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Keen traveller Margaret Fordon-Bellgrove, 82, hasn’t let a type 2 diagnosis keep her from exploring the far corners of the world ‘I knew if I looked after myself I’d be alright,’ says Margaret, who has been to 31 countries since her diagnosis.

We hear you’re a bit of a globetrotter…
I’ve travelled to 31 countries since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 13 years ago. I usually travel on my own, but sometimes I go with a friend. On my last trip, I went from Amsterdam to Budapest on a cruise ship, and then I met some lovely people in Canada and Alaska. I was away for two-and-a-half months.
How do you manage your diabetes on long trips?
I’m on a few different medications, including insulin, so I work out exactly how much I will need for the whole time I am away and then take a little bit extra. I take all of my prescriptions with me, and a letter from my doctor saying I have diabetes. I carry it all in my handbag, so it is safe, even if one of my bags goes missing.
Have you ever been unwell when overseas?
I had a hypo on the plane coming back from the Netherlands a few years ago. With all the different time zones, I was very tired and I missed one of my insulin injections. It was horrible. I felt very ill, and was trembling and perspiring. The hostesses asked three people to move so I could lie down and gave me some fruit juice. From that, I’ve learned not to get overtired and, instead of going cattle class, I now go business class. It is expensive but I can rest when I need to.

Do you carry your medical history with you?
I wear an SOS medical alert, which is gold and looks like a locket. Inside, it has a strip of paper about 40cm long. That’s where I’ve written everything medical people would need to know, along with my doctor’s name and phone number.

Is it hard to keep your diet on track when you’re travelling?
On my last trip, I was on a ship for 46 days. For breakfast and lunch you could help yourself to a buffet and eat as much as you like, but I was very careful. Every morning I had two pieces of fruit and two cups of green tea. For lunch, I had salads with not much dressing. For dinner, we chose from a menu and I usually had a prawn cocktail. I really like those! There was always fish or meat, and wholemeal rolls, but they hardly have any vegetables on cruise ships. I’d ask for vegies and they would bring me a tiny bowl. Thank goodness for the salads!

Do you have to fight a sweet tooth?
I went through the war [WW2] as a child in Holland and there were food shortages. When it was over, and we were getting some food again, I couldn’t stand the smell of sugar. I still don’t like it so that’s a blessing. I have fruit and yoghurt rather than sweets and I don’t drink alcohol or soft drinks. I have coffee, tea and water. I also test myself each day. If my blood sugars are a bit too high, I am more careful the following day.

Are you always disciplined?
I’m not always good! At my retirement village, we have monthly get-togethers and they have forbidden food. Recently, I had quiche. My dietitian said it’s okay to bend the rules once in a while. You’ve got to live a little.

How do fellow travellers respond to your eating habits?
On one trip, a lady kept encouraging me to have sweets. After I’d politely declined, several times, she told me I was too disciplined and strict. Because I look well and you can’t see my diabetes, it can be hard for people to understand. Another person on the cruise said to me, ‘It’s a very boring diet.’ I told them, ‘No, it’s a very healthy diet.’ My doctor once said people dig their own grave with a knife and a fork. I won’t be doing that.

Did your diabetes diagnosis come as a surprise?
No, I knew I was going to get it sooner or later, because it runs in my family. My parents were both diagnosed with type 2 in their early 60s. Each of them had one parent with diabetes, too. My doctor tested me every year, faithfully, and then one day he said to me, ‘You have it, I’m sorry.’ That was 13 years ago when I was 69 years old. I was then put on metformin as well as daily insulin injections. The diagnosis didn’t worry me because I felt well and I knew if I looked after myself I would be alright. I never worry about things. What will be, will be.

How much did your diagnosis change your lifestyle?
I saw a dietitian who told me to eat lots of carbs, vegetables and fruit, which wasn’t a big adjustment. Exercise wasn’t a problem, either. I was already very fit. I walked every day for at least an hour and went to the gym twice a week. In summer, I swam for an hour every day and did water aerobics twice a week.

Do you still enjoy exercise now?
I love walking. I go for a walk every day for about half an hour. If it is shockingly hot in the summer, I go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. When I need to go to the bank or down town, I leave my car at home and walk. Sometimes, I forget that I’m walking and go shopping and have to carry my groceries home!
I’m 82, but my mind says, ‘No you’re not.’ I feel young and so I do things. That’s why I have a sore knee now. I’ve been enjoying repotting some plants and mulching my garden. My doctor said, ‘No more gardening!’ That’s okay, because it’s all finished now.

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