Riva Greenberg

It's enormously touching and a wonderful thing to be able to have gratitude for insulin and all that we have.

How long have you been living with diabetes?

I have been living with type 1 diabetes for 48 years.

How were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed when I was 18. I came home from college for an unexpected winter break. I had been having the typical symptoms of diabetes for about three months: peeing a lot, thirsty, losing weight without trying. I also had cramps in my legs that were very painful. One night, I woke up screaming in pain from the leg cramps. My parents took me to the doctor, who measured my blood glucose. It was very high. I was admitted to hospital and spent four days there. They brought down my blood glucose and taught me how to inject insulin by practicing on oranges. I vividly remember thinking that my life was beginning and ending at the same time. I could barely comprehend that I had a condition that required injections for the rest of my life. I went back to college with piles of insulin and syringes.

How did your diagnosis affect your family or loved ones?

My family understood my diagnosis, but could only relate to type 2 diabetes. This ran in both their families. My mother was very concerned. She would always ask me about my diabetes whenever I came home from college. Being diagnosed at 18 can be harder than when you are a child or older adult. You often live away from home and therefore can’t rely on family support. I was on my own for quite a long time, until I met other people with diabetes.

What are the most important things that have supported your diabetes care?

Besides insulin, first is my own discipline and dedication to taking care of myself. I eat healthy and walk every day, I know the importance of getting good sleep, not being stressed and not being too hard on myself. I can't “control diabetes,” but I do my best and that’s what’s important. Second is the support that I receive from my husband, which has been amazing. Third is staying abreast of all the new developments in diabetes so that I can be well informed of what could be helpful to me.

What has been your lowest point with diabetes?

My lowest point happened almost 20 years ago, when I experienced my worst episode of low blood glucose. My husband and I were in London, staying at a friend’s house. One night, I woke up in bed and found my way to the bathroom. I stood in front of the medicine cabinet mirror, looking at my reflection and wondering what I was doing there. I had the presence of mind to think, “Oh my god, I think my blood glucose is low.” I walked back to the bedroom to get my blood glucose meter, and then returned to the bathroom where I sat on the black and white tiled floor, which I remember well. I checked my blood glucose and it was 29 mg/dl. I thought to myself, “Okay, I need to eat some glucose tablets.” I did and laid on the floor for 15-20 minutes. I began to feel a little better and snuck my way back to bed. It is an episode I will never forget.

Have you ever experienced issues accessing diabetes medicines, supplies and care?

I am very fortunate that insulin is readily available to me. I am aware that it is not available and affordable to many people across the world, including in wealthy nations like the USA. A few years ago, I was fortunate to do some volunteer work at a diabetes clinic for the underserved in Bangalore, India. Every first Sunday of the month, the clinic would invite all the families of children with diabetes in the city to come and receive a vial of insulin, along with 30 test strips so that the children could check their blood glucose once a day. I experienced something I will never forget when the diabetes educator showed the children how to inject their insulin. “As you inject,” she said, “smile because we are so happy to have this medicine.” I found that enormously touching and a wonderful thing to be able to have gratitude for insulin and all that we have. I am fortunate that I can readily access insulin and always keep in mind that it is a lifeline. People with type 1 diabetes need to be able to get it when they need it.

What would you like to see change in diabetes over the next 100 years?

I will not be around for that long so I will shorten the timeframe to the next ten years. I would like to see diabetes cured. Although, having lived two thirds of my life with the condition, it is almost impossible for me to know what it would be like to live without it. I do not necessarily think we will find a cure in the next ten years, so it would be amazing to see management made so simple that you do not even have to think about it. We are moving rapidly in that direction with the artificial pancreas, which manages blood glucose and insulin delivery automatically.

What does the centenary of insulin mean to you?

The centenary of insulin is quite amazing for different reasons. Firstly, that we can celebrate a discovery that keeps me alive. Secondly, that access and affordability remain issues for a medicine that was made available so long ago.

The Insulin at 100 campaign is supported by