Back to Stories

Former nurse and St John Ambulance volunteer Rita Handley was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1987.

Now 75, she wants to help people realise that diabetes is a beginning, and not an end.

With diabetes in her family – from mother, to father, three brothers and herself – Rita knew when she was first diagnosed what was in store. “It was hard, at first,” she says. “I cried for a week. Because I’d always been careful with food. I thought, I won’t be able to go out to dinner. I’ve got to eat small meals, I’ve got to plan. But that’s not so.”

So on the advice of her doctor, Rita followed a diet for five years. Ten years later, she was told the time had come to go on insulin. “And I cried for another week. Then I thought, this is stupid! My life isn’t over, it’s just the beginning. And I’ve got a new life and I’ve just got to find out what’s the best for me. So that’s what I did.”

She credits her very close family – husband Doug and son Roy – as the backbone of her support network, and for talking with her to helping her live with diabetes, every day. As a nurse and former ambulance volunteer, Rita sees her ability to ‘talk it out’ and ask for help as the key to getting through tough times. “People do think, ‘hey I’ve got diabetes my life’s over.’ Well, it’s not. There’s always help for you. You can plan your meals around it. And your family can help you too.”

St John has been a big part of Rita’s life, from when she was a cadet at 16 in the UK to receiving a long service medal after 50 years’ service. From starting a new division to encouraging her husband and son to join too, Rita looked after her diabetes all the way through, helping people and living her life to the fullest.

Rita has even been able to help the family’s beloved cat Corey, who is also has diabetes. “He has two insulin shots a day. He knows what time it is, he sits where his bowl is and we give him the injection, and he talks to us. He is so good!

“A lot of people think you’re isolated”

“That’s not so. You can always find someone to talk to. Sometimes you can’t come up with the answer yourself, but you can talk it out with someone – friends, family, a doctor. You have to learn that diabetes is a condition, not an illness. Depending on how you look at it is how you can cope with it.”

Helpful links