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Interview with Julia Bayguzova, the winner of the photo contest “Diabetes: Pictures of my Active Life”

11 December 2014

“It is not that important to me to be praised for having been able to achieve some results despite my diagnosis, but I'm rather proud of being able to perceive myself as a healthy person and I strive to achieve the same results as my non-diabetic peers,” says Julia Bayguzova, the winner of the photo contest “Diabetes: Pictures of my Active Life”.

In fall 2014, GEROPHARM held an international photo contest “Diabetes: Pictures of my Active Life”, which embraced many cities of Russia and Ukraine. In October, the jury selected the winners in several categories of the contest and unanimously awarded the Grand Prix to Julia Bayguzova from Saratov. Julia is very active and athletic, she lives a fulfilling life and takes victories in sports and beyond despite her diagnosis. As the winner of the contest, Julia came to St. Petersburg to be photographed by Valery Plotnikov and we interviewed her during breaks in shooting and during a walk around the city.

– Julia, where did you learn about the contest from and what prompted you to go ahead and take part in it?

My story is not too ordinary. A friend of mine told me that she had taken part in a contest, won and was the hero of a magazine story. I thought that maybe I’m not spending my time on the Internet and social media the way I should. They offer so much more opportunities than I think. So I went online, surfed through several social media groups and found out that a photo contest about living with diabetes was being held. All you had to do was to tell your story and to send a few pictures. I happened to have a few newly taken summer pictures of myself, so I thought those would fit and sent them over.

– How long have you had diabetes?

I’ve had it since I was ten.

– When you were diagnosed with diabetes, how did your life change?

At first it was scary, of course. Then I met a girl who was in hospital with me, she had had diabetes since she was two. I talked to her about the treatment routine, asked questions about her living with the diagnosis, and it helped a lot. Then an amazing thing happened: my to-be doctor moved to the apartment next to us. The wonderful doctor told me that my life was not over because of diabetes, that I could still go in for sports, and that she would be there for me when I needed her. My parents allowed me to go on with sports, although they were anxious. Skiing is about going far away along the ski run where I cannot be controlled like, for instance, in team sports where I would remain on the sports ground all the time. They worried a lot at first, but I — after I got sick — I knew I wanted to go on more than ever. I might not have been so keen on it before, but you know, as soon as you’re told you can’t do this and that — you want to do it no matter what it takes. And I said: I want to go on with sports. My parents and I, we met with my coach and my doctor. The coach assumed the responsibility and said, “OK, Julia, I'll help you.”

– Did you learn to control your disease at once, was it easy to get used to a new lifestyle which, perhaps, limits your freedom?

Yes, I got used to it quite fast. I am basically the kind of person who quickly accepts changes. Although I had been terribly afraid of injections before and did not believe that I would do them by myself, I managed. At first, my parents gave me injections. It was winter when I got sick. I was used to spending my summers in children’s camps and I would have been terribly disappointed if I could no longer go there. My parents found a camp that accepted diabetic children. Six months later I went to the camp and I could already control my condition. Of course, my parents still keep on asking me: “Julia, what’s your sugar level?” But this is not control any more, more of just wondering. Basically, I control my disease by myself from the very beginning.

– How did your friends and classmates react when they found out you had diabetes? Or did you not advertise it?

No, it soon became known to everyone. I was in the 4th grade, still a child. I was hospitalized and although I spent only three weeks in hospital, everybody knew what was wrong by the time I came back to school. They made a giant “Get Well” poster, gave me toys and other gifts, so I was very well supported and cared of. I remember once my blood sugar level went low while I was in class writing a dictation, so I left the classroom. When I came back, the teacher told me, “Ann has put everything down, she will help you get through the dictation, it’s OK, don’t worry.”

– Isn’t it lovely! After all, sometimes diabetic people do face difficulties. It mostly concerns children of school age: their mates do not always react nicely.Did any of your schoolmates give you a hard time?

When I had the pump, everybody was very curious, of course. At first, it was fun to tell my friends that it was medicine that helped me, but after you tell the same story dozens of times, it becomes boring. Then I started telling everybody who asked it was a walkman or some other device (laughing). I cannot say I was in any way discriminated. I never felt I was “special”, it is just my daily routine: I check my blood sugar level, I give myself an insulin injection, and that’s it. Even if I give myself a shot when my friends are watching, nobody pays any attention. Sometimes they jokingly ask me to check their blood sugar level too. I had felt embarrassed about my routine until I was about 13, but not any more. I do not feel I am disabled or something, and I don’t want others to feel that way too. I do not want any special attention.

– Do you mean the most important thing is how you perceive yourself and whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist?

Yes, I think so.

– What social events do you think could help diabetic patients, especially young people with yet an entire life to live, maintain their hope for the better, for their ability to overcome the difficulties they face?

I think they need a hero they could look up to. As for me, it is not that important to be praised for having been able to achieve some results despite my diagnosis, but I'm rather proud of being able to perceive myself as a healthy person and I strive to achieve the same results as my non-diabetic peers. And the most important thing is that I do not think of myself as “special” or “disabled‘. I’m normal. I would like to know the stories of people like me, those who do not overthink the diagnosis, who just treat it as a way of life and do very well without trying to get extra credit from being diabetic.

– Julia, what advice would you like to give those who have just been diagnosed with diabetes and may be at a loss now?

It is of course very important that their relatives and friends support them without getting too dramatic about it. Indeed, diabetes is a severe disease and everybody understands it. But parents have to teach their children that they can live a normal life without losing any of the opportunities healthy people have. I did not let my life change after I was diagnosed, I kept on training and studying, I did not lose any friends. I think all diabetic children should understand that the life goes on no matter what, that it can be just as bright and eventful, except that they just need to check their blood sugar level and have a shot of insulin once in a while. Everybody can get sick, even those who are normally very healthy. When you’re sick, you take medicines. Diabetic patients should realize that having to take a medicine is not the end of the world and that you can go on living as normal or maybe even start doing something exciting to take your mind off the diagnosis. You needn’t be constantly worrying about the blood sugar level, the dose of insulin injected, the number of BEs eaten. What you need is balance.

It is important that your parents support you, but it is also important to have a good doctor who would explain everything to you. You have to attend classes for diabetic patients. I did. But as I found out later, many patients skip these classes. A good doctor is very important. But the most important thing is your attitude: after all, once you get diabetes, it stays with you for life. You need to develop a positive attitude and then it will be easier to cope.

– Were classes for diabetic patients helpful for you?

Yes. If you take those, you will have a clear understanding if what you have to do, you will know how to count your BEs, how much insulin you need and how to do injections. Then you’re no longer at a loss, you don‘t ask yourself, “Oh my, what shall I do, how do I eat, how do I get insulin?”. This is why you need to attend those classes. This way you will learn how to control your disease.

– So it all depends on the person?

Yes, it does (laughing). Everything in our lives depends on us, I believe. We are the makers of our own future and we get what we want. Thoughts materialize, so you need to think about good things.

– You're a very positive person! Good luck to you, Julia. Thank you!

Interviewed by Ekaterina Artemyeva, Head of GEROPHARM PR Department

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