Tshepo Leeuw, a local radio presenter, shares the challenges of being a diabetic in his 20s with Express Northern Capereaders.Tshepo was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in July 2015.Ever since, he has been on medication.He is passionate about community development, health and wellness and social programmes within his community.Tshepo is also involved in children’s health programmes and enjoys visiting them in hospitals.By living a positive lifestyle, Tshepo believes, he can beat the consequences of diabetes.The symptoms“Before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was constantly tired, thirsty and had to go to the bathroom very often. My eyesight was also failing. “The fear of losing my sight was the actual reason I had made an appointment with the doctor,” Tshepo said.To his surprise, the doctor ran numerous tests after he listed his symptoms.“She told me that my sugar levels were too high.”He was diagnosed with diabetes.“The walk from the doctor’s office was the longest walk of my life – filled with questions, regrets and fear; the fear of losing my limbs and the fear of death,” he said. Dealing with the diagnosis After his diagnosis, frustration, stress, confusion and fear threatened to choke him.When he called his loved ones to break the news, Tshepo was bombarded with all their reactions and advice.“Most people would tell me how cruel the condition is, that I could lose body parts and die really fast.”Others advised him to eat healthy, exercise daily and take his medication faithfully.“I also got asked if I have a sweet tooth and whether or not the disease runs in my family,” he said.“Yet, those are the two questions I decided not to bother myself with. “The fact was that I have diabetes – it was just a matter of living with it.”Tshepo then went online to research his condition and the new lifestyle he would have to adopt.“Luckily for me, I have always eaten healthy and I don’t smoke, so changing my diet was not really a challenge. “Cutting back on white bread and sweets were the hardest of what I had to do.”Coping mechanism“I decided to focus on positive things and not on all the scary possibilities people told me about. “Coming out and sharing my condition also helped me a lot because people, whether at work or at home, started checking up on me, supporting me to take my medication and eat right. “The support I get from colleagues, friends and family is really overwhelming.”The idea of taking medication for the rest of his life was scary at first, but Tshepo quickly got used to it. “For me it is like eating. We all know we have to eat to survive – I have to take my medication for the same reason.”Setting goals“My goal is to keep my sugar level balanced so that I can reduce my medication and avoid the injections.” Maintaining his sugar levels can delay other more serious treatments that he fears he might not be able to cope with.“I would like to set up a support group that could help people with diabetes and their families to deal with the condition.“The group would share tips and support each other emotionally.” Tshepo is living openly with his diabetes and encourages people, especially men, to be part of the support groups or clubs that will help them deal with the diagnosis and maintain good health.“Diabetes is a lifestyle, not just a disease. You change the way you eat and how you go about life,” he said. “Diabetes can affect your kidneys, eye sight and libido – but only if it is not well maintained.” In the Northern Cape, and especially in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District, the Padstow Clinic in Mothibistad is the first clinic to establish a support group for people with diabetes.According to the group facilitator, Boitumelo Mochwane, the group is doing well.A vegetable garden was also planted by the members to encourage healthy eating. The importance of exercise was also emphasised.Mochwane works for Get Ready Information Services. She said during their sessions they create a platform where questions, relating to the conditions, can be asked.“That is how we heal and come to the level of accep-tance. “That is how we support each other,” she said. Shiela Kaatz of the Department of Health believes it is important to have support groups for non-communicable diseases.She says many people are unable to cope with the diagnosis simply because they are not well-informed about the conditions.Once they become part of a support group, they are able to maintain their health accordingly.She reflected on this in a partnership meeting with Get Ready Information Services, discussing programmes to be implemented within the district.Get Ready Information Services is a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Kaatz also urged that health education should be implemented at clinics for patients who are waiting for consultations.“Non-communicable diseases should be prioritised,” Kaatz said.According to Mpho Lekgetho of Get Ready Information Services, support group facilitators will be trained on diabetes, equipping them to relate information when facilitating support groups.According to Lekgetho, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that, even under optimal treatment conditions, type 2 diabetes progresses faster and more aggressively in young people.“This may be because of the difficulties in adjusting eating habits,” she said.