How I learnt about diabetes – a guest blog by Ben Ponting

We have a guest post today from someone who doesn’t have diabetes. A bit of a break from the norm, but Ben contacted us and wanted to share his experiences of diabetes, how he has come to understand the seriousness of the condition, and why it’s so important to raise funds and awareness for us as a charity. By his own admission, there’s still a lot Ben doesn’t know about diabetes, but he has learnt something over recent months – that diabetes is serious and we all need to raise awareness of the condition as a whole. We’re really grateful he’s written this open, honest account of his experiences for us.

“Diabetes? Isn’t that where you can’t eat chocolate and have to inject yourself every once in a while? I remember being fascinated on a school trip when I was younger as the girl with diabetes in my class subjected herself to her injections so casually as a crowd of us gathered around to watch in horror. My only thought back then was about how I’d hate to be diabetic, simply due to my hatred of needles. Other than that it didn’t seem to be serious to me, or to the poor girl who had clearly come to terms with it, and certainly not to our teachers who took great pleasure in eating the ‘medical supplies’ in the form of emergency chocolate bars at the end of day once my friend had gone home.

These had been my views on diabetes throughout my life, not helped by TV shows such as Scrubs showing the condition in such a comedic manner for the most part. This all changed on December the 17th 2010. This was the date of my old workplace’s Christmas Party. An ex-colleague of mine, with Type 1 diabetes, attended the party, enjoyed his time with his friends and then went home to sleep. He never woke up the next day.

Before this tragedy I have to admit, as you’ll see from the above, I was blissfully naïve as to how serious diabetes is, much like the rest of the country, I fear. My first thoughts upon hearing the devastating news was one of confusion. How could diabetes have caused his death!? Had he eaten too much chocolate? Had he injected himself too much? I’m still not 100% sure of what exactly happened, but my ignorance on the subject really upset me as I mourned the death of someone who was one the most likeable and genuine people I had ever met. He was only 22.

Whilst I was powerless to help his family through this time, the one thing that was in my control was to correct my ignorance. I emailed my friend who works for Diabetes UK, who obviously sympathised with me and all of his friends and family, and then let me know a few things about diabetes that I’d never cared to learn, or even think about beforehand. I am not by any stretch an expert on the subject now, and my knowledge still very limited, but just 5 minutes of learning opened my eyes to how serious a condition diabetes is, and how it can impact people’s day to day lives – and sadly, their futures.

It is tragic that it took the death of a friend for me – and probably 90% of those who knew him – to realise just how serious diabetes is.

I guess most people’s first experiences of diabetes are similar to mine. Having a friend at school talk about their daily injections like it was a game, and in some cases how much they wish they could eat whatever they wanted. This early exposure from someone without the maturity or sense to acknowledge and convey how severe the condition can be lead for myself, and probably others, a cavalier attitude towards diabetes. Diabetes can be a killer, but a lack of awareness can sadly be just as fatal.

Since this horrible event, myself and my friend’s colleagues, family and friends have been fundraising in his name. Last year over 40 of us completed the Windsor Half Marathon, and raised over £10,000 for Diabetes UK. Today, over a year afterwards, the efforts to raise funds and awareness are still going as my brother – who was so moved by the events – has decided to raise funds for Diabetes UK by running the Brighton Marathon, and again in my friend’s name.

Nothing we can do will ever be enough to compensate his family and friends for their loss. All we can do is try to raise funds and awareness in the efforts to ensure no mother, father, or friend has to go through what they did.

I am very fortunate that in my life I do not currently know anyone close to me who has diabetes – either Type 1 or Type 2 – but this does not mean I should ignore it’s impact and sometimes devastating effects. “Ignorance is bliss” is one of the oldest sayings I know. This is not the case, and only hurts more when you cannot understand why the life of someone you know is taken unjustly in your eyes.”

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  1. Maria says

    This really touched me. As a type 1 diabetic for nearly 10 years I often find people’s ignorance worrying… We really do need to raise awareness and educate people! I’m very grateful for your effeorts and fundraising!

  2. Leanne says

    It’s really nice to see Ben and his friends and family have taken it upon themselves to raise money for this charity. I too lost someone close to me through diabetes and still after did not really understand this disease and just how serious and complicated it could be. Our friends and family now rally together in raising money for diabetes UK in my Uncles name also, and for us this helps us keep his memory alive. This has become even more important to me now that I have been diagnosed with type 1. As I am fast finding out, there are an awful lot of things to learn about caring for yourself as a diabetic and I think its great that Ben has decided to do this off his own back. Since being diagnosed people close to me have also started to read up a little bit more about it so they can understand my high’s and lows (and not just in bg numbers!) and their support has really helped me cope. Well done Ben, and thank you x

  3. Laura mackay says

    This is very sad. Though I thank you for raising people’s awareness as to what the condition is and how serious it can be. People hear the horror stories and adopt the attitude that it will never happen to them. This story brings it home that it can an will happen to you if you neglect your diabetes.
    Thank you again for sharing your experience and I am sorry to hear of the tragic loss of your friend. Xx

  4. Fiona Mair says

    I agree with Maria, I was truly touched by this when I read it. I have been type 1 for around 17 years and my husband was diagnosed with type 1 5 years ago, people’s ignorance is very worrying – even my husband’s family dont fully understand the effects and seriousness of the disease. I’m lucky that when I was diagnosed my family were there for me and were there for the education, my Mum has always been interested and is always up to date with new developements that are happening, and although I dont talk about it (ever) I know that they are there for me when I need to talk about it. What I would say is that I have recently done DAFNE and it made me think about things a lot more and re-iterated to me how important it is to look after myself, my husband and our diabetes. Thanks Ben for all your efforts :)

  5. Ash says

    This really touched me. I was that little girl on the school trip ,and still am to some degree , but now that use an insulin pump, I am now lovingly described as the ‘bionic woman’ by my friends and colleagues . Everything counts, is weighed and measured within a gram of it’s carbohydrate value ,every activity checked and verified. The issue for many, and still seems to be the case when they see the work backstage so to speak, was that they assume that my Mother and Father were being too strict and that as a result I am now being too paranoid…after all I am *only diabetic* – have a mars bar and relax. While I cannot blame or hold any remorse towards those who know little about the seriousness of the condition, it is reassuring that some take the time to understand. Thank you!

  6. Eve says

    How rare and wonderful to read about someone taking the time to understand more about something which does not directly affect them or their immediate family. I am moved by the steps that Ben has taken. But at the same time I wish that it was not necessary for articles such as this to be underpinned by shocking messages about the potential fatality of diabetes. Yes diabetes can be fatal and the death of Ben’s friend is deeply tragic. But for the majority of diabetics who will avoid such a tragedy, I think that what they would also really value would be if more people without the condition took the time to understand the less extreme challenges it presents every day – many times a day – and the isolation. Most diabetics do not want to pull someone up for making a flippant comment or challenge those who are misinformed, instead they will simply laugh along. But they should not have to do this for the sake of a weak joke.

  7. Catherine says

    Thank you Ben for this honest article and for your efforts raising money and awareness. I am curious as to why he died as it scares me and fellow diabetics that thy could and does happen! It would out my mind at rest to know the reason it happened. Maybe it wasn’t a direct cause of the diabetes and more the fact he didn’t inject or eat after going out? I think – correct me if I am wrong – you can only die if you do not inject?

  8. Ben Ponting says

    Hi Catherine, I am afraid I do not know the full details of what caused my friends death. I simply know that it had something to do with alcohol and his diabetes.

    Diabetes UK have posted a link on their facebook page following some questions similar to yours that you might find helpful:

  9. Mairi O'Brien says

    Scary but true! So many people look at me as an overprotective mother.
    They tell me that getting up during the night every night to
    Check my daughters blood sugar isnt good for me. And that I need sleep!
    I need my daughter to be safe!
    So when other mums say “you need a night out, i’ll watch her”.
    I decline politely, as they just dont understand how serious diabetes is.
    On the other hand, I hope these mums can have the luxury and of being blissfully unaware and dont suffer the heartache of having a child with diabetes!!!

  10. Aimee says

    Thank you for sharing your story Ben and I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I was in a similar situation to yourself in the sense that I knew very little about diabetes, until my husband to be was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 2 years ago at the age of 22.
    We’ve also learnt that the condition is alarmingly different to how it’s portrayed on the television (we’re both Scrubs fans and agree with your views).
    It really does make me wish more people were aware of the condition (My partner still gets asked by certain family members whether he’s allowed to eat chocolate, despite explaining about diabetes to them).
    It’s lovely to hear how much money you’ve raised, my partner and I are hoping to contribute when we marry in August, we’ve asked for donations instead of wedding presents x

  11. Siobhan Bellamy says

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you Ben for your efforts at raising money and awareness for Diabetes. I’ve have been Type 1 Diabetic for 15 years and I feel that I manage my levels quite well but it can be made difficult by people’s lack of knowledge and understanding. Ive lost count of how many times I have been poured a coke instead of diet coke in bars and restaurants or even by friends who have known I was diabetic for years. I don’t want to tell a sop story everytime someone asks me about my Diabetes, and really thats what it sounds like if you go into detail about it, so I end up playing it down and telling them it’s not so hard to deal with resulting in most of my friends not thinking its too serious until I have a bad hypo in front of them. My husband was the turning point in my life. Having had no contact with the condition before, like you Ben, he has taken it upon himself to learn as much as he can and he helps me maintain my levels and injections and low sugar diet every day. it’s lovely to know there are people out there who are willing to learn and spread the knowledge :)

  12. Siobhan Bellamy says

    Ben I didn’t mention in my last comment how sorry I am to hear of the loss of your friend which in turn is what has prompted you to investigate Diabetes. It is so sad, and scary to hear when someone, especially so young, looses their life to the disease. I hope your efforts are able to salvage something positive out of such a tragedy x thank you again for sharing your story

  13. jonny Houghton says

    this has really touched me and i am sure it has for many others aswell.

  14. Lesley Tyrrell says

    I am Richard’s mum and we are so grateful to Ben’s brother for raising more funds for Diabetes UK. What an amazing thing to do.
    I wanted to say that Richard was a fit and healthy young man who looked after himself properly and was always vigilent with regards to having Type 1 diabetes. He was a keen sportsman and spent a lot of time at the gym. He had played rugby from the age of five and was also a red belt at Taekwon-do before he went to university – he just loved sport generally!
    Richard died in his sleep and we miss him.
    Once again, thank you so much to Ben’s brother for doing this marathon.

  15. Diabetes UK says

    Hi Lesley,

    Thank you you so much for commenting on Ben’s post. We’re sorry for your loss, and our thoughts are with you and your family and friends. We’re really grateful to Ben and his brother for both writing this and for helping raise awareness of diabetes.

    If we can be of any help at all, please do get in touch.

    Diabetes UK

  16. Emma Spence says

    Such a touching story Ben. I have only been Type 1 for 6 months and I developed it age 44. I was at the hospital last week learning how to manage my insulin jabs by carb counting and when the nurse talked about night time hypos she said don’t worry you’ll always wake up because your liver will kick in eventually -you’ll just feel rubbish in the morning. Then she said… the only time we ever really lose someone is after drinking. Your liver can’t deal with the hypo and process the alcohol at the same time. It is a sobering thought. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a drink but it’s important to remember to eat lots of carbs at the same time. Without the carbs we run the risk of a hypo – very low blood sugar – which can be life threatening. In actual fact it’s safer to let your blood sugar run a little higher if planning a night out, to reduce that risk.

  17. evil_moses says


    I’m Ben’s brother who is running the Marathon for Diabetes UK. This is just a quick message to thank you all for your support and motivation and to promote my justgiving page! My company is matching what I raise so any donations will be doubled, which is why I’m trying to raise as much as I can!

    This is the first Marathon I’ve run and the first time I’ve run for a charity (I’ve done a few half-marathons for fun!?), and I am truly humbled by the support provided by Diabetes UK and that people are willing to sponsor me, even if it just to make sure I do it!


  18. Paulette says

    Ben thank you for sharing your story, like Emma I am 44 and have had type 1 diabetes for the last 4 years. It is a serious illness and it is not always easy to educate people. There are so many variables involved in daily care for diabetes that it is difficult to sum up for people who have had little exposure to it. 4 years on I feel I am still learning. It is interesting what Emma says regarding alcohol. I rarely have a drink these days but worry when I do. Thank you for your fundraising support, good luck with your next marathon

  19. Linda Blackburn says

    This is so touching, thank-you for sharing your story. You need support and reminders like this to make you realise that the management you go through every day to keep your blood level is essential.

    My little brother got Type 1 Diabetes 2 years ago at the age of 7, and I never even bothered to research what it was or ask him in any detail about it. I just felt sorry for him. Then a year later, at 25, I got it too. Although I am still very happy, it has changed my life. I never knew how serious and challenging it was until I had to live with it myself. I think unless you have it, or live with someone who has it, it is very difficult to understand? Thank-you for raising awareness.

    I hope Diabetes UK can also raise more awareness about the differences between the two types of Diabetes too, as Type 1 is so often confused with Type 2. Type 1 is not about not eating sugar, it’s about balancing what you eat with your insulin, every hour, every day, and no matter how well you managed it the day before, the next day is a new day –

    It is difficult having a condition so many people do not understand. I often feel I have to keep it to myself to be ‘normal’ and not be to seen to be making a fuss about something which ‘isn’t serious’, but it is so important people around you and people you work closely with know – your story has encouraged me to not feel I have to hide it.

    Also, there are so many things I still don’t know – what Emma has written I have never heard about before – thank-you.

  20. Lorraine Still says

    A truly honest and thought provoking blog. My son, Zach, has been diabetic for nearly 6 years. Diagnosed when he was only 5. As a family we worry daily about Zach’s wellbeing but he, nor indeed people around us, would ever realise how fearful we are day to day of what might happen. Zach is a happy, boisterous, loving boy who lives life to the full and he too, like the young girl in Ben’s childhood, acts as though it’s nothing, injecting in public without a care in the world and whilst I would welcome the general public to be better informed, I wouldn’t change Zach’s carefree attitude for anything. There’s time enough in the future to be serious, let him have his childhood. My thoughts are with Richard’s parents and I hope they hold on tight to their previous memories of him.

  21. Lorraine Still says

    ….sorry, the last sentence should have read ‘hold of to their precious memories’.

  22. Mike (everydayupsanddowns) says

    Ben – thank you for writing this post. You can see how it has touched the diabetes community.
    Thoughts, prayers and sincere condolences go out to Richard’s family and friends.

  23. Susan Cook says

    Thank you Ben for this blog it has broken my heart tonight. Richard was a pupil a few years ago at the school I work at and ironically I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 48 a few months before Richard passed away. His passing was a really horrible shock as Richard was great fun and so full of life as is his mum and brother and although I never knew Lesley and the family well when Richard was alive, whenever you saw them together you could tell they were a family who celebrated life and gave each other huge amounts of love. Richard loved sport and apart from having type 1 was a healthy young man, it is such a tragedy that he was taken from his family and friends at far too young an age. Lesley is a lovely lady who faces the world with a smile, and who provides me with huge encouragement, I think she is one of the bravest people I know and I think the world of her. Thank you Ben and Marcus for all you are doing, bless you both xxx

  24. Sam Dunkley says

    im sorry to hear about your loss, i have diabetes have had it for 11 years now and my younger sister has had it since she was 6 years old she is 24 next, we nearly lost her doctors said she was 24hours from death when diagnosed, it was hard for us at first getting use to life with a member of family having diabetes it also runs in both sides of our familys too. she has had her ups and downs in and out of hospital ended up with keytone acidoses (if thats how it is spelt) really ill she was but she is alot better now and has been for a few years even has a 3 year old son, its only been the last few years that i have taken my illness seriously my sugars use to be reaaly high all the time, now they are controlled by eating healthy ive lost weight cut down my drinking as i did drink alot, after reading what was put about drinking and hypos it really puts it there its a scary thought. i have been thinking about doing more research and doing a paper on diabetes :-)

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