We continue to travel the world to bring you accounts of living with diabetes in far-off places! In this installment of our Global Diabetes Series, we hear from a young man in Cyprus, which is a country (yes, it is!) that's actually the third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean, and a member state of the European Union.
Over 10% of the adult population there is living with diabetes. It inspired this guy to turn his life around...
A Guest Post by Antonis Soteriou
Hello everyone. My name is Antonis Soteriou. I'm 26 years old and I live in Limassol, Cyprus. I studied Computer Science in Frederick University Cyprus. I live with my mother Joanna (55) and my brother Kleovoulos (24) in our flat in Limassol. I lost my father Sotiris one year ago from Alzheimer's. He was the only one in our family with diabetes (type 2) which he got after I was diagnosed 20 years ago.
Currently I volunteer as a member of the board of Limassol Volunteer Coordinating Council, board secretary for Limassol town of the Cyprus Diabetes Association (CDA) and as a scout Leader in a local scout group.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on March 29, 1994, three months before my birthday. Diabetes in Cyprus those years was not so familiar like now. My parents and especially my mother were shocked at first. I believe even now she's still a bit scared, but nothing like in those days. At the start I was taking insulin with syringes and after six months, I started using an insulin pen. In the early days, lots of friends told my parents about different "treatments" for diabetes. Even now, I remember and laugh at the donkey milk they wanted me to drink!
In the 20 years since my diagnosis, diabetes has become my "bodymate." My life until my 20's was the same as other kids -- no special food and no special treatment from my teachers or scout leaders. I think my life in Boy Scouts was something that has given me the power to place diabetes in my life, and not my life into diabetes. To date, thank God, I can say that I haven't faced any discrimination in my life. My friends and my siblings are very supportive, and I've educated them for every possible diabetes situation. I'm certainly not the guy who won't speak up or has a "taboo" about diabetes!
Cypriots through the years have gained a better knowledge about diabetes thanks to the Cyprus Diabetes Association. CDA was one of the main catalysts to change the healthcare system for diabetes. Our system now is not perfect, but is better than many other countries. Everyone in Cyprus has a hospital card (color based on the yearly salary) and this card is used for medical supplies or visits to doctors. As diabetics we must go to the hospital every two months to get supplies. The supplies we get are usually enough but sometimes the strips for the blood glucose meter run out for some people at the 1.5 month point.
Every diabetes patient can visit a government doctor or a private diabetologist. But everyone must go to the hospital for insulins. Your treatment is based on the medicines that government hospitals provide, or if you want to pay additional money, you can have more choices at a pharmacy. The government hospitals don't have every type of insulin, so if you want something else you get only a 30% discount for every vial.
The same thing is true with glucose meters; all the Cypriots have the same meter because we get supplies free. The only cost for our supplies is €3 euros for the doctor and €0.5 for every different supply you want. Its costs us around €5-6 euros ($6.4 to $7.9 dollars) every two months. The same situation is with insulin pumps as well. Government has only one type of pump for free (Medtronic). In Cyprus we have around 100-150 people using insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems. I'm planning to go on a pump in the next year.
The biggest challenge for a majority of people with diabetes in Cyprus is to accept their diabetes and control their blood glucose. A lot of people do not accept their own diagnosis, most of the time because of reaction of their families, and they keep it a secret. I think this is the worst thing that you can do to yourself.
For me, life was not the same until the time that I was elected to the board of Cyprus Diabetes Association in my town. I actually started my advocacy work at 15, helping CDA with conferences and world diabetes events. I was very active in the organization because my mum was on the board. But then at age 23, I was elected myself to the organization's Limassol board. Now, it was going to be me helping to lead! I felt that I needed to do something big to address my own health. So I decide to make changes in my life. I said to myself, "If you want to be emulated you must change."
So almost two years ago I changed my life by losing 50kg (a whopping 110 pounds!) and bringing my A1C as low as ever. The kid who weighed 120kg (265 Lbs) now is the man who can be an example to others.
Those two years were a little bit tough, but it was for a good reason. I was managing my diabetes with the help of my dietician and my gym instructor. I changed my insulin routine and stopped eating junk food and other unhealthy foods. I was working out 5 days per week and drinking a lot of water.
I now focus my work with diabetes on the future of kids. I take part in every activity my Association does, especially the summer camps. I also have the opportunity to meet people and improve my knowledge of diabetes through my involvement with the International Diabetes Federation's Young Leaders Programme and the Youth Camp of IDF Europe. It's so awesome to meet so many people working on diabetes. I hope that my future plans and projects will be impactful.
My scout-inspired motto in life is: "Be prepared for every hypo or hyper situation."
Thanks Antonis -- you definitely are an inspiration to us!