‘Diabetes doesn’t hold me back’
Real Stories British Touring Car Championship driver Paul O’Neill, 33, talks to us about how he achieved his dreams despite his diabetes.
“I remember my diagnosis in January 2004, like it was yesterday. I was on top of the world after finishing 4th in my second year of the BTCC, and everyone told me they were expecting me to go to the top over the next year. But I started drinking lots of water and going to the toilet more than usual, as well as feeling extremely tired all the time. It was actually my sister Melanie [Chisholm] who spotted the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes when we were on holiday, as one of the Spice Girls’ office staff had recently been diagnosed with the condition, and she insisted I visit the doctor. They immediately rushed me to hospital and it was confirmed that I had Type 1 diabetes.
“Initially I was devastated — I had to spend a week in hospital learning how to manage my blood glucose levels and inject myself with insulin. Then, the Motorsport Association revoked my racing licence and insisted I take a year out of the championship to ensure my blood glucose levels were under control. I thought my dreams were over. But, hearing encouraging stories from other people with Type 1 diabetes and reading about them in the Diabetes UK ‘Balance’ magazine helped me to realise I couldn’t let my diagnosis hold me back — and I was racing again in 2006.
How I manage day-to-day
“Today, I’m still racing, as well as presenting BTCC coverage on ITV4. For me, exercise is an important part in staying healthy and managing my diabetes — I’ve always been a keen runner and I love cycling — and this helps me to keep my blood glucose levels stable. I also eat little and often and avoid things that I know will send my blood glucose levels soaring, because I’ve found this makes it easier for me to manage the condition, but I can still have the occasional treat.
“Having diabetes is challenging, it’s not something I can take a day off from. I have to constantly manage my blood glucose levels to make sure I’m not too high or too low. Every year I have to have a series of checks, including my eyes and feet, to make sure I’m not developing any complications.
Luckily, I’ve got quite good management, which helps to reduce my risk of developing serious complications later in life.
“More than anything, I want to use my experience with diabetes to help inspire other people with the condition, to help them realise that it doesn’t have to hold them back, and they can still achieve their dreams. I’ve given some talks at schools and met children with diabetes and I really hope I’m helping inspire them to reach for the stars. To someone who has just been diagnosed I like to say that ‘sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve been dealt a bad card, and the world is against you, but it really isn’t’. Right now, diabetes can’t be beaten but it can be controlled and managed to avoid running into complications. I’m hoping that the ongoing research by Diabetes UK will help to eventually find a cure or vaccine for the condition.”
Toilet: Going to the toilet a lot, bed wetting by a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies.
Thirsty: Being really thirsty and not being able to quench the thirst. Tired: Feeling more tired than usual.
Thinner: Losing weight or looking thinner than usual.