My name is Thapelo Semenya, and I have been living with type 1 diabetes for 16 years. I was six years old when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes; honestly, it was not expected. It was on a normal day, and I had gone through most of the symptoms a person newly diagnosed with diabetes was going through, including frequent urination, extreme thirst and nausea. As the symptoms progressed, I was then taken to the doctor, and as he tested my blood glucose, it was 26.8 mmol/L, and I was immediately rushed to the hospital, and it was then confirmed that I had Type 1 Diabetes.
Living with diabetes from a young age has not been easy because, at first, you accept everything. Still, as you grow up, you start asking questions and being rebellious. The latter was definitely what happened to me. In my teenage years, I began to go into a denial phase, leading me to be in about five diabetes-related comas in just 14 years of living with diabetes.
It was in my 15th year when I decided to change my habits and started focusing on my health. I began advocating for diabetes on my social media accounts and educating people about the condition. That way, I could meet other people living with diabetes in South Africa, which helped me feel less alone in this journey. I was then able to use my story also to share their stories, and in that way, we built a community.
My passion has always been diabetes advocacy and community building. I realised this when I started seeing how much my story was making an impact. I always tell people that when you are passionate about something, you always make time for it. I always give people this answer, especially when asked whether I ever get tired of advocating for diabetes. I am one person who strongly believes in “Ubuntu” as I am who I am today because of the people who have continuously supported me and uplifted me through my journey and are still doing so to this very day.
The diabetes journey is not easy, but it is not the worst. The message I try to put out through my social media accounts is that diabetes can groom you as a person. It will make you resilient and put you in positions you never thought you would find possible. Through COVID, I have met many people living with diabetes worldwide who are doing amazing things in their communities. That truly is an inspiration to me. Being part of the diabetes community has taught me that a lot can be achieved when a group of people come together. Policies can even be changed, which has made me want to use my voice to make the change I want to see for the diabetes community, especially in South Africa.