Jill Clarke was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at five years old. Now in her 70s, she is proof that diabetes should not stop you doing the things you love, and she has written a book about it.
Liberated Life Sentence: Memoir of a Diabetic is the story of a life unimpeded by that long- ago diagnosis and the trials that followed. It's the story of a brave woman, in her own words.
Jill lives in Whanganui, a devout Christian, she thrives despite her diabetes and the impaired vision that resulted from her "disability". The book's cover features a photograph of Jill when she tramped the Heaphy Track, further evidence of a life lived.
Jill says it was David Kirby, committee member with Diabetes NZ, Wanganui branch, who said she had a story to tell, a book to write. He suggested it could educate younger people who had no idea of what it was like to be labelled diabetic 70-odd years ago.
The book is self-published and printed by H&A Print with financial assistance from Wanganui Lions, United Lodge of Whanganui and other contributors who wish to remain anonymous.
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"The purpose [of the book] is to give an understanding that diabetics can do stuff: they don't have to just sit down and do nothing," says Jill. "You can get out and live an ordinary life, and mine is sort of extraordinary, in a way."
In her early years she was not so active, as her parents were "probably scared stiff" that Jill would damage her health if she participated in sport, for example.
"They didn't know enough about diabetes. There was only one other person I knew who had it and she died when she was 13." She had been at school with Jill.
Jill says things have improved a lot since those early days when they were still experimenting with insulin and diets, and knowledge of diabetes was confined to a few medical practitioners.
She was not allowed to sit School Certificate in case the stress was too much and going out to work was not allowed ... "So I stayed home and scrubbed and polished floors. The diabetes specialist at the time said I needed to do exercise and perhaps join a sports club: get out and do ordinary stuff with other kids. But every time I tried to do anything, like get into the backyard with a hula hoop or a ball, I heard, 'Don't do that! You'll make yourself sick!' So, for the first 22 years of my life I stuck by the home rules and didn't do anything."
When she left home she went to Wellington where there was a good diabetic society with an activities group. "Quite a bit of the book sounds like travelogue from there on," says Jill. "There were nine of us, diabetics, on insulin." They did all sorts of adventurous things like caving, canoeing, white-water rafting, horse riding, tramping and so much more.
With "life sentence" in the title, Jill has structured the chapters of the book under prison terms in a tongue-in-cheek look at her life as a diabetic.
Grace Pratt, an artist who works at H&A, kindly provided the book illustrations.
Jill is proof that diabetics, with common sense and due care, can pretty much do anything, even with the restrictions place on them by the disease. Her book is a story of adventures and misadventures, in a light tone and with an emphasis on what CAN be done. She leads a good life, enjoyed a wonderful, happy marriage, and looks forward to doing so much more.
Liberated Life Sentence is being launched at the Masonic Centre on the corner of Keith and Dublin Sts on Saturday, July 10, at 2pm.