Helen and Phil's story: living with kidney disease

Helen and Phil had thought they'd never be able to enjoy cooking again after their diabetes and kidney disease diagnoses.

"Our love of food as a couple started during the first days of our relationship, when Phil, a lovely and long-standing friend of mine, asked me out on a date. Well, at least I think that was what my now husband was asking when he suggested going out for a ‘bite to eat’ one night! Phil and I had known each other as ‘mates’ and as part of a large group of friends for over fourteen years, and saying yes felt like the most natural thing in the world to me."

Falling in love with food... and each other

"We had a lovely evening at a local Italian restaurant where we laughed over our meal and really enjoyed getting to know each other better. I think it was then that our love of sharing food – and of each other – started! That mutual love of food was to become very important over our years together.

"The following week Phil cooked us a meal for two. Little did I know that he was a bit of a secret chef. I turned up at his home expecting spaghetti Bolognese or even beans on toast with a garnish of cheese, but was served roasted monkfish skewers and a delicious fennel salad. I was bowled over!

"There is a well known saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But I am all for equality in all things culinary – and that definitely worked in this woman’s case. If food be the music of love, cook on!"

Tying the knot – with monkfish on the menu

"It will come as no great surprise that after being such good friends for so long we had a bit of a whirlwind romance. One year to the day after that ‘bite to eat’ Phil and I got married, and have never looked back. The menu we chose for our wedding breakfast included roasted monkfish as a nod to the first meal he cooked for me.

"At that time, I was a detective constable in the police force, and I do not think that anyone can ever really know when they marry ‘into the job’ how difficult and demanding being the spouse of an officer can be. I am eternally grateful for the help, love, and encouragement Phil always gave me. You’ve got to love a chap who turns up on Christmas Day at the front desk of a police station with a plated-up full Christmas dinner for me and my colleagues working on a major incident – just so I didn’t ’miss out’ on the festive food! That Christmas meal was certainly more appetising than the still-partially-frozen corn beef sandwiches we were provided by the Force..."

  • Helen and Phil - wedding
  • Helen and Phil - in kitchen

Tackling the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes

"All marriages have their challenges, and whilst we presumed that ours would be no different, it still came as a shock when we discovered our ‘challenge’ would take the shape of chronic illness. At the age of 40 I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and I remember thinking that the sky had fallen in on my life. My immediate reaction was, ”What are we supposed to eat?” I worried that we would no longer be able to eat out or have the wonderful holiday meals we had enjoyed so much. Thankfully, with the help and advice of dietitians, the mystery and bewilderment we felt dissipated, and we realised that there was still a world of wonderful food adventures out there for us as a couple.

"A few years down the line Phil was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD). After looking into what following a 'kidney-friendly diet’ meant, it felt like the sky had fallen in on us once again – and for good this time.

"Everything that was right to eat to support my diabetes was terrible for him. Literally, we were the new Mr and Mrs Jack Sprat! Whilst I could enjoy a nice tomato and avocado salad with a Greek feta and spinach filo pie, I'd have to eat in a cupboard so Phil couldn't see what he was missing. If we wanted to sit down together, we were limited to a boring and restrictive menu plan that occupied the ‘middle ground’ for both of us, combining aspects of Phil’s renal diet and my diabetes diet.

Finding Kidney Care UK and the Kidney Kitchen

"We were then hit by the news that Phil’s kidney function had declined further. We both become very anxious about what our future might look like. We decided to contact Kidney Care UK for help in connection with dialysis and related treatment needs. It was possibly the best phone call I ever made, as I now work for the charity as a Patient Support and Advocacy Officer.

"I firmly believe that it is my time to step up and help and support my husband and people like him who are living with kidney disease."

Helen and Phil - smiling