In November 2003, aged 31, Ben had just moved to the region when the Monaco Marathon ran past his doorstep. At the time, Ben weighed 108kg and was “doing my best to eat and drink my way through the doctor’s warning that I would not see 40 at the current rate of progress”.
When his mother was diagnosed with cancer the following year, Ben the couch potato decided to sign up for that same marathon to raise money for the disease. He has not stopped running since – so far in 2014 he has run 1021km, and it’s only May! – losing 35kg along the way; he started a blog www.pussyfootingaround.net.
Ben’s next run is the mammoth 130km Cro-Magnon, from Limone Piemonte to Cap d’Ail on June 21st 2014, to raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, which regrettably his 12-year-old daughter Alice was diagnosed with late last year. However, to up the fundraising ante, Ben’s running the course aller-retour for a total of 260km.
“My goal is to leave Wednesday evening and arrive in Limone the following night. I’m hopeful to have 24 hours to eat and sleep and then register for the Cro Magnon on Friday, which starts at 4am on Saturday. However, it all depends on the weather, if I get lost, and so on.”
Ben with his cheering squad
Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined, but only 5% of those diagnosed have Type 1 – meaning the body produces no insulin – and it’s usually children or young adults. (This is why it used to be known as Juvenile Diabetes.) According to Diabetes UK, there are 3.2 million people diagnosed with the disease in the UK, and an estimated 630,000 people who have the condition but don’t know it. There is nothing that you can do to prevent Type 1, it’s caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger the onset of the disease whereas Type 2 is a combination of our genes and our lifestyle.
We asked Ben, who is Head of Special Situations Sales at Tavira in Monaco, how the recent diabetes diagnosis has affected their lives? “To be honest, while it’s not terminal cancer, it has been a very difficult time which I can only liken to bereavement.
“Alice had lost weight after the summer in 2013, but other than that we did not notice anything different about her. She was perhaps getting up to pee in the night, and was a bit more fatigued, but we just thought it was because it was coming up to Christmas with school and concerts. We took her to the Paediatric GP, but she put the weight loss down to a growth spurt as she was 11 and perhaps coming into puberty.
“In 2013, Alice Rolfe was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after doing a Blood Glucose Check - a fingerprick testWhen we were in the UK at Christmas, each of us did a blood sugar test – my father- in-law is Type 2 diabetic and has all the paraphernalia. It was not the first time we had done the finger prick – it was almost like a family game when we all got together. Alice was off the charts: it just said HIGH. We called the local GP who told us to go immediately to York District Hospital and we returned back to my in-laws that evening with a Type 1 diagnosis, injection pens, blood glucose check kit and enough insulin to last us until we arrived back in Monaco. That was December 23rd, and we realised our lives would never be the same again.
“Christmas was horrendous, trying to get Alice’s blood glucose level down to a more normal level with odd meals, travelling around to visit relatives – and all the chocolates lying around.
“We arrived back in Monaco on 27th and immediately saw the doctor to get repeat prescriptions, but then had an agonising two-month wait to get into the French system – there is no Monaco system for Type 1 kids. Diabetes UK provided us – and continue to — with education, support and sometimes just someone to talk to at the end of the phone.
“I really want to raise awareness of the symptoms so that parents can insist on a blood test for their children – every parent I have spoken with either self-diagnosed or their child was only diagnosed after multiple visits to the hospital and becoming very ill. This is consistent with the view that children have died with undiagnosed diabetes. The NHS website link here for more information, specifically: www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetic-ketoacidosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
“Complications of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is potentially very serious. High levels of ketones in the blood disrupt normal working of many parts of the body. The more ketones in the blood, the more ill a person with diabetic ketoacidosis will become. Left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis can cause potentially fatal complications, such as severe dehydration, coma and swelling of the brain.
“It is very simple for parents: if your child has any of the following symptoms, insist on your child’s GP for a Blood Glucose (Dextrose) Check - a fingerprick test. The main symptoms of diabetes are:
• going to the loo all the time to pass urine • feeling very thirsty and drinking a lot • feeling very tired • losing weight (and you don't know why) • regular episodes of thrush, or genital itching • blurred vision • slow healing of cuts and grazes
“If I could take the condition myself and Alice could have a fully functioning pancreas again, I would. In a heartbeat.”