Sophie Ndaba shares how being a caregiver to her parents at a young age was only the beginning of her fight against diabetes.
This is her story:
I became a caregiver to my parents at a very young age. We lived in the township, and back then, helpers or live-in nurses weren’t a norm. Both my parents suffered from Type 1 diabetes, which meant that they needed insulin.
I played the role of a nurse because I assumed that I knew the disease well enough. Little did I know that my turn was coming. Back then, we didn’t have digital machines to helps us gauge blood sugar levels. So, I had to prick them with a needle every morning before breakfast, and use a colour chart to determine the blood sugar levels.
My father also suffered from hypertension. This meant that the sodium content in his food had to be lower, but with a bit more sugar because his sugar levels were very low. I was trying to be a child, but also had the massive responsibility of taking care of my parents — so, this was a very difficult journey for me.
That period was the foundation phase of me building up my knowledge about the disease, and learning to live with it. It is very complicated, and I didn’t know that it was hereditary until I was much older.
I grew up to become a career woman who was always on the road or on set. I lived on production food because I didn’t have time to lead a healthy lifestyle, even if I tried to. I eventually had to change my ways and adopt my parents’ diet when I realised that my chances of getting diabetes were very high.
I was juggling my career and being a caretaker at the same time, not realising that the biggest blow of my life was yet to come. My parents fell ill at the same time, and were both admitted to ICU at the same hospital. My mother was admitted first, followed by my father the very next day.
Fortunately, I could afford the hospital bills, although it wasn’t easy because I wasn’t on any medical aid — and so couldn’t add them as beneficiaries. I had bought a house in Protea Glen that I eventually had to rent out so I could stay afloat financially. I ended up having to sell it because I didn’t want my parents to end up in a public hospital. Unfortunately, the money was still not enough.
I finally decided to get medical aid, but there was a waiting period of about three to six months because my parents had chronic diseases and were much older. Sadly, my mother died while my father survived. To top it off, I was also going through a divorce.
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My father got discharged in time for my mother’s burial, but he was admitted for kidney failure shortly thereafter. I now not only had to nurse his hypertension and diabetes, but his kidney condition, too. He needed dialysis thrice a week, and it cost R1 500 per session. I was paying about R6 000 for his medical aid every month, including his living expenses — all on my freelance actor’s salary.
I held down three jobs because, with my mountain of responsibilities, one just wouldn’t suffice. Plus, I still had my own household to take care of. I honestly didn’t mind doing it for as long as I could afford to because they were my parents. I was prediabetic during this period, but had no idea. One day while walking around a mall in 2015, I suddenly felt dizzy and my vision completely blurred out.
I can’t even recall the exact date because I have blocked out all the traumatic events that I experienced in my life. I rushed to the nearest pharmacy and bought a testing kit. I pricked myself, only to find that my blood sugar level was over 20 mg/dl. I immediately checked myself in to a hospital where I was admitted for over two weeks. Just like that, my personal journey with diabetes began.
I would throw up almost daily when I started taking my medication — this was before my body got used to it. I lost about 10kgs, and people commended me for it, not knowing that I was actually suffering. The years went by, and I lost more weight. I was at war with a very uncomfortable disease, which was not an easy journey. My dad got sick in 2017, and sadly also died. Diabetes is not a stress-friendly disease, so his death took a toll on me.
The years 2018 and 2019 were my most difficult. Thankfully, I am now recuperating. I understand that enduring pain and traumatic events are all part and parcel of life. However, it is a completely different scenario when you are battling diabetes. I am not a loser; I’m a winner, and yet I lost everything. I lost my weight and parents, and in trying to save them, lost my house and a lot of money. But, because I am a winner, I’m recovering and doing amazing. Bouncing back is taking longer than I expected because, obviously, everything is a process.
Everyone around you has to play a role in your healing. And if they so much as bring an ounce of negativity into your life, you have to show them the door. Everything is not as difficult in life when you have stability, and that is what I’m currently striving for. People are always quick to judge when they haven’t walked a kilometre, or two, in your shoes — nor do they realise how much their judgement affects your healing.
People had a lot of mean things to say without knowing my journey. Some said I was dying of HIV/Aids, and so the distressing comments would ensue all over again. I started feeling better each time I would receive messages from others telling me that they were going through the same scrutiny in their respective lives. I encouraged them to speak up, and push through the pain. I’ve always wanted to be an ambassador of hope, but realise that I first have to fight for myself. I have to take care of Sophie, and let her heal, too.
My mission is to get back to being fabulous.
I am an original queen, and I am claiming back my space. It has been hard, but here I am honey! I still have my lashes on, and I’m at my best and God on my side. I keep reminding myself that there is definitely a rainbow after every storm.