Erum Ghafoor (Pakistan)

The journey of a patient to health care professional. Every couple wants to complete their life with a cheerful child. My parents wanted a baby girl and I came into this world after six years of their prayers. They had done everything, faced every unwelcome remark and then God accepted their prayers.

I remember my mother used to tell me how people used to hurt her because she was not able to have a child. I was extra pampered, my wishes were fulfilled before coming to my lips. When I used to cry for an ice cream they bought each flavour, when I liked any dress, they bought me every colour. My father couldn't bear a tear in my eyes at any cost so I was brought up like a princess.

I am Erum Ghafoor, a Certified Diabetes Educator, IDF-Expert Trainer for Conversation map tools in Pakistan and Ex-Faculty member of the IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes programme. I have been trained in many countries, such as Denmark, Spain, Canada and Qatar. I am an international advocate for diabetes, working with many non-profitable organizations such as Meethi Zindagi, Hope and National Association of Diabetes Educators of Pakistan. I am a public speaker and have represented Pakistan on many national and international platforms, including the IDF Congress. I am currently studying International Public Health at the University of Liverpool with the aim of getting a PhD. I have been working as Senior Diabetes Educator at Baqai Institute of Diabetology and Endocrinology (BIDE) for the last 11 years, but above all I am a person with diabetes.

My journey from person living with diabetes to diabetes educator has had many twists and turns, which I would like to share with the hope that it may be helpful for others. I was overweight as a teenager due to medical reasons and was always looking for slimming remedies. My family physician told me that I had insulin resistance which I interpreted as having a lot of insulin in my body that was not working properly. Due to lack of education and awareness, my family assumed that having a lot of insulin in my body meant that I was protected from developing diabetes. My family is highly educated but they did not have enough knowledge of diabetes. I can say from personal and professional experience that academic education and awareness of any disease are two different things. An unaware person is similar to an illiterate person in regards to disease information.

I came across a quack who told my family that by drinking a full glass of honey every day, I could be cured of all ailments. I followed him blindly, consuming significant amounts of honey and started losing a lot of weight. I was the happiest girl at the time because I was looking slim, trim and beautiful. Although I used to complain of feeling weak and thirsty and I urinated all the time, the quack told me that it was due to the fat that was getting out of my body. My father was living with diabetes and pricked his fingers to monitor blood glucose. I was the brave daughter so once I checked my blood glucose level to test a new glucometer and it showed me a reading of 567 mgdL! I told my father that it was not a good meter and needed to be changed. We changed it several times but the result remained the same. The next morning the result was confirmed from a laboratory and I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

My life became gray and my parents were feeling like their lovely daughter was about to die. They used to hide their tears from me, which made me more scared and stressed. It was a very tough time for both me and my family. Although my father was living with diabetes, nobody in my family had enough knowledge and awareness. We all were so petrified and I almost quit my studies because I thought I was going to die soon. We immediately went to see Prof Abdul Basit, who was treating my father at that time. I was in a denial phase, not accepting my diabetes. He listened to me very carefully and performed a few tests confirming the diabetes diagnosis. I would never forget those moments when he broke the news; my parents were crying and I was feeling that the world was spinning so fast.

The second bad news was that he wanted to put me on insulin. I instantly refused, as we used to think that insulin was linked to the last stage of the disease. I was a very talkative and vibrant young lady, but after the diagnosis I became silent and introverted. I was in great mental stress and kept thinking why I got diabetes. I even blamed my parents and God at that time. I had many friends because I love to mingle but I was hiding from everyone and trying to remain alone. I was thinking that people would laugh at me, relatives would show their pity and if somebody would find out about my diabetes, they would avoid me as if I was contagious.

On my second visit to the hospital, my parents told everything to my doctor, who said, "Erum, I know what state you are going through but why don't you become someone who can help and feel the pain of other people with diabetes? Become a healthcare professional, a diabetes educator, and help those who are like you make their diabetes a strength rather than a weakness." This was the turning point in my life. I began the second phase of my journey towards becoming a certified diabetes educator.

Since then, I have been studying and practicing. I am currently studying in a renowned University in the UK, aiming for a PhD in international public health. I have learnt that we can only defeat diabetes when everyone works together. I have counselled more than 30000 people with diabetes across Pakistan and I really love to be with them when I tell them that I also have diabetes, well-managed with insulin. This always lights up hope in their eyes, that I know what they are going through and I can feel how it affects their lives.

I have trained more than 850 diabetes educators in Pakistan and delivered more than 700 lectures and 500 workshops on diabetes education for nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and doctors. I also conduct awareness programmes for the general public. Throughout all this, I have been discriminated many times in my personal and professional life and it continues to happen. People never think that just a few words can be worse than 100 sharp knives. It's easy to pass judgement but very hard to heel the unhealed wounds that are caused by sharp words. Sometimes they make fun without realizing that words can hurt badly for a long time. Diabetes is not our fault; no one wants to get diabetes and it's essential to understand that we are all humans like everyone else, with dreams, aims, hopes and wishes. We are not made of white blood and stone. Red blood circulates in our veins and an innocent heart pumps in our chest. After years of experience, I became strong enough to face such situations but the road was not full of roses. I still feel the sharp twinge in my heart caused by the thorns thrown at me under the disguise of a rude remark. My eyes still shimmer with unshed tears.

Education and awareness is only key to reduce discrimination. I would like to give this message to everyone: You have to be strong, you are the most important person; no one can make your life better except you. Doctors can guide you but it's you who can change your world. We can make our life easy through control and discipline. Moderation is the key to living a healthy life with diabetes. People think that diabetes is a curse, but it is in our hands to make it a blessing. I took up this challenge and I am not exceptional. I am like each of you.

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