Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Fight To Survive – Caroline Cox

If you have Type 1 diabetes, and in particular if you are a child with it or the parent of such a child, then this book should be essential reading. It charts the life, and near-death and subsequent recovery of a young girl diagnosed at the age of 11, at a time when insulin therapy was unknown and the only available treatment was a near starvation diet of less than 800 calories a day.

The diet itself was intolerable for most, who could not live with the daily torture of eating far less than their growing bodies required, but in this respect Elizabeth Evans Hughes showed remarkable dedication and willpower, especially for one so young. Caroline Cox builds a vivid picture of Elizabeth’s struggle and her refusal to let the disease and its privations restrict her from living as normal and full a life as possible, and her strength would permit. She sought to remain cheerful and optimistic in her many correspondences with her mother, Antoinette Hughes, and relieve any pressure she could on her family, in particular her father who held some of the highest positions in US political and judicial life.

Intertwined with the story of Elizabeth’s life is the story of the discovery by Banting, Best, Collip and Macleod of the substance that would save her life and completely alter the treatment of diabetes – insulin. This book provides an excellent companion volume to the two other great accounts of the revolutions in diabetes care that have occurred since the early 1920’s: The Discovery of Insulin by Michael Bliss, and Diabetes- The Biography, by Robert Tattersall. Cox’s biography brings a very human and personal perspective to the story of the miracle of insulin and brings home forcefully the dreadful realities before its discovery, and the hope for the future after it was successfully purified and administered.

I have Type 1 diabetes and do not have to endure what Elizabeth and her contemporaries had to endure. With modern treatment I can be confident that the insulin I use is pure and standardised, with a reasonably good prediction of what I need to inject in order to eat a certain meal. Each year new discoveries are being made to refine and improve the lot of the person with diabetes, but none – short of a cure - can surely match the transformation brought by insulin to be able to consume a healthy and varied diet rather than wasting gradually away to nothing.

You will be captivated by Elizabeth’s spirit and courage and left in no doubt that, awful as a diagnosis of diabetes is even now, there was a time when it was almost unbearable. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.


  1. This sounds utterly brilliant northe, I'm gunna see if the library has it when i go next week!

  2. It really is! It's just come out so might not be available in the library yet. After reading the snippets in Bliss's book I couldn't wait to read the full story, and it will probably mean even more to you, being diagnosed as a child.