SURVIVING diabetes for 60 years has left Joan Barrett wary of saccharine life stories. Her journey since her first insulin injection, aged 10, has taken her around the world, through divorce, remarriage and heart surgery to a stone house near the Burdekin River shared with dogs, birds, snakes and her husband, Jim.
She feels the gold medal Diabetes Australia gave her last November for 60 years’ victory over diabetes mellitus should carry Jim’s name as well as hers.
‘‘ I could not have lived the last part of my life without Jim, because I have needed him, especially after the bypass,’’ Joan said this week.
‘‘ He is my guide – he can tell if I am going to have problems.’’
They met in Mount Isa in the early 1970s while Joan and her young daughter, Karen, were staying with Joan’s sister and brotherin-law, Irene and Jim Cunningham.
Jim had grown up in Mount Isa and established a registered goat dairy, with a home-delivery round.
‘‘ I thought he seems a nice fellow – I liked animals too, if not I could not have lived with him.’’
She had spent the previous decade working as a secretary in London, travelling around Europe and married to her first husband, who worked in the fur trade.
But she was a North Queenslander at heart, having been born in Bowen in 1939, youngest of Jack and Gladys Welldon’s four children.
Her sister Beryl, 16 years her senior, was Bowen Hospital matron in 1950 when she was diagnosed with type one, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
The doctor who recognised her thinness and water-craving as symptoms of diabetes sent her to Townsville General Hospital.
Beryl farewelled her with an icecream she tipped would be her last.
Joan spent six weeks in hospital and returned to Bowen for Christmas with a month’s supply of insulin, a syringe and reusable needles.
Joan with her gold medal and left with Jim