Actress Jade Byrne is taking a play on tour, Pricks, which she has written about her life with diabetes. Getting straight to the point, the theatrical performance is called Pricks. Sharply observed, here she explains how she came up with the idea.
In November 1989 Jade Byrne was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, when she was four years old. She says, “My mum noticed I was thirsty, tired, losing weight, and going to the loo all the time. I’d had a bad cold and been rather ill but my mum thought, ‘she needs testing for Type I diabetes’. She took me to the doctors and insisted they test me.Both my dad and the doctor thought she was bonkers but she’d recently read an article about diabetes, so it clicked. Thank goodness for pushy mums, I think fate intervened.”
Byrne will be ‘celebrating’ her 30th dia-versary this coming November but she remembers the kit she was given all that time ago. “When I was first diagnosed I was given plastic syringes, the ones with the orange lids, and put on Actrapid and I think Humalog and had to mix them together when I injected. I did have a blood test meter too and was told to have a specific amount of carbs per meal as well as 10g snacks at 11am and 2pm.”
Initially her parents did her injections but she has another strong memory of going away with the BDA (British Diabetes Association, as it was then – now Diabetes UK) for a family weekend at age five. “Most of the kids were older than me,” recalls Byrne, “I remember suddenly deciding that I had to do my injections by myself. I was full of attitude and told my parents that was how it was going to be! At about the age of 10 I changed to insulin pens. I remember that being an improvement. Much easier to use and the pen even looked good.”
It wasn’t until the age of 16 that Byrne went onto four injections a day, learning how to carb count properly around the age of 23, finally doing a DAFNE course (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating). “I had been offered a pump in the past, but I had not wanted to have something attached to me all the time. However, eventually, it just made more sense to go on a pump than to continue doing injections and four years ago I went onto an Omnipod, and I love it. I wanted a tubeless pump because of my career as an actress. My diabetes specialist nurse had shown me the Omnipod when I went on the DAFNE course and my consultant mentioned it as one of the choices that were available.”
On the stage
Byrne has always attended Darlington Memorial Hospital, even when she was studying musical theatre in Leeds. “It was crazy – I was basically dancing all day long. Diabetes has never stopped me doing things, but it was a hurdle I had to overcome. It was hard; I had a lot of hypos. I carried Lucozade around with me all the time. It is always difficult to juggle exercise. I got through it though! I decided that I had to manage it, it wasn’t going to manage me.I came back home to Darlington after studying as my then boyfriend was working here and we decided to move in together. He is now my husband.”
When she was younger Byrne had been told she wouldn’t be able to have children because of her condition, then when she got older the consultants started to say it was possible for her to have her own children, but she had already made up her mind to adopt and the couple have since adopted two girls.
While raising a family, Byrne has been working at Jabberwocky Market, which host world-class, small scale theatre shows, and this inspired here to write her own show. While she visiting the Edinburgh Fringe festival she had a chance to jot some notes down when she started to have a hypo. “I thought, ‘this is what I need to tell people about’. Writing Pricks, made me realise a lot of things about myself and my diabetes, and what it does your mental health. I hadn’t thought about it that way until I started to write about it. Although I’d written about it from my point of view, I started to see the impact it had family and friends too.”
At the moment Byrne is touring with Pricks.“I did the first preview in June of last year then the entire four-week Edinburgh run in August, then a northern tour in November. Now I am embarking on a UK tour. Initially the audience was mainly non-diabetics, but as some Type 1 diabetics have been to see it, and have talked about it, more are coming to see the show. Calling it Pricks was partly a fun title to get people’s attention, but it’s also true. I felt that the public needed to know the facts about what living with diabetes is like. So, while I’m pleased the Type I diabetes community has supported me, I still hope to get the message across to the wider community.”
Regarding CGM options, Byrne used a FreeStyle Libre after her play was accepted to be shown at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2018. “I’d been having a lot of hypos,” she says, “and the Libre changed my life, easily knowing what my blood sugar was, was amazing, but I was still having a lot of hypos and I needed the alarms that a Dexcom has. My consultant had told me about the Dexcom but I couldn’t get in time for my Edinburgh run, but when I got back, I was put on the waiting list for it and I got my Dexcom G6 in December.”It is the best thing, I think it’s amazing. It can tell me if I’m going up or down and it can alert me to possible hypos.”
This diabetes technology has certainly enabled Byrne to be more confident about performing her play on tour, going on stage wearing an Omnipod insulin pump and a Dexcom sensor. But she takes no chances, “I do hide some juice in a secret drawer on stage, but I haven’t needed to use it yet. If I did, I would just do a test on stage and make it part of the show. In fact I do test myself as part of the performance anyway, so I do know what’s going on with my control during the act. I can see the Dexcom results on my phone and I can see my patterns on the Clarity app. I wear my Omnipod on my thigh, and as far as I am aware no one tends to notice it.”