Warrnambool's Ann Morris was one of the first people to work exclusively in diabetes education and has seen the condition grow "like a tsunami" over the past 43 years.
As she prepares to retire, there are now 1.2 million people - 5.1 per cent of the Australian population - diagnosed with diabetes.
It is one of the major chronic diseases in the country but Ann says there are still many myths and misconceptions about it.
"People still don't understand about diabetes, particularly Type 2," she said.
"It's not as straight forward as being an obesity issue. That is contributing for sure, but family history and genetics have to be acknowledged.
"There shouldn't be a stigma with having diabetes."
Ann was a founder of the Australian Diabetes Educators Association in the early 1980s.
There are now 600 credentialled diabetes educators in Victoria.
Ann has run AMCON Diabetes Management Services since 2012 but started her diabetes education journey in 1976 at the Royal Children's Hospital.
"There was no formal diabetes education position in those days; it wasn't recognised as a position in its own right," she said. "We were forerunners of what became a very big profession.
Ann was doing casual nursing work at the Royal Children's Hospital when she was assigned to work on the diabetes ward.
"The education and interaction with people was something that gelled with me," she said.
She wanted to learn more about diabetes. "It's a fascinating condition. It has so many elements and it's different to a traditional nursing role in that you're giving people information and independence to maintain their quality of life," she said.
"The smallest piece of information could make a lifetime of difference. You become part of their lives and come to realise how much you mean to people when you end of a long career like this."
Now 69, Ann has been saying goodbye to patients as she transitions her practice to Claire Timms, often emotional farewells to people she's supported for more than 30 years.
In 1980 Ann took a position with Diabetes Foundation, now Diabetes Victoria which was in its infancy.
We'd go into the community with information for health professionals, doctors and people with diabetes," she said.
"Raising awareness about diabetes had an enormous impact on people."
Ann moved to Warrnambool in 1984 and started a diabetes education program at the Base Hospital in 1986, later establishing a similar service at St John of God Hospital in 2007 before going into private practice.
"I grew up in Ballan and wanted to go back to the country," she said.
Along the way she became a life member of the Diabetes Educators Association, won a 2011 award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for her impact on relationships and was 2016 Victorian diabetes educator of the year and joint national winner.
But the most rewarding aspect of her work was working with people - from GPs and specialists to loyal clients who followed her for more than 30 years.
"You get overwhelmed with the feedback about how much difference you make to their live," she said.
"I saw a mother and daughter who both had diabetes. The daughter hadn't been speaking. The mother later said to me 'you've given me my daughter back'.
"That's a real privilege."
Ann likens the growth of diabetes to a tsunami.
"There's an incredible prevalence of diabetes in the community," she said.
"Doctors are very proactive looking for it so hopefully it gets picked up and can be managed before you get sick."
Ann wants to breakdown myths around the condition.
"We see people that don't fit the image of obesity, being unhealthy and not exercising," she said.
"There's no doubt they are risks, but not everyone who gets Type 2 fits that mould so it's important we look at the context.
"We're seeing more auto-immune diabetes and different types. It's a disease on a spectrum. There is a continuum of diabetes that isn't black and white. People develop variables of diabetes. It is a condition with classic elements but it also has atypical presentations, which is part of the reason it's so fascinating."
"Sadly, there's still a lot of stigmatised thinking and myth out there, particularly toward Type 2, and people can be very judgmental about other people's circumstances. Family history and genetic predisposition have a lot to do with people's propensity to get it."
Ann hasn't just worked with diabetes; she's lived with it. Her husband Col has managed Type 1 diabetes for 62 years.
They met when Ann visited Warrnambool for the Diabetes Foundation and eventually got together after she moved to the city.
"Living with a person with diabetes gives you a different context of how relentless it is," Ann said. "My colleagues know that, but living with it you see the regular struggle of trying to get it right.
"He deserves a badge of honour, so do many others."
Ann says diabetes is easier to manage today than when she started 43 years ago. She recently attended the American Diabetes Association conference in San Francisco and said technology advancements were amazing.
As she steps back from clinical practice, Ann said her clients would be in goods hands with Claire Timms, who has 10 years' experience in the diabetes field.
"Ann is famous in the diabetes world. I'm so lucky our stars aligned and she is such a great mentor," she said.
In retirement, Ann will continue as a trustee of the Warrnambool Art Gallery Foundation and secretary and presenter at 3WAY-FM.
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