We’ve all had to adjust to new ways of living recently, but Wests Tigers NRL Touch Premiership player Logan Flanagan had to adjust to dramatic life changes at age 10 when she was diagnosed with a chronic disease.
“I’d been battling a flu-like virus for about four months, I was severely underweight, drinking eight or more litres of water a day, I had severe bruising, was experiencing hallucinations and heightened emotions,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep without thinking I had bugs crawling all over me and never wanted to be by myself throughout the night, I always needed someone next to me.
“When I was rushed into emergency I remember just crying. I had no idea what I was about to endure for the rest of my life.”
Flanagan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the type that’s typically diagnosed in adolescence, when someone’s immune system mistakes their own healthy cells for foreign invaders and attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
“At 10, I had to learn that every day for me could be life or death. I had to learn to have a needle five times a day. But it wasn’t as easy as just having a needle and eating carefully. It was a 24/7 job that my family didn’t ask for.
“We all had to learn new ways to navigate life. My dad did most of the injections for me but eventually I had to learn because my parents were having to take time of work to come to the school two to three times a day to inject my insulin so I could eat with my friends. I couldn’t just decide I was hungry and open my lunchbox. I had to have a needle every single time I decided to have any sort of food.
Flanagan says she was lucky to have had supportive friends and family around her. “As we grew up, my friends all became so aware and have been such a great support network. My dad would write up laminated sheets of information on everything they and I needed to know and leave them at everyone’s houses, including on foods and how much insulin I would require, which made my parents feel more at ease with me continuing to lead as much as a normal life as a young kid could have.
“My little brother also learnt how to help me – how to inject my insulin and use my machine to prick my fingers to check my blood glucose levels. To this day, whenever there’s an emergency or I’m severely sick with my diabetes, he’s always by my side and always calm, which helps Mum and Dad out.
“They all took on the changes side by side with me to make me feel more comfortable and relaxed about the life-changing condition. I couldn’t imagine getting through this without them. They all go above and beyond.”
As if living with diabetes wasn’t enough, at 16 Flanagan was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease, called Graves’ Disease. “It affects the thyroid. Since that diagnosis I’ve being on medication daily. I have spikes with this disease which require more or less medication as I can get extremely fatigued if my levels are out.”
But one thing that helped Flanagan push through all the challenges was the fact that she was able to keep playing sport. “I grew up playing everything you could think of but was drawn to both netball and touch football. Before my diagnosis, I’d just competed in my second Junior State Cup for the Newcastle City Under-10 Girls, and we’d come away with our first Junior State Cup title.”
Though there are measures that Flanagan has to take to play. “I require blood glucose monitoring at least five or six times day, and it’s double that when I’m playing a Touch game or tournament.
“I now have an Insulin Pump that I wear 24 hours a day, every day – except when I train or play or am in water. I always carry a juice poppa with me wherever I go, as they are a quick, easy way to spike my sugars when I’m having a hyperglycaemic low. I suffer a lot after big games, trainings and tournaments, which is what they call a delayed hypo. Up to 24 hours later I can have a big low – when I’m in bed at 3AM after a Vawdon Cup game for example.
“Back in 2013, on the day of my first Vawdon Cup qualifying final with the Canterbury Bulldogs Women’s Open team, I didn’t wake up because I was in a severe hypoglycaemic low, which required an ambulance paramedic to bring me out of my low.” Ten hours after that, Flanagan showed up for her team. “I managed take the field with my teammates and play.”
So does Flanagan think living with this disease has made her more resilient? “Yes, definitely. I’ve had to overcome challenging obstacles on a daily basis, which has made me more determined to not use this disease as an excuse and compete and be the best that I can.”
It’s also helped her in her work as a disability support worker. “I can relate on a personal level to the people I help because I know what it’s like to be different from everyone else. I’ve learnt to be patient and want to make a difference in their lives. I absolutely love my job.”
And what has she found are some of the biggest misconceptions she’s found people have about type 1 diabetes? “That diabetes is not a serious disease. It’s life-threatening and there is no cure. It can reduce life expectancy, along with loss of limbs, if not controlled and monitored 24/7. Another misconception is that a lot of people think diabetes is only to do with being overweight and sugar intake. There’s a lot of confusion between type 1 and type 2.”
- Clubs you’ve played at? “I started with Newcastle City, then represented Hunter-Western Hornets at Junior Regionals from U14s to U18s, before transitioning to Women’s Opens with Wallsend Touch for a year in Women’s prems. I then made the decision to travel twice a week to Sydney to play with Canterbury Women’s Bulldogs from 2013 onwards.”
- Tell us about your elite career. “I’ve played Elite 8 with Country Mavericks, Sydney Scorps and Sydney Mets. I’ve played in two W20s teams at State of Origin (2014, 2016), won two WO State Cup and two Vawdon Cup titles with my Bulldogs sisters. I’ve played two years in the NRL Touch Premiership with the West Tigers. And I was named in the NSW Mixed Open squad before COVID-19 put a halt on trials.”
- Pre-game rituals? “Left shoe on first.”
- Advice to your younger self? “Keep going. These setbacks will lead to something great.”
- Favourite thing about Touch? “The friendships. I couldn’t ask for a better family and sisterhood to be a part of than my Canterbury Bulldogs girls. I love my doggies.”