Late Summer Vacation

Planning: something that I have become an expert in ever since Food Allergies entered our lives. You see, my husband and I loved being spontaneous. We liked taking road trips without a destination, we would get on airplanes to fun places if we felt we needed fun in our lives. This didn’t change when our first child was born, but it did when Food Allergies sneaked into our lives in 2013. It takes so much planning and organizing when someone in your family has food allergies: so many medications to carry with you in case of an allergic reaction, wipes to clean any allergen contaminated areas, and for us, a bag full of safe food in case my daughter can’t be accommodated in restaurants (or if I don’t trust that restaurant).

For about two years now, we have been working with a fantastic allergist that has introduced us to Oral Immunotherapy, and Oral Food Challenges. Since then, Penny has been able to tolerate dairy in baked goods, and can now eat some tree nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. Which has given us, as a family, a little bit more confidence regarding food allergies.

Long story short, the weekend before labor day we were brainstorming ideas on what to do for Labor Day Weekend. Not only was it a holiday, but it marked the end of summer and my husband’s birthday. We ended up going to the place that a lot of allergy families love because of their fantastic accommodations: Disneyland. This time we also added Universal Studios: Hollywood to our schedule. So, here I am, sharing with you some of our dining experiences at our end of summer vacation trip. Keep in mind that on this trip, my daughter avoided dairy, peanuts & gluten, and my son avoided dairy and gluten.

Disneyland

We chose to book our flights with Jetblue, they do not serve peanuts on board and they are very accommodating. They announced on both flights that there was a passenger with a peanut allergy and asked a row in front of us and a row behind us to please refrain from eating any types of nuts. We were also able to preboard to wipe down our seats. For us, this is an important thing because a couple of years ago, we were flying (with another airline) to visit some family members and Penny had a reaction in flight. We were lucky her reaction was not anaphylactic, nonetheless, it was a scary situation. Since then, we’ve tried to find airlines that do not serve peanuts, and we take the necessary precautions. Both flights were successful, Penny had no reactions, and she was even able to eat the Blue Chips that they offer in flights.  

We seem to be creatures of habit, which on this trip meant that every day, both my children, chose the same breakfast food, but in different restaurants. My daughter had gluten free, dairy free and peanut free Mickey waffles, one sausage and one slice of bacon. My son had gluten free, dairy free and peanut free Mickey waffles, bacon and a side of scrambled eggs. Yes, EVERY DAY. We were able to find this option at Carnation Cafe and Steakhouse 55. You might be able to find it at different restaurants, but we were comfortable with these 2 restaurants, so we kept returning to both of these.

I usually carry a lot of snacks with us everywhere we go. This time was not the exception. I mean, not only did I carry snacks (cookies, crackers, chips, etc), but I also carried bread, almond butter, and jelly to make sandwiches in case we aren’t able to be accommodated at a restaurant. However, we were able to find different safe snacks at the Disneyland Parks. My kids loved snacking on the dried apple crisps, fresh fruits, minute maid frozen lemonades, and Dole Whip. It never ceases to amaze me how we are always able to find safe snacks without a problem.

From previous experiences and the information found online, I learned that “sit-down” restaurants are usually more accommodating. One of our favorite restaurants, for some time now, is Carthay Circle Restaurant. There, the kids were able to enjoy delicious, freshly made gluten-free bread. Penny ordered the Grilled Petite Filet of Beef. We substituted the whipped potatoes, which contained dairy, with tomatoes. Paulo had the same dish but instead substituted the whipped potatoes with rice. On another occasion at this restaurant, kids had the beef with white rice and green beans. They were also able to enjoy a mango sorbet. 

Carthay Circle Desert

Another restaurant that we enjoyed was the Orleans Cafe. In this restaurant, the Chef came to talk to us about the allergies and the menu. She told us that she was OK changing anything on the menu because she wanted Penny to be happy. There, my kids enjoyed grilled chicken, white rice, tomatoes, broccolini and a side of grapes. 

Orleans cafe lunch

Lunch at Carnation Café made me kind of nervous because their lunch menu seemed to accommodate either the peanut/tree nut allergy or the dairy allergy, but not both together in 1 dish. We spoke to our server and they were able to make Hamburgers on a gluten free and dairy free bun with broccoli and fruits. However, the kids were not able to eat fries at this restaurant due to the risk of cross-contamination. 

Carnation Lunch

   At Steakhouse 55 Restaurant we informed the server about the allergies, and the server went and got the chef, who came out to our table and told us that he could make any of the dishes in the menu safe for my kids. This was a first. Usually, servers and chefs guide us through the menu letting us know what is safe for our kids and what isn’t. This time was completely different, he said that he would actually make ANYTHING that they wanted and that it’ll be safe because he would make it in separate clean pans. Both my kids ordered grilled chicken, white rice, veggies, and fries. Told you we are creatures of habit and there’s not a lot of variety in their dishes. 

Teakhouse 55 DInner

   Universal Studios was a completely different story. I had done my research online, and seeing the different experiences that people have had, I was not comfortable buying food at the park for Penny. We arrived later in the day, so the kids had already eaten their allergy friendly Mickey waffles. I brought with us Almond butter and Jelly sandwiches, chips, and cookies. I saw a lot of foods containing dairy in the park, which didn’t make me too comfortable, and to be honest I was not thrilled by the idea of risking a reaction when we were having such a fun and relaxing vacation. Maybe when we visit again, I will be able to look for an accommodating option for us. This time, I stayed within my comfort zone.

   Last but not least, it is important to know that we carried with us on this trip EpiPens, antihistamines, and the necessary medication needed if there was an allergic reaction. For food-allergic families like ours, a small getaway like this one, in which you are also able to eat out without a worry means so much. Usually, most of our dishes are cooked at home, in our safe bubble. Therefore, being able to enjoy a vacation without having to worry too much about the food is priceless, and seeing your child feeling included and safe at restaurants means the world to us.  

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This post was not sponsored by any of the companies and/or products mentioned above. I am expressing my own opinion and sharing our experience.

***DISCLAIMER: THE TEAL INGREDIENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. ANY INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE ANY MEDICAL INSTRUCTION OR ADVICE. I AM A PARENT SHARING MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, OPINION, AND SUPPORT. IF YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEDICAL CONCERNS, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.
IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, AS A CONSUMER, TO READ LABELS AND VERIFY THE SAFETY OF THE PRODUCTS MENTIONED ABOVE AS ANY PRODUCTS MENTIONED IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE REGARDING INGREDIENTS OR MANUFACTURING PROCESSES AND PRACTICES.***

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Misunderstood

I feel that there is a misconception when it comes to food allergies.  From day one of Penny’s diagnosis, I have heard different comments such as “a little bit won’t hurt her, would it?”, “she will outgrow that as the years pass, you’ll see”, “she must be allergic to peanuts because you had too many peanuts when you were pregnant”, or “ so what happens when she eats dairy, she gets a tummy ache?” As questions/comments like these kept coming up, it was pretty clear to me that Food Allergies can be misunderstood.

These misconceptions concerning food allergies can be due to ignorance, lack of education and awareness, or even indifference. I really don’t know the reason why food allergies are sometimes taken lightly, but I would like to encourage non-food allergic people to take some time and Walk A Mile in our Shoes. One example of this that comes to mind is when non-allergic people have told me that when they visit restaurants they say that they have a food allergy because they are either trying to lose weight, have an intolerance or are, plain and simple, avoiding a certain food. As much as I want to understand their situation, I have to say that this does not help with the understanding of our community. Let’s think about this: What if someone falsely claims that they are allergic to a certain food when in reality they’re not, and let’s say that the kitchen staff serves them the alleged allergen (or just takes the food out of their plate when notified, maybe leaving some residue behind). Then the restaurant staff sees this person eat “the allergen” and see that there’s no reaction. Or, what if someone falsely claims to be allergic to a certain food; then when the food arrives, that same person takes a bite from someone else’s dish, which does contain the alleged allergen, and again the restaurant staff sees that there’s no reaction. I would assume that eventually, people in that restaurant will stop taking Food Allergies seriously.

If you are part of the Food Allergy community, you probably eat most of your meals at home. If you are like our family, there are certain restaurants (I can count them with one hand) that you trust and visit. For me, it is extremely hard to trust anyone with my daughter’s meal because you can’t really see what’s happening in a kitchen that is not yours.

I feel like Empathy is something that came with the territory. I try to understand people and their situations, but sometimes I have to speak up for the safety of my children. If my daughter consumes dairy or peanut, she goes into anaphylaxis. She’s not trying to be an inconvenience, she’s not trying to avoid a certain food for the fun of it; for her, it’s a matter of survival. Non-Food Allergic person that reads me: Next time you ‘re ordering your food at a restaurant, please think about the consequences of making an order with a false food allergy claim. It might seem harmless to you but for people like Penny, it could be life-threatening.

***DISCLAIMER: THE TEAL INGREDIENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. ANY INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE ANY MEDICAL INSTRUCTION OR ADVICE. I AM A PARENT SHARING MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, OPINION, AND SUPPORT. IF YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEDICAL CONCERNS, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.***

 

 

 

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It was time for the mozzarella challenge- the one challenge I have been avoiding at all costs because I wasn’t ready. However, as nervous as I was, Penny felt ready to do the cheese challenge. When a couple of months ago she asked me for the cheese challenge, I asked her if she was nervous about it since she had reacted to yogurt, and she replied with, “No, Mom. The Doctor, nurses, and you will be there. They have the medicine to make me better if I react. All I need is for you to hug me if I need the EpiPen.” I am so lucky that Penny is such a strong, resilient little girl.

Naturally, we set up a date, bought the mozzarella cheese, and as we always do for challenges, the whole family was present to support Penny. We believe that it is important for all of us to be there, not only for support, but to understand the process and, if it ends up not being successful, to learn to identify the symptoms in case we encounter such an event any time in our daily lives.

Fast forward to last week and it was the day of the challenge. Life was going on as it usually does, we had breakfast, went to school and in the afternoon we all headed to the doctor’s office. We walked into the office and they checked Penny’s vitals. Then, the doctor came in, did a well-check and the challenge began. They started by giving her just a taste of the cheese and slowly increased the quantity every fifteen minutes. After almost 3 hours and no symptoms of an allergic reaction, Penny was discharged with a “Pass”.

Oh, what an exciting day! Nonetheless, on our way home, Penny started to have nasal congestion and some sneezing. She also became lethargic- kept nodding in and out of sleep, and was not behaving at all like her normal energetic self.  I asked her how she felt and she answered that she was O.K. and told me to quit being such a worrier. Yet, seeing her like this didn’t seem right, so I immediately called the doctor’s office and per his request, gave her antihistamines and was instructed to call him back when we got home. Well, we didn’t make it home. Just a few blocks before reaching our house, Penny started to throw up, and that’s when I knew that I needed to act quickly.

My husband was driving, so I jumped to the back seat- EpiPen in hand- and gave her the Epinephrine shot. We were so close to the hospital that it only made sense to drive there. In about 5 minutes, I was walking through the ER doors with Penny. As soon as I said “My daughter went into anaphylactic shock. I just gave her an EpiPen” things started moving, fast. Penny was moved into a room, where she was connected to a heart, blood pressure and oxygen saturation monitors. Then was given medication to avoid a biphasic reaction. We were in the hospital for quite some time, and thankfully her body reacted well to all the medication.

I’ve got to say, this was an interesting, yet chaotic learning experience. It was quite different than other reactions. You win some, you lose some, but most importantly you learn. I learned that not all reactions are the same, that I know what to do when Penny has a severe reaction and that if a reaction like this ever happens again, it can be treated and everything will be O.K.

***Disclaimer: The Teal Ingredient does not provide medical advice. I am not a medical professional. Any information posted on this blog is not intended to replace any medical instruction or advice. I am a parent sharing my personal experience, opinion, and support. If you have any specific medical concerns, consult your doctor.***

Good News

Ever since Penny switched allergists our whole experience has been different. Obviously, different doctor, different experience. Yes, but it has changed our perspective from what seemed like a situation into a journey. A journey which has been beneficial not only for Penny but for the whole family. We have all grown with more understanding, empathy, precaution, and a completely different point of view about food allergies.

Reading through the blog, the experiences we’ve been through as a family and how I have reacted to Penny’s diagnosis and allergic reactions, I’ve felt a shift in perspective. My initial reaction to Penny’s diagnosis was negative, one of complete fear and isolation. As I state in Our Story: “Penny’s diagnosis changed our world. At first, it was overwhelming because we had no idea what having food allergies really meant and we didn’t know how to handle them. What can she eat now? Dairy, peanuts and tree nuts seemed to be ingredients found in almost every food that we eat. Reading labels became everything […]” Not to say that I do not experience fear every time we go to the doctor’s office for a food challenge, or get anxious every time we have a test coming up, but now we see Food Allergies in a new, refreshing way. I know that we can be resilient, but I also have to acknowledge that Penny’s doctor has been a key component of this new attitude towards Food Allergies. He’s been very good with educating us more on the subject and giving us reassurance about safety.

A few weeks ago, it was time for allergy testing. Oooh! What an exciting and scary time! You know, it is either good news- she’s outgrowing her allergies or not so good news- her allergies are the same or worse. We got to the doctor’s office, and after having been examined for her asthma and everything else (height, weight, changes in health, etc), it was “test time”. She was tested for the current allergies and a few more that we were worried about because of family allergy history. This time it was great news. It seems like she has outgrown most of the nut allergies and she is no longer allergic to dog or cat dander. Also, the dairy allergy has improved. Hooray for Oral Immunotherapy! Unbelievable: Her multiple allergies have been reduced to only 2 foods: peanuts and dairy!

I have to say that it is a pretty neat feeling. Knowing that your child is safe around foods that were previously like poison to her. It has also been very exciting for Penny. She has been letting everyone know that she possibly might not be allergic to nuts! So, what’s next you might ask? A cashew challenge. The doctor wants to introduce tree nuts in the office, just to be safe.  Like I said, I always get nervous when it comes to food challenges, but I trust my daughter’s allergist. Penny? She’s very excited about the challenge- she’s even counting the days.

Sometimes these curveballs that life throws at you end up being such a gem. You learn, you grow, and you find peace within yourself. There’s nothing harder than swimming against the current. After accepting the reality of being a Food-Allergic Family, I can acknowledge that whole experience has been an incredible, enriching and learning one.  

Little People Big Hearts

Being an “allergy mom” and a teacher, there is something that never ceases to surprise me: children have a more compassionate and empathetic heart when it comes to Food Allergies.

It’s been 3 years since Penny started going to school. Some people don’t understand why the school she goes to is nut free, and dairy free for her class. On the other hand, since day one, children at Penny’s school have listened and understood that some food items can make Penny sick. I’ve heard them talk amongst each other about their food trying to make sure that the meal they brought won’t give her a reaction. Of course, the teachers always make sure that the environment is safe, but if the children, by any chance,  have any doubts about their food, they are very vocal about it and look for alternatives. All of this to keep their friend safe. Her best friend is always trying to make sure she brings “safe food” to school. According to her sitter, every day, before going to school, she brushes her teeth really well and washes her hands because “I don’t want to make Penny sick”. Last year, for her birthday celebration, Penny’s BFF was bringing a chocolate fondue to share with her friends. Well, guess what? She told her mom that she needed to make Penny a dairy & nut free chocolate fondue. It was only fair, in her eyes. This made me tear up. Penny was not only able to happily celebrate her BFF’s birthday but was also able to enjoy the delicious treat. See? Is it that hard? Yes, sometimes we have to go out of our way to make these accommodations, but isn’t it worth it? Don’t we accommodate other people’s disabilities without a problem? When is it that empathy escapes our lives? When is it that we stop caring about the well-being of others?

Like I’ve said before, empathy plays a big role in our lives, not only because Penny has Food Allergies, but also because her brother has Sensory Differences, which means that his brain has a difficult time processing everyday sensory information. Sometimes my life feels like a rollercoaster, but there are so many positive things that this rollercoaster has taught us: we embrace and accept the differences, we try to understand others, we try to leave judgement out of our lives, and we are more conscious of the frailty of our existence, and the beauty of life’s imperfections.

 

Kintsugi

When Penny was diagnosed with Food Allergies, our lives were turned upside down; life became kind of chaotic. We had to change our diet and also our whole lifestyle. In the beginning, Food Allergies felt like a huge rock, an impediment, in our journey.

I made sure I educated myself on the subject in order to be able to accommodate Penny’s allergies, and in order to be able to be the best advocate for my child. I read medical articles, joined online Food Allergy Communities, and asked the doctors all the questions I could think of. With all those adjustments that came with Food Allergies, it was so hard to see this diagnosis as something positive. All of a sudden, I was aware of how much dairy, peanuts and tree nuts were part of our diet, and how difficult it is for people to understand that the consumptions of these food items can be fatal to my daughter. Even people who were close to us and who loved Penny didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation. Outings were anxiety triggers as some common snacks for children are foods that contain Penny’s allergens.

As time has passed and experiences have helped us grow, so has my perception of Food Allergies. I believe that because of Food Allergies our diet is a healthier one, we are now more aware of the ingredients in our food and how what we consume affects our lives. I believe that because of Food Allergies our whole family has more empathy towards other people. I believe that because of Food Allergies, I have learned to enjoy and value the present moment. I believe that Food Allergies have brought our little family a bit closer; it is hard for me to trust anyone to babysit Penny, so our outings always include our children. I believe that Food Allergies have helped us value life a lot more, and have made our lives richer.

In the beginning, Food Allergies were tough, not only for Penny but also for me. It was a very emotional transition; I would get, and still remain, very anxious because I felt an inescapable sense of dread, always waiting for the next allergic reaction. By the end of the day, I would be mentally and emotionally exhausted. However, the experiences that have come with it have helped me embrace the imperfections in our lives, and transform the way I perceive the whole situation and everything that comes with it.  Kintsugi: Just like the Japanese have made beautiful art out of imperfect things, I feel that these unique experiences have made me more conscious of the frailty of our existence and the beauty of life’s imperfections.

Even though these lessons were learned the hard way- because let’s face it: Food Allergies are not a walk in the park, I feel that it has made us a better, more united family and if this is so, for these experiences I am Thankful.

 

Hollows Eve

Halloween… one of the words I dread the most. Why? Think about it; Halloween means one thing: CANDY. What are the most common ingredients found in these treats? Top 8 allergens. When we go out on this day, all I see around is just a potential allergic reaction.

Before Penny was diagnosed with food allergies we used to go trick or treating, but after she got the diagnosis, we felt it was too much of a risk, and decided to avoid it the years that followed. Not wanting to exclude the kids from having fun we started a new Halloween tradition, painting our pumpkins teal, getting our costumes on, and offering non-food treats to people. This year things changed: Penny is older and now understands what Halloween is, she talks about it with her friends and we felt like she wanted to be more involved, so we thought we should give it another chance.

The day started pretty excitingly. Fairy Princess costume on, breakfast, and off to school for a small Halloween bash. Like most of you know, Penny’s school is pretty accommodating when it comes to her food allergies. For the event held at her school, people brought treats and party foods to share with everyone. Even though there weren’t any peanuts or tree nuts, there was plenty of dairy around. The day was going O.K., but at a certain point a rash started to appear in Penny’s hands and face, and before her reaction got worse, my husband picked her up from school. He cleaned her hands and face really well, and the rash eventually disappeared. In the evening, I took the children trick or treating to some neighbors houses whom I had already given non-food items to offer to them, and it was a happy end to our day.

Even though our day was a successful one, it was stressful. Are we going trick or treating next year? I am not sure; maybe we’ll go back to passing non-food treats and raising Food Allergy awareness. Am I overreacting? Perhaps. It might be that I am overwhelmed because one of our family members went into anaphylactic shock less than a week ago and is fighting for his life. Maybe I seem like I am being overly cautious, but there’s one thing I would like you to understand: my children’s allergies, intolerances, or disorders are not their choice; it’s something they have to live with. Let’s create awareness; let’s cultivate empathy in our family members. Judging only clouds our thinking, if we try to walk a mile in other’s people shoes we contribute to a better society.

 

 

Of Friendship & Food Allergies: An Interview

When you or a family member is diagnosed with Food Allergies, it can be tough. It’s hard to figure out what to eat, you could feel alienated; it changes your whole life and your perspective on life. However, being a part of the Food Allergy Community is great. You make friends for life, you meet people that understand what you or your family member is going through, people care about you and your life because these people know and understand that it is no joke, these people understand that a little bit of an allergen can be fatal.

About a year ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Tania, and this reconnection happened because of Food Allergies. We have a friend in common that kept in touch with both of us, and this friend thought it would be a great idea that we both reconnect because Tania has food allergies and understands what my family goes through in our daily lives. You can never receive too much empathy, right? Thank you, Malena! Well, a few days ago I told Tania I wanted to know a little bit more about her allergies. Penny was diagnosed with food allergies when she was only a year old, so it was fairly easy for her to adjust to a new diet, and she will never miss some of her allergens because she has never even tried them, but Tania was diagnosed when she was a teenager, and things are different when you are older. I thought her story was interesting, and here I am sharing with you some of the questions I asked her and her response.

Let me give you a little bit of context. Tania is a 30-year-old hard-working mother of two, who currently lives in Puerto Rico.

Me: How old were you when you had your first allergic reaction, and, what did you react to?

Tania: “Ever since I was a little girl, I remember having eczema and unexplained hives, but no reactions to food. I remember that after being outside, playing in the sun, my skin would turn red and hives would appear- especially in my neck, armpits, elbows, and knees. My first allergic reaction: I was at the orthodontist, I was about 11-12 years old, and I reacted to the latex gloves that the doctor was wearing. They had to give me antihistamines, but everything turned out all right. The first reaction to food was about a year after that. I was at a fast food restaurant and I took a bite of my honey biscuit and immediately anaphylaxis set in. My throat was itchy, my face was itchy, and I was having trouble breathing. My dad had to rush me to the hospital, and this was my first experience with epinephrine. After getting a shot of epinephrine, and all the other medications they had given me, I was still showing symptoms of an allergic reaction, so I had to stay at the hospital for 3 days.

The culprit was honey. I know I had eaten honey before, when my grandma would make us tea, or when I ate honey biscuits, but had never reacted this way.

After several tests, I found out I was allergic to honey, soy, and latex (which I already knew). From that day on, we avoided honey and soy in our house. Curiously, the doctor didn’t prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector.”

Me: I know these are not the only allergies that you have. How did you find out about the other ones?

Tania: “I was about 17 years old, and it was new years. You know that there’s a tradition in which you eat 12 grapes after midnight for good luck? Well, I was in grape number eight when anaphylaxis started to set in. Again, my neck, head, and face started itching, and I started having trouble breathing. My mom gave me antihistamines and drove me to the nearest hospital.Now, after getting some more testing, I turned out to also be allergic grapes, prunes, and white chocolate. Again, no epinephrine auto-injector prescribed to me at this point.
My next reaction happened about six months after the grape reaction. I was sick; I had an infection and was at the hospital. They were going to give me antibiotics through an IV. The nurse started the antibiotic, and I started feeling an intense burning sensation through my veins. Soon enough, my whole body was covered in hives. The nurse ran to get the doctor, and in a matter of seconds, the nurse had taken the IV out of my arm. Due to the reaction to the antibiotic and the infection, I was hospitalized for four days. At this point, a shift occurred inside of me. I understood that I had severe allergies that could happen anytime, anywhere, and that these allergies could take my life. So, I made an appointment with my allergist and asked for an epinephrine auto-injector.

Later on, I also reacted to a vaccine, which turned out to be an egg allergy. After this, I had an anaphylactic reaction while doing an English internship at the University of Vanderbilt in Tennessee. I ate something that I didn’t know had honey, so my roommate- who, by the way, didn’t know I had food allergies- had to basically drag me to the Student Health Services, where I self-administered the EpiPen.

Two years ago, one of my children was eating popcorn and it had peanuts. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and handed me some popcorn. As soon as I put the popcorn in my mouth I noticed my cheeks and mouth swelling. Yes, I am also allergic to peanuts.

Last but not least, every time I eat gluten, I get hives throughout all of my body. It was then that I discovered that I’m also allergic to gluten.”

Me: How do you feel that food allergies affect your lifestyle?

Tania: “In the beginning, it felt like I was restricted when it came to food. I also lost weight, and I felt isolated. I guess that because I felt isolated, and as a teenager, I didn’t want to feel different, I didn’t take my allergies too seriously in the beginning. I would take risks eating these foods (which is a very bad idea), and thought that antihistamines were going to take care of it. I guess I was lucky that I didn’t have an anaphylactic reaction that took my life when I was young. But with age comes maturity, and after I had that reaction to the antibiotics at the hospital, I saw how fragile life could be, and I started taking my allergies seriously.

Socially, I try to stay away from the allergens and it isn’t that bad, but I have been in situations where I’ve had to leave gatherings because there is one of my allergens, and I start reacting to it by “airborne contamination”.

Emotionally, it’s hard because I have kids, and I don’t want anything to happen to me. I want to be able to see them grow up.”

Me: How do people react when you tell them that you have food allergies?

Tania: “Some people take it seriously, but most people are in disbelief. They comment things like: ‘What? You’re allergic to grapes and honey? I’ve never heard of anyone with those allergies!’ I feel like there is a lot of ignorance because of misinformation.”

Me: How do you create awareness?

Tania: “When I go to places, and I feel like I have to tell people, I let them know. I try to educate them on the subject. I also try not to scare people with my allergies, because sometimes they feel like it’s a weight on their shoulders and feel responsible and scare to eat close to me. I try to help spread the word, and help Food Allergy charities whenever I can.”

Me: Finally, how do you feel about having Food Allergies? 

Tania: “At the end of the day, it is my body and I have to work with it in order to continue my life and in order to be part of my children’s life. I have allergies, but allergies will never bring down my spirit and my life!”

 

I have to say that having Tania as one of my friends has been a blessing. She, not only understands what we go through but also offers us her continuous support. Even though we are thousands of miles apart, it feels like we are in a parallel walk through this journey.

Let’s create awareness, and for this, we have to remember that: “To achieve change, we must speak up. Every voice is Important.”
-Barbra Streisand

Going Nuts

Last month was Penny’s latest challenge: almonds. What can I say? Since the day her food allergies were diagnosed, her allergist had said that she would be O.K. if she consumed almonds. To be honest, the thought of introducing her to a tree nut, and potentially having a reaction to it, kept me from introducing her to this food. Her very first allergist had recommended introducing her to almond milk at the hospital (not in her office, but in the parking lot) in case she reacted, which confused me because if she was O.K. to eat almonds, why did she had to be close to the hospital? Long story short, we had been waiting to introduce this food until she was older and was able to vocalize if a reaction was happening.

Last year, she started seeing a new allergist, who is amazing. In the beginning, he told us that she might not be allergic to almonds, but that due to her past reactions to other foods that she shouldn’t have had reacted to, he wanted to introduce it in his office.

We got to the doctor’s office early in the morning…We, yes, the whole family. We have this tradition in which we support each other when big things happen, and for us, a Food Allergen Challenge is a very BIG deal. When it was time, Penny and I walked in, Paulo & my husband stayed in the waiting area. Why? In case she reacted, we would all be there, but not crowding the room, that way nurses and the doctor could do their job. The nurse checked her vitals, weight & height and informed me that she had tested slightly allergic to almonds. I took a deep breath and trusted Penny’s allergist’s decision. After all, she’s allergic to dairy and has been able to tolerate it in baked goods. Hooray for Oral Immunotherapy (OIT)!

A few minutes later another nurse came in with almond butter. It was time to get started. For the first time, I saw Penny be the one anxious about food. Usually, Paulo, being the awesome protective brother that he is, is the one that gets a bit anxious when there are allergens around. This time, I had to consider that not too long ago, Penny had experienced anaphylaxis due to a yogurt challenge. I had talked to her about this new challenge a few days ago, and after a little bit of talking and hugging, Penny was ready.

The first dose of the allergen was very little. I could see Penny tensing up, the white in her knuckles as she clenched her fists. She started scratching her arms and coughed every once in a while. I had remembered to bring books and toys to distract her, and it worked. She kept herself busy coloring and reading, she did great! She first tried the almond butter and pondered about its taste for a while, and told me that it tastes like chips. She loved it! ☺

Then a second dose was administered 10 minutes after, then a third dose, and so on until she tolerated 2 tablespoons (8 grams) of almond butter. Everything went well, but I wanted to be extra cautious because, on her last failed challenge, it wasn’t until an hour after the challenge had started that she reacted. I talked to the doctor about it and asked him if we could stay a little bit longer in his office. He acknowledged my feelings and told us that we could stay there as long as we wanted or 6 p.m. when his shift was over. 😂 After a full hour had passed by, we decided we were ready to go. From this day on, Penny has been able to eat foods containing almond daily, without a problem. Paulo is ecstatic as well, for he is now also able to eat new foods. ☺

I am so grateful that Penny is able to do these food challenges, and having her participate in OIT gives me hope that maybe one day she’ll be able to eat anything, anywhere without having to be worried about a life threatening allergic reaction.

 

Four Years Ago

It’s almost the four-year anniversary of Penny’s food allergy diagnosis. We’ve come a long way ever since, and there’s so much more that we need to learn. At that time, when her doctor said the words, “Penny is allergic to dairy, peanuts and tree nuts”, I was filled with mixed emotions. Happy because we finally had a name for those unexplainable hives that would appear on and off during the past 5-6 months, but at the same time it felt like a “life sentence”. It felt like our lives were turned upside down.

Choosing things to eat without her allergens was hard, going to gatherings, birthday parties and play dates seemed impossible, and to be honest it is still hard sometimes. Even choosing a school for Penny to attend, where her allergies are taken seriously, was a struggle. Things got harder last year when my husband had to do an unaccompanied Army one-year, overseas tour. Penny was sick a lot that year. From the moment my husband left, she started getting ear infections. Of course, her allergies to antibiotics made things harder. Then after recurrent ear infections (one each month for 6 months), she was referred to an ENT, and the Dr. decided that she had to undergo surgery to place tubes in her ears and also remove her adenoids and tonsils.

I am so lucky to have friends that go above and beyond for my children and me. So, when the decision was made that Penny was to have the surgery, my best friend (Sonia) offered to fly into town and be here with us through Penny’s recovery. The day of the surgery, I was a nervous wreck. Since Penny has not only food allergies, but also allergy to medications, I was so scared how her body was going to react to anesthesia. Thankfully, surgery was a success, and Penny didn’t have to stay at the hospital that night. Although Penny recovered pretty fast from surgery, she did have some complications. A week after surgery, her lungs started accumulating liquid, but eventually (with treatment), she pulled through. Sonia stayed with us for 3 weeks, making it possible for me to go to work while helping to take care of Penny & Paulo. I am forever grateful for Sonia’s help.

These past four years have taught us to read labels, eat healthier, cook and bake at home, create awareness, educate people, deal with uncertainty and more, but overall we’ve learned to see life differently, to live with empathy, and to think about the everyday struggles of others. We’ve received so much love and consideration from family, friends, and even strangers. Food Allergies are hard, but the hidden gems it brings are far more valuable. We’ve met great people, and we’re part of a beautiful community that looks out for each other. Can’t wait to see what else this incredible journey has for us.