proof that if desired, the diabetes can be managed and it does not pose an obstacle for fulfilling your dreams.
I want to encourage young people who have diabetes not to give in to the obstacles in their way. Be positive, creative and enthusiastic. Surround yourself with positive people, be persistent and dream big. And do not lose hope, because you never know what the next day will bring.
Thank you Renata, for showing us what a small world it is really, when it comes to the Big D.