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South African Women with Diabetes: challenges and advice this Women’s Day

We are so proud to introduce this round-up of South African women with diabetes.

What is it like to be a woman living with diabetes in South Africa?

That’s the question we posted to our Diabetic South Africans community, and here’s what they had to say: our round-up of what it’s actually like to live with diabetes in SA. The daily challenges, the advice, the faces behind SA Women with Diabetes.

This Women’s Day, we celebrate these powerful women – living their best lives, with a chronic condition.

Allyssa Pillay

Allyssa Pillay is a 25-year-old from Pretoria, who has had diabetes for 2 and half years.

“As a woman, everyone expects you to have everything together and be organized with your health. That puts a lot of pressure on us women with diabetes, because no matter who you are, it is tough to have a game plan with diabetes.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, we’re not perfect and don’t let what others say make you feel like you’re not trying your best!”

Connect with Allyssa on @sweetest_t1d 

Mary Kassam

Mary Kassam is a 33-year-old American expat living in Sheffield Beach, on the North Coast of KZN. She’s had Type 1 diabetes for just over four months.
“On occasion, the healthcare space (like many things) can be male-dominated and you may have to contend with some large egos. It can be hard to advocate for yourself and be assertive. Sometimes it feels like those who are supposed to care for us are not listening or taking us seriously.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“You know your body best and the vast majority of your diabetes management is up to you. Speak up, ask questions and be assertive when it comes to your care. Never stop learning.”

Connect with Mary on Instagram @marykassam

Kesentseng Nkadimeng

Kesentseng Nkadimeng is 46 years old and lives in Johannesburg.

“I’ve been diabetic for a year now and it has been a rollercoaster ride. My challenges have been with the diet because I had to change my lifestyle, and that is difficult when you are unemployed and you are told to eat this and not that. I remember having mealie meal and pumpkin and I’m not allowed carbs so that meant I’ll be hungry.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“I would say to my fellow women: stop stressing. Just check what spikes your blood sugar levels and eliminate that and take walks. Just enjoy your new lifestyle.

Connect with Kesentseng on Facebook.

Ashleigh Paige

Ashleigh Paige is a 24-year-old from Johannesburg. The 14th of June 2021 marked 10 years living with diabetes.

“The most challenging part of living with diabetes as a woman is the constant worrying about balancing my blood sugar in times of stress  and particularly over my menstrual cycle. The moods of women are already always under scrutiny and bringing in diabetes people invalidate emotions and put them down to being too hormonal or having high blood glucose.

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?
“It’s not always bad! Remember, we all have a bigger purpose in life and diabetes gives us the discipline necessary to achieve our goals. If you want to have a chocolate, have that chocolate. You can still live a sweet life!”

Connect with Ashleigh on Instagram: @ashleighpbailey

Khatija Saley

Khatija Saley is 31 years old and livse in Johannesburg. She’s been diabetic for 20 years. 

“The most challenging thing for me with diabetes is injecting in public because I have to lift my cloths, also dealing with added mood swings because being diabetic on top of having female hormones is extremely difficult to manage.” 

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“To all the women and girls with diabetes, don’t let diabetes control your life, live your life to the fullest because you can. We are stronger then diabetes!”

Connect with Khatija on Instagram: @katy_katz_30

Tanya van Vuuren

Tanya van Vuuren is a 32-year-old from Randfontein, Gauteng. She has been a Type 1 diabetic since the age of 3, so has been living with diabetes for 29 years.

“Firstly I don’t think there is enough knowledge and education about diabetes. A lot of people know the name but they don’t know the factors involved and what goes on “behind the scenes” of a diabetics day to day life.

Having diabetes and being a woman brings its own challenges. The pressure to be a wife, career woman, mother and social pressure with that and then to still have to manage your diabetes, which is not easy, every day. There are various factors that play a role in your blood sugar levels each day, stress being one of the biggest, and being a woman each day comes with its own stress. It’s running a household, performing at work, being the best life partner and mother you can be and being the best diabetic you can be. Somewhere one of these will be neglected and that can’t be your diabetes. But we are strong women and we have learned to manage and to cope with all the elements and everything that is thrown our way. We survive not because we have to but because we must for the sake of ourselves and our families!”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“My advice to other women with diabetes would be that it is going to be okay! We are all allowed to have an off day every now and again. If you fall, stand up and go on! Ask for help if you need it. Try your best because that is enough! Manage your diabetes to the best of your ability because each case is different and can’t be compared. Every day is a new day and a fresh start. Thank God for every day and just do your best!”

Connect with Tanya on Facebook or Instagram: tanyavv89

Thapi Semenya

Thapi Semenya is a 21-year-old from Polokwane in Limpopo , who has been living with Type 1 diabetes for 15 years. 

“The mot challenging part of diabetes as a woman is trying to manage diabetes and other womanly issues we face. I’ve always struggled with having to manage everything at once and especially when it comes to things like menstruation. My sugars would be out of control, often leading me to admissions in hospital.. Finding the balance between the two can be really challenging. Also things like relationships. You often feel misunderstood and different due to the fact that you’re diabetic and you don’t know when it’s the right time to bring up that you’re diabetic. 

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“Love yourself a little more on those days when you’re feeling down. Be kinder to yourself and also reflect. Reflection helps so much to see how far you’ve come and how proud you should be of yourself, no matter what Celebrate the little wins – whether it be a spa date, going out for some lunch and even watching a movie. Basically have self-love and self-care.”

Connect with Thapi on Instagram @babygun_thapi or Twitter @SemenyaThapi 

Retha Carter

Retha Carter is a 53-year-old living in Durbanville, Cape Town. She celebrated her 10 year Type 1 diabetes anniversary on the 2nd of June this year.

I guess as a woman I have always had a complicated relationship with food.  Some food is considered good, while other is bad. And having diabetes has not helped.  Indulging in too carb-heavy meals makes me feel guilty.  As I have to consider what I eat to decide how much insulin to inject, being a diabetic is also ‘forcing’ me to think about food all the time! It truly feels like I have yet to ‘master’ being a diabetic and that I fail most of the time.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?  
“I definitely think that exercise is my saving grace.  I can see and feel how my body uses the energy and it helps when I have had maybe a few carbs too many.  It also is good for my overall well-being.  When I was first diagnosed with diabetes I was SO overwhelmed.  The good news is that I followed instructions and quickly managed to get my HbA1C under control.  But being a Type 1 diabetic means that I can indulge occasionally and adjust my insulin.  I found that gave me a false sense of security and soon I was indulging all the time. 

So if you are like me, balance is the eternal quest.  When I follow a balanced diet, exercise, sleep enough and manage my stress, my diabetes is also under control.  And diabetes really is one of the ‘better’ autoimmune conditions and is highly manageable.”

Connect with Retha on Facebook, Instagram @rethacarter or LinkedIn.

Kim Shaw

Kim Shaw is 39 years old and lives in Umhlanga, Durban. She’s had diabetes for almost 16 years.

“The toughest thing about diabetes as a woman is changing bodies, diabetes through pregnancies and having the time to take care of yourself!”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“Try and find a great endocrinologist or diabetes nurse to help you. And be truthful about the things that scare you.”

Connect with Kim on Instagram: kimshaw_insta

Montsheng Botlhoko

Montsheng Botlhoko is a 38-year-old from Johannesburg who has had diabetes for 10 years.

“For me the most challenging thing is baking cookies for my family that I cannot eat – my husband loves cookies and so that is really bad for me. My daily goal is to stay below 8.0, so eating like I am 100% healthy won’t make me reach my goals. Being a woman in this instance is pretty hard. But does it stop us from living? Nope, we stand up, dust ourselves off and move on.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?
“Your health matters. Every day is a new day to do better.”

Connect with Montsheng on Facebook.

Elize Cloete

Elize Burger Cloete is a 32-year-old from Middelburg, Mpumalanga. She’s been living with diabetes for 27 years. “Dealing with the constant variables, dealing with misinformed people and taking it head on daily. Adapting day by day and second by second             (this really is a 24/7 lifestyle). 

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“Diabetes is all about a mindset and choosing you. Make the choice to choose a positive mindset and lifestyle and change the way you perceive it. Surround yourself with people who love and support you – your own group of cheerleaders who will stay by you every day, those people who just check on you because they love and care for you, the people who will buy you a Powerade without question because they know you need it.”

Connect with Elize on Instagram @joilful_dreamer 

Maradiyia Patel

Maradiyia Patel is 52 years old and lives in Durban. She has had diabetes for the past 6 years.

“The biggest challenges as a woman with diabetes are monitoring what you eat and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Exercising is difficult, medication is expensive if you are not on a medical aid.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“Try to eat healthy and cook healthy meals for your family. Don’t give up on yourself and don’t feel guilty if you do not maintain a healthy lifestyle as it is difficult to do this on your own.”

Connect with Mia on Facebook.

Lyn Sewell

Lynette Sewell is 54 years old, and lives in Edenvale, Gauteng. She’s been a Type 1 diabetic for 31 years now.

“I had gestational diabetes at week 23 of my pregnancy, went into a coma for 7 days, was put on a glucose drip and my baby girl was stillborn due to an incorrect lab result of 4,1 (diluted 3x it was actually 65,5mm/l). I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic ever since.”

“Keeping a constant straight line (within 3,5 to 7,5mmol/l) all the time, is the most challenging for me. I maintain it as best I can for about 80% of the time, but 100% proves to be almost impossible. Being a women and having diabetes isn’t a challenge at all, perhaps because I’m still young-ish, haha. I always live life to the fullest and don’t let silly things get me down.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“My advice to other women with diabetes is don’t let diabetes get you down. Don’t let it upset or depress you, because that affects your sugar levels and causes more stress. Don’t change your entire life by listening to social media or try copy what other people say or do because each person is different.  Be happy, accept that you are alive, healthy and strong and take each day as it comes, one step at a time.”

Connect with Lyn on Instagram @diabetic_accessories_sa and Facebook.

Candice Viljoen

Candice Viljoen is 37 years old and has had diabetes for 7 years.

“The most challenging part of diabetes is having to eat even when I’m not hungry; trying to balance everything and not being able to eat everything I want as I love food!”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“Try to live a healthier lifestyle – not only in what you eat but how you think as well. Train your mind to try to be positive, forgive yourself for mistakes and try to learn from them.”

Connect with Candice on Facebook.

Rochelle Levitt

Rochelle Levitt is 43 years old, from Cape Town.

“I was diagnosed about 10 years ago with Type 1 very late in life. My mom and most members in my family are diabetic. But in 2017, I was rushed to hospital with a reading of 24… Only to find out,  I should have been on insulin already.”

“The most challenging thing about being female and diabetic is dealing with the moods , anxiety and depression of losing my son, whom was stillborn. Even then, my doctor didn’t mention insulin to help me through my pregnancy.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“My advice to other women dealing with similar issues is to listen to your body, never stop learning as diabetes is always evolving… I’m  chatting daily with fellow diabetics due to selling a diabetic-friendly range that has made my sweet cravings easier to handle. I find chatting to people as the average Joe and not the academic doctor is great, as then we both learn something new about our condition.

Connect with Rochelle on Instagram: @zero_yummo or her Facebook group: Zero.

Chantel Sirakis

Chantel Sirakis is a 32-year-old from Cape Town. She’s had Type 1 diabetes for 5 years.

“Having Type 1 for only 5 years, the hardest challenge I had to overcome was learning to put myself (and my diabetes) first. As women, we tend to put ourselves second (or completely last) and see to our families, careers and loved ones first.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?

“Having diabetes is hard! It will never be easy. Not to mention the effect that stress, seeing to one’s family, juggling a career and those pesky hormones have on one’s sugar levels. As women, we are warriors already. We carry a lot – embrace your diabetes. Doctors and loved ones only see a small percentage of our diabetes – but we see and feel 100% of it. Nobody knows our “version” of diabetes better than us. 

My best lesson and guidance for diabetes is to listen more to our bodies and read food labels like it’s a 2nd job. We should strive to empower ourselves, educate those around us and always remind ourselves that our diabetes does not define us. Lastly, live life. Enjoy the ride. Don’t wait for life. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Don’t be too hard on yourself. “

Connect with Chantel on Facebook or Instagram: @csirakis

Kirsten de Klerk

Kirsten de Klerk is a 27-year-old from Cape Town in the Western Cape, who has been living with Type 1 diabetes for the last 11 years.
“The most challenging thing about having diabetes as a woman is the extra hormones that women are gifted with every month – the increase in hormones can create extra havoc on the blood sugar levels.”

What advice would you offer to other women with diabetes?
“You don’t have to go at this alone. Reach out to the diabetes community online, I promise that they are some of the most kind, genuine people you will ever meet – and the best part is that they actually understand what it’s like to live with diabetes.”

Connect with Kirsten @everydayisdiabetesday on Instagram and on Facebook.

Do you know any other SA women with diabetes?

If you know anyone who should be on this list, please tell us! We want to tell the stories of all kinds of women with diabetes in South Africa.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.