Who's behind Dead Pancreas Gang ?
Raffael Purcell is the amazing T1 diabetes warrior behind the Dead Pancreas Gang brand. You probably saw this brand circulating around on social media: people posting their simple, yet impactful t-shirts with the words DEAD PANCREAS GANG on them! If you still don’t know what I am talking about, take a look at the picture below.
Now, maybe, you said AH YES! If not, you will learn about it as you continue reading this post. Raffael is an amazing graphic designer who is always full of creative ideas, both for the T1 diabetes community and in her professional life! She has helped me during various occasions to create pictures and GIFS for the sports bra that I sell on my website without even me asking her to do so. She is a kind and genuine human being, and I just wanted to share that with the community! So I asked some questions to Raffael to tell me a little bit more about her life with diabetes, her past and upcoming projects, and much more!
When were you first diagnosed with T1 diabetes?
I was first diagnosed with diabetes February 8th, 2016. I can still remember the day so clearly, down to what I ate for breakfast and the outfit I was wearing. For about 6 weeks I was encouraged by my mum to go for a checkup as my symptoms of diabetes were increasingly becoming more apparent (constant thirst, needing to go to the bathroom regularly, weight loss, abnormal periods etc.) I was working 70+ hours a week at the time so I just put it down to being overworked, so I tried to put it off for as long as I could. It was on a Tuesday and I had a lot of work meetings on that day, so I almost considered cancelling my appointment. I went to the doctors, she urged me to get a blood test ASAP (again, I considered pushing my blood test back so I could get back to work) but there was something in the back of my mind to just get it over and done with. Within a few hours of getting the blood test I received a phone call from the doctor that I had type one diabetes and that I have a team of people waiting for me in hospital. Unfortunately for me I have a VERY strong work ethic and stupidly continued to work for a little bit before deciding to go to hospital. When I finally rocked up to hospital the emergency doctors and nurses were shocked that I looked and felt fine and that I could even walk because my blood sugars were too high to read to the point where they were getting ready to put me in a coma. After a few hours the doctors were finally able to read my levels at 42 mmol (720 mg/dL). Even though my bloods were so high I consider myself very lucky to be in and out of hospital within 18 hours!
2. When did you join the online diabetes community?
I joined the community as soon as I knew it was a thing on Instagram! I was scrolling through Instagram maybe a month after my diagnosis one night and decided to look up #type1diabetes hashtag, I’m not really one for social media to be honest, but I knew that it was something that I needed to join to make connections with other diabetics.
3. What do you like best about it?
Hands down the best part about the diabetes community is the people I have met, both near and far. In fact, next month I’m going to Sydney to meet up with some diabetics. I really value the connections I have been able to make with other diabetics where you are more like friends as opposed to ‘diapals'.
4. You are a strong and passionate women without a doubt, however we all face bad diabetes days . How do you cope when that happens?
You are far too kind, Judy, but it takes a strong woman to know a strong woman <3 When it comes to bad diabetes days I always make sure I take a chill approach. It takes a lot for me to feel stressed or angry and having these types of emotions will always make your blood sugars worse and you end up feeling more frustrated. I try to continue my day as normal as possible, just with a lot more finger pricks to see where my levels are at! Having a routine is mandatory when it comes to having consistent levels so I ensure I don’t break routine, even when I’m having a bad day. Bad diabetes days are inevitable so there’s no point in stressing or getting frustrated with them, you just have to ride the wave. You will never hear me complain about diabetes or anything else in my life because I know there is always someone who will always be worse off than me, so I take everyday as it comes and am always grateful for the good days.
5. How important is mental health to you when it comes to your T1 diabetes?
No one has asked me this question before and I really have no idea how to answer it to be 100% honest. I’m a bottler with my feelings in all aspects of my life (including diabetes), so for me this means NEVER opening up to anyone about my emotions or struggles, so I guess you can say I have a pretty bad relationship with my mental health? I don’t like having conversations about how I feel and I prefer to keep my feelings to myself; I always have and probably always will. I know it’s a very unhealthy thing to bottle feelings but I’ve never been able to identify why I do this, maybe it’s because I’m too busy listening to other people I don’t want people worrying about me and I don’t want people to think I’m a burden. This is definitely an area in which I need to work on, but no ones perfect, right?
6. I would like to say that I am very proud of the brand “Dead Pancreas Gang”! What inspired you to do it?
Oh gosh, you’re making me blush with all these compliments girl! What really inspired me to make DPG was that I needed a new creative outlet for myself and why not be creative and find a way to raise awareness of type 1 at the same time? I had no intention of selling these t-shirts at all and only made one for myself. I started wearing it around the office and out in public and I liked the reactions I was getting from passersby. It wasn’t until a friend of mine (not diabetic) encouraged me to create and sell these tshirts, after a few hours of considering it I decided to jump right in. If it wasn’t for her, I definitely wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Designing my t-shirt range was super easy for me as I designed tee’s that I would want to personally wear on a daily basis so I took to my local screen printer and embroider to get these t-shirts created using ethically made, high quality tshirts. I remember the moments before I hit the button for my website to go live I started doubting myself and felt confident that no one was going to purchase. Much to my surprise I got my first order within 5 minutes of announcing it on Instagram and within 24 hours of going live most t-shirts were already out of stock. The overall goal for creating DPG was to hopefully make people who feel insecure about living with diabetes feel a little more empowered through their own sense of humour, and I think I’ve achieved my goal here. It’s never been about making money, if someone messaged me saying they wanted a shirt but don’t have the money I’ll happily give them one. For me it’s always been about making other diabetics feel like they have a place where they belong.
7. Do you feel like you created a movement?
A movement? No. A divide within the diabetes community? Yes! When thinking of a name for my brand I wanted something memorable, light hearted, something that would spark curiosity, and to ultimately reflect my sense of humour, hence, Dead Pancreas Gang was born. I knew full well with such a name for such a serious disease there would be some politically correct people who struggle to identify the humour of the name. I’ve had some people have even told me that they hate the name, and honestly that’s perfectly fine with me and if anything it’s a huge compliment. I strongly believe that if everyone loves and agrees with your work I believe you’re not making a big enough impact, not to mention your work is probably boring! On the other hand, there are people who find the name absolutely hilarious and totally understand where I am coming from, I mean, if fully qualified diabetes educators and doctors can see the funny side of it, I think most of us can.
8. Did you get any messages from people telling you they’ve been asked what their shirt was all about?
Yes! All the time and I absolutely love it! When people take the time out of their day to tell me a comment they have received makes my heart sing. I’ve had people message me and saying that their day has been made because someone has come up to them in public and have said ‘I’m in the gang too’ and they instantly bond. I’ve received a couple of messages from different people who wear them to their endo appointments and their specialists get a good giggle out of it. These are the messages that make me so damn happy! I’ve even had close friends who aren't diabetic wear these tee’s and people have come up to them curious and asking questions about it, how lucky am I to have friends who aren’t diabetic but still wear the brand with pride? Pretty lucky I’d say! I think the most bazaar comment someone told me they got was someone went up to them and said “That sounds like a cool band name”. Maybe I should form a band? I think the only instrument I could play is the triangle so enquire within if anyone wants to join.
9. Tell us more about the collab that you had with T1DLYF! What did you guys work on?
First up, can I just say how much I adore Linda from T1DLYF!? Seriously everything about that chick is so cool I’d love to meet her in person one day! Linda and I pretty much connected the first time we spoke on Instagram - we shared a similar clothing style and a love for vintage/one off pieces, so it only seemed natural for us do a collab based on our personal styles and what we would want to wear. Linda came to me with the idea to create a gorgeous limited edition pin and I was on board straight away! We presented each other our ideas for the look of the pin which funnily enough we pretty much had the exact same idea. With Linda coming from a business and retail background and being an all round creative, and myself coming from a design background, I knew this would be the perfect collaboration. These pins actually sold so well that I forgot to save one for myself haha! I think I can vouch for the both of us and say these pins were the quickest selling item we have on both of our websites. Dead Pancreas Gang x T1DLYF was my first collaboration so I wasn’t too sure what to expect but Linda was an absolute gem to work with. She’s still selling some of her own pins, patches and totes so definitely check them out at t1dlyf.com.
10. What would you say to anyone who would like to start a project to raise awareness?
The only way to start, is to start so just do it!
11. Are there any new exciting projects for “Dead Pancreas Gang”?
A lot of my time is currently being taken up creating another side hustle (not diabetes related) but you never know! I tend to make decisions super quick so who knows, I could wake up tomorrow and decided to have a whole new range out next month!
Pictures taken from @raffael.purcell’s Instagram page