Second year Pharmacy student Courtney Dickson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes almost 20 years ago – but refuses to let the disease prevent her from living a normal student life.
When Dickson was 12 she received an insulin pump, which is a small device that is attached to her 24/7 that performs the functions of a pancreas. It allows her to eat sugary foods that diabetics are usually prohibited from eating. All she has to do is count the amount of carbohydrates in her food, transmit it into the pump, which will then pump enough insulin into her body to counteract the effects on her blood sugar.
The dining halls at Rhodes don’t cater for diabetics. “I know in res, in some of the vegetables you can taste they’ve added sugar, so if I didn’t have a pump to neutralise it that would affect my insulin a lot more,” she said. But thanks to her insulin pump, Dickson is able to live a normal student life. She still drinks alcohol, although she swaps sugary drinks like Brutal Fruits for vodka, lime and water. She hasn’t let diabetes limit her physical activities either. “I’ve done running, tennis, horse-riding, yoga, and swimming. I’ve had to experience all of that to enjoy the varsity life.”
In her first term at Rhodes, Dickson woke up one morning and the entire left side of her body was numb. She was unable to reach her phone to call for help, and her door was locked so no one would be able to enter. She managed to roll herself off the bed and reach her phone to call her friend Jodi Van Vuuren, who immediately left her tutorial to help. Dickson then managed to knock over a tin of biscuits and after eating a few she was able to open her door. “That was probably one of the scariest things, knowing that my mom was 12 hours away, thinking no one could help me, not being able to get to the phone, and one half of your body isn’t working at all,” she said.
Despite her traumatic experience, Dickson doesn’t let the disease dictate her life. She believes that no one should let diabetes limit their experiences. “Everyone’s body is different – see and know how your body reacts and what it reacts to. Don’t limit yourself,” she says.
While Dickson is adamant that diabetes shouldn’t affect her life drastically, she is aware of the dangers and advises other diabetics to be cautious. “I’ve been fortunate enough that my parents have drilled this into me – it doesn’t define you. So if you want to do horse riding, go and do it. If it makes you low because you’ve exerted yourself and your blood sugar is low, treat it at the end of the lesson. Coming to Rhodes, if you want to drink – fine. Test it out and if it makes you really high then adjust what you’re drinking. Experiment but don’t overdo it so much that you end up in a hypershock.”
Living with diabetes hasn’t dampened her positive outlook on life. “The thing to remember is that, although diabetes is classified as an illness, not to let it define who you are or what you can or can’t do.”