It’s Been A Journey Preparing For University With Multiple Food Allergies And Eczema

My eldest son, Michael, will be heading off to university in the fall of 2014. He will be one amongst the many youths eager, excited and yet, a little anxious to start a new chapter of their lives.

Michael’s university experience, however, will have an added layer. What will set him apart is not his average, his sense of adventure or his charm…Michael has multiple food allergies…dairy, egg, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, sesame, mustard, and raspberries.

Michael is about to embark on a journey that has been in development since he was born.

As parents, we nurture our children, teach them right from wrong, provide them with choices, watch them fall, help them find ‘their feet’ and pick themselves back up again, guide them, encourage them to learn from their mistakes, remain a strong support system, love them through out it all and then hope that all the experiences they have encountered in their lifetime with us has prepared them to meet the ‘real world’.

For Michael, and many other children, personal medical conditions add another element to their ‘life’s journey’.  An element that ‘stirs the pot’ so to speak. Leaving parents and children ‘grasping for straws’ to find their way.  I look back now and wonder how either of us survived the displacement…it was a time in my life full of confusion.

However, to look at Michael now…I know, as parents, we must have done something right. :)

In my eyes, the ‘Grade School Years’ were the hardest…Michael suffered greatly from eczema. (Although, he would argue that having food allergies were worse, but then again, his memory of the eczema years is murky…thank goodness!)

At the time, I felt his food allergies seemed manageable in comparison to the many bouts of infection he endured.  His food allergies ‘took the back seat’ until his eczema started to clear around Grade 7.  Until then, I felt tortured by the fact that there seemed to be ‘no method to the madness’ of his eczema.

My eyes would well, my throat would constrict as I held back the tears while I bathed and creamed his wounded body. 

Below are a list of a few of the posts I have written concerning Michael’s journey with his food allergies and eczema:
Click here for a post I wrote titled, “Talking About Atopic Dermatitis”.
Click here for a post I wrote titled, “Suffocating With Multiple Food Allergies and Atopic Dermatitis: Taking a Breathe In Scotland.”
Click here for a post I wrote titled, “Hockey Dominates Atopic Dermatitis and Asthma”.

During those turbulent years, I would find as many distractions as I could to keep Michael from scratching his already weakened skin…reading, games, puzzles and lots of Barney videos to keep him occupied and entranced.

Once school started, warm classrooms and stress increased his ‘itchiness’ making it harder for him to concentrate.  For many years, Michael and I would sit after school to review the day’s work and practice in a supplementary work book. Breaks consisting of sitting in front of a fan or sticking his head outdoors to cool down were often.

All I can remember at that time was how imperative it was to me that he learn the ‘basics of reading, writing and arithmetic’. I worried that the ‘window of opportunity’ for learning these ‘basics’ would pass him by and he would spend the rest of his educational life ‘catching up’.

I emphasized the fact that everything he was learning was needed for his ‘journey of life’.  He needed to ‘pack’ all that he was learning in a ‘suitcase’ to bring along with him.  No matter how much he may or may not be enjoying the work…he needed to ‘pack it’.

As he got older, I would review what he had ‘packed’ proving just how important he needed each and every step of his learning. For example, knowing how to add helps with subtracting…just as knowing one’s multiplication tables makes division that much easier. Over the years, my metaphor of a ‘suitcase’ became a symbol of his accomplishments.

Michael struggled to do well in school but it wasn’t until around Grade 7 that everything fell into place for him. As his eczema started to heal, he started to sleep through the night. This in turn allowed him to focus better in school and that is when the ‘light bulb’ went off. Everything started to make sense to him…as if the items in his ‘suitcase’ were finally coming together.

The desire and ability to do well finally came together for him. He graduated Grade 8 with Honours and was the recipient of the Christian Spirit  Award.

The common thread throughout our journey has been hope

…the hope that Michael’s choices would not be controlled by his eczema and food allergies.
…t
he hope that his eczema and food allergies would act as a catalyst for learning compassion, building a strong sense of sense, confidence and esteem.
…the hope that he would one day outgrow his eczema and food allergies.
…the hope that he would see his own potential and strive to reach his goals.

So here we are now…Michael in his final year of high school. His ‘suitcase’ has served him well. I know he has all the tools he needs to achieve the average needed for the university of his choice. It’s all up to him. Just one more semester to go.

My hope now for Michael and all youth out there with food allergies embarking on their new paths…universal acceptance.

Times are changing…the more society, immediate family, friends, peers, and educational establishments recognize the importance of embracing our children with food allergies…the easier it will be for these students to achieve their personal goals.

Hope, support, choice, faith and change have played a major role throughout Michael’s journey. They have made him who he is today…a young man with big dreams with the self-esteem, ability and opportunity to reach them…and one proud mom!

Joining My Boys With Food Allergies High School School Council

Well, I finally did it…I joined my boys’ high school School Council. After 3 years of their Vice-Principal, now the Principal, inviting me to join…I felt that this year was the year to do it.

Michael’s upcoming Graduation played a big part in my decision. Graduation events planned for the 2013/2014 year…an Annual Graduation Christmas Dinner, Graduation Day and of course, The Prom.  As each of these Graduation events involve food, research will be needed to determine a plan of action due to Michael’s food allergies to dairy, egg, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, sesame, peanut/tree nuts, mustard and raspberries. I felt the best option for me, as a parent of children with food allergies, to figure out all the Graduation events was to get ‘on board’ and join the School Council.

“Why?”, might you say, “did I not join sooner?”  Well, each and every parent of a child/children with or without food allergies will have their own reasons for joining or not joining a School Council. Personally, I felt I needed a purpose/goal to commit myself…the idea of raising awareness of anaphylaxis to set into motion some safe-guards at Graduation events for students with food allergies gave me reason to join.

Over the years, I have been building a rapport with the Vice Principal/Principal, office staff and teachers in regards to setting up both Michael and Matthew’s Anaphylactic Emergency Plan and Medical Profile for their respective teachers and to raise more of an awareness of anaphylaxis in the school setting. When Michael started in Grade 9, there was not a system in place for the students with food allergies that met with Sabrina’s Law…now, office staff and teachers are fully aware and up to date.

Joining the School Council gives me the opportunity to reach out and raise awareness about food allergies in another forum. Michael’s unique list of food allergies continues to label us as trailblazers. It has opened the door to many educational moments…hopefully, paving the way for other students living with food allergies.

So, how has my presence at School Council regarding the raising awareness of food allergies at Graduation events progressed thus far?  I am happy to report…great!

School Council and the teachers with whom I have dealt with so far have been very accommodating…they seem very interested in the inclusion and safety of all students.

The first Graduation event was the Annual Graduation Christmas Dinner whereby, the Principal, Vice Principals and teachers put together a turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes and veggies for the graduating class…all cooked at the school during the day for the evening event.

Due to fact that the meal included some of Michael’s food allergens and the risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen was high…I decided to cook a complete turkey dinner for Michael at home to bring to the event.

One teacher was in charge of organizing the event.  We emailed each other in great detail…I even offered to bake Mini Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes for the graduating class’s dessert.

All was set until I received an email from the teacher in charge that Michael had not purchased a ticket. Apparently, Michael had not heard the announcements to purchase tickets and he had missed the deadline. After consulting with his friends…he decided not to go as not many of them were attending. It was his choice…too bad, because I hear it was quite the event!

Michael may have missed out on the event of the year…but at least the school is now aware of the possibility of students with food allergies attending such events.

I must say, I am enjoying my time at School Council. Should I have joined earlier? Perhaps, but I am here now and that is all that matters.

Next up…Graduation Day snacks and the main event…dinner at a Golf Club before the Prom.

For parents of a child/children with food allergies…Have you joined the School Council?  If yes, what has been your experience?  If no, are you considering it?

Anaphylaxis Canada Launches Free Allergy App For Teens

Oh happy day! Anaphylaxis Canada has just launched a free ‘Allergy App For Teens’. Click here to read all about the new app.

Having just upgraded to an iPhone, I was super excited to upload this free app from ‘Apple’s App Store’. Just search for the term “Why Risk It?”. The app is available for both the iPhone and iPad, as well as, phones and tablets that run on the Android and Blackberry operating systems. Just check their respective app stores.

Not only does Anaphylaxis Canada’s ‘Allergy App For Teens’ contain all the pertinent information all allergenic youth need regarding anaphylaxis but it also contains a direct link to the “Why Risk It? Teen Allergy Blog”. A great source for allergenic youth to read about the lives of other youth with allergies.

I will certainly be bringing it to the attention of my boys’ high school principal and at the next Parent Council (I finally joined this year).  Anaphylaxis Canada’s ‘Allergy App For Teens’ is the perfect educational tool for all teachers. It gives teachers quick, easy access to refresh their memories with information on “What is Anaphylaxis?, Symptoms, Treatment and FAQ’s”, as well as, information on “Why Risk It?” and a link to their blog.

Have you downloaded Anaphylaxis Canada’s ‘ Allergy App For Teens’ yet?

P.S.  Just to let you know…I have not dropped off the face of the earth. lol  Living, breathing, shopping, cooking and talking about food allergies 24/7 can become quite overwhelming.  I think I just needed a break from writing about it.

With my eldest son, Michael, heading off to university next year, there is much to think about…a new stage in all of our lives.  Michael’s journey towards ‘independent living’ and my journey of learning to ‘let go’.

Coming soon, I will be writing about this new chapter in our lives.

Allerject Educational Materials For All Ontario School and Public Health Units

Did you know…all Ontario Schools and Public Health Units will have received educational material regarding the latest auto-injector Allerject?

Anaphylaxis Canada,  in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Education, have updated their Anaphylaxis Support Kits with packages containing resources to inform and educate our educators on the Allerject. Click here for the announcement at Anaphylaxis Canada.

Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, stated, “The health and well-being of our students is a top priority for the Ontario government.”  “Together with our partners, we are committed to making our schools healthier places for students to learn and grow.”

I am more than thrilled!

The resources in Anaphylaxis Canada’s Support Kit support Sabrina’s Law…passed May 2005, Bill 3 and effective January 1, 2006.  Sabrina’s Law “requires that every school board in Ontario establish and maintain an anaphylaxis policy”...it also “requires that principals develop individual plans for pupils at risk of anaphylaxis.”

Ontario publicly funded schools, school boards and public health units received their first bilingual Anaphylaxis Support Kits in 2011…they will receive Updated Packages, whereas, new schools and public health units will have received the full packages.

The bilingual Anaphylaxis Support Kit includes epinephrine auto-injector training devices (EpiPen and Allerject), awareness and instructional posters and videos, a presentation for school personnel, as well as, related materials and other information.

Educating our educators on anaphylaxis is key to the safety of our children with anaphylaxis in their journey through the education system.

I truly believe the next step is to include the students themselves…our children with anaphylaxis’ classmates.

I know from experience with my two boys with multiple food allergies…the importance of educating their classmates on their food allergies and explaining, in age-appropriate language, the causes, signs and symptoms and treatment of anaphylaxis.

I believe…de-mystifying auto-injectors and developing an awareness of anaphylaxis early on has many benefits. 1)  It would increase a student’s understanding of a classmate with anaphylaxis. 2)  Develop an appreciation of their classmates living with anaphylaxis. 3)  Build a support network of educators and students for classmates with anaphylaxis.

I am every so grateful for the continuing compassion, empathy and support from my boys’ classmates and educators throughout their education journey.

Classmates are on the ‘front-line’…they are the most likely to witness the onset of an anaphylactic reaction. Students educated on the causes, signs and symptoms and treatment of anaphylaxis would be prepared to administer an auto-injector in the event of an anaphylactic reaction…saving precious time.

A recent article, “It’s Hard Not to Stare children’s book opens discussion on disabilities” by Andrea Gordon in the Toronto Star supports my theory of capitalizing on educating students early to embrace all their classmates, regardless of their differences. Click here to view the article.

Author Tim Huff’s latest children’s book, “It’s Hard Not To Stare: Helping Children Understand Disabilities” and his first book, “The Cardboard Shack Beneath The Bridge”, both touch on this very concept.

Tim Huff’s goal…”to demystify the unfamiliar, build empathy and prevent the kind of judgement and meanness he has witnessed during his decades working with the disabled and as an outreach worker on the street with youth.”

Tim Huff, co-founder of Street Level…”a national advocacy network on homelessness and poverty issues “ states, “If we teach children to be compassionate when they’re young it spills over to everything  and affects their character.”

He goes on to say, “At a time when bullying is rampant, it makes more sense to build on the positive by instilling compassion and dealing with kids’ questions or uncertainty about the unfamiliar, rather than simply outlawing behaviours through numerous anti-bullying programs.”

I totally agree…perhaps a children’s book focusing on anaphylaxis should be next in the works!

Now there is some food for thought.

P.S. Upon learning of Anaphylaxis Canada’s Updated Packages…I photocopied their media release to give to my boys’ high school principal.

Unique Opportunity For Teenagers With Food Allergies…Food Allergy Cooking Classes

I am very excited to announce a unique opportunity for teenagers with food allergies…Food Allergy Cooking Classes!

The Town of Whitby’s (Ontario) 2013 Fall Activity Guide is offering Food Allergy Cooking Classes to youth 15+…click here for a link.

The Food Allergy Cooking Classes will focus on:

- how to read ingredient lists for their food allergens
– cross-contamination in the kitchen
– how to adapt a recipe to meet their food allergens
- how to follow a recipe
– hands on experience creating delicious food allergy friendly foods

Preparing youth with food allergies to be independent in the kitchen with basic cooking skills is an essential basic need.

Our youth with food allergies will one day be moving on…giving them the basic tools to create allergy friendly foods for themselves is a lesson worth giving.

I am happy to announce that I will be teaching the classes…so excited!

This is a great opportunity for youth with food allergies to get together, socialize, learn some life long kitchen skills, enjoy some great tasting allergy friendly food and realize they are not alone on their journey.

If you have food allergies and live in the Durham, Ontario area…this course is for you!

Have you ever taken a Food Allergy Cooking Class? How was it?  What did you learn?
Are there Food Allergy Cooking Classes in your area?  Have you ever considered signing up for one?
If you could take a Food Allergy Cooking Class…what would you hope to learn from it?

I would love to get your feedback to help me prepare for the Food Allergy Cooking Classes…thank you.

Back To School With Anaphylaxis 2013

Well it is that time of year again…time to think about heading back to school.

As both my boys are anaphylactic and have asthma…I will be updating, if need be, their Emergency Medical Plans (provided by the school), writing a letter to the school staff outlining their specific medical conditions…food allergies and asthma…and creating a quick reference Emergency Medical Form for their teachers and substitute teachers (provided by Anaphylaxis Canada see below) and a quick reference Asthma Action Plan (provided by the Canadian Lung Association…click here for a link.)

My eldest starting grade 12…dairy, eggs, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, sesame, mustard and raspberries and my youngest starting grade 10…peanut/tree nuts.

Anaphylaxis Canada makes my job easier by outlining some key resources for me to review:

1)  An online webinar:  Back to School – How to Manage Allergies This School Season…click here.
2)  Parent Checklist:  Key reminders for parents and students…click here.
3)  School Staff Checklist:  An overview for educators and school staff…click here.
4)  Information for Teens and Young Adults:  Why Risk It? …a teen site for safety and management tips…click here.

My personal favourite this year…a one page Emergency Medical Plan Form. This form quickly identifies my boys with their photo, list of food allergies, auto-injector information/expiry date/location, signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, procedure to follow during an anaphylactic reaction, and emergency contact information.

The one page Emergency Medical Plan Form is easy to fill out, easy to read, and acts as a quick reference for each of my boys’ teachers to have on hand for their file, for the substitute teacher’s file, for the staff room and main office. Click here for a link. Click here for a link for more of Anaphylaxis Canada’s list of Helpful Info.

Personally, I think the more information we offer to educate our educators and the students that interact with our children with anaphylaxis on a daily basis…the better.

As parents of children or students with anaphylaxis…we cannot totally rely on the school systems to be up-to-date on the ongoing progresses in the ‘world of anaphylaxis.’

It is up to us…as parents/caregivers…to continue to be advocates for our children with anaphylaxis.

With the onus on us…as parents/caregivers…setting a good example by teaching our children with anaphylaxis to becoming advocates for themselves.

We need to learn to ‘pass the torch’…giving our children with anaphylaxis the opportunity to be confident, independent, contributing members of society.

As parents of a child/children with anaphylaxis…what will you be doing to get ready to send your child/children off to school?

As a student with anaphylaxis…what will you be doing you do to get ready to start a new school year?

Click here to read about how EpipenPrincess at A Tale of Anaphylaxis is preparing for Grade 12 with anaphylaxis with her post on ‘Back To School Basics’.

Anaphylaxis Canada Launches Exciting New Program For Teens: The Allergy Awareness Challenge

Today, August 28, 2013, Anaphylaxis Canada is launching an exciting new program for teens…The Allergy Awareness Challenge.

Check it out…click here for a link.

The Allergy Awareness Challenge was designed by teens for teens…Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel...helped to design all the games and materials.

The Allergy Awareness Challenge is an educational tool for teens which specifically focuses on spreading the word about anaphylaxis through three fun days of interactive challenges:

1)  Adopt An Allergy
2)  Food Allergy Jeopardy
3)  Food Allergy Spelling Bee

The Allergy Awareness Challenge is student run with all the materials provided by Anaphylaxis Canada…free!

I would really love your feedback on Anaphylaxis Canada’s Allergy Awareness Challenge.

Parents, caregivers, students…is it something you would consider proposing to your school?

I know I will definitely be informing my boys high school about this unique opportunity.

My New Allergy Friendly Toy…An Ice Cream Maker

Summer is here and the time is right for…eating ice cream.

A summertime staple…however, when some of one’s food allergies include dairy, egg, peanut/tree nut’s…ice cream is hard to come by.

My son used to enjoy Natur-a’s Soy Frozen Dessert…but unfortunately, they seem to have disappeared from the frozen food section as well as on their website.

I have always dreamed of making my own ice cream…now that I cannot find a single solitary ice cream that is dairy and peanut/tree nut freeI am heading out today to purchase my own ice cream maker.

Apparently, it was meant to be…they go on sale today at Sears!

Super excited to bring one home and get the insert in the freezer so I can start making some dairy and peanut/tree nut free ice cream over the weekend!

My purchasing an ice cream maker is perfect timing with the Summer 2013 Edition of my Allergic Living MagazineSenior Editor Alisa Fleming, author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance and Casein Free Living wrote an entire article on Dairy, Gluten and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Ice Cream!

I will ‘play’ with my new ‘toy’ this weekend…I will report back my results next week.

As the summer holidays have started…my postings may start to become a bit irregular.

I wish you all a fun, allergy friendly summer! :)

Do you make Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Ice Cream? What is your favourite flavour? What ice cream maker do you use?

As Parents With Allergic Youth…How Do We Relate To Life Experiences We Have Never Experienced?

Tip # 30′s Tips For Parents from Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel  at Why Risk It?
Click here for the entire list.

“Ideally we would love to learn more about food allergies by meeting/speaking with older kids with food allergies and not always from our parents.”

I totally agree!

No matter what age you are…nothing feels better than to hear from someone, in or around the same age, tell you something about their life experiences that makes you feel less alone.

In fact, it is one of the main reasons for which I started writing this blog…I wanted to reach out to parents with children living with food allergies because I was living that life…feeling very alone.

As my boys with food allergies move into their teens, the above statement from allergic youth made me stop and think…my life experiences do not involve food allergies or eczema, therefore, how, in my boys’ eyes, can I relate?

I thought back to a few instances where my husband’s friends have discussed their life experiences with eczema and food allergies to my boys…

Growing up…a couple of my husband’s friends experienced severe eczema on parts of their bodies.  Michael had always looked up to them, however, after hearing them discuss their eczema related stories…they achieved a ‘pedestal status’.

I am forever grateful to them for sharing their life experiences with eczema from that time in their lives…it gave hope to Michael that he would someday ‘outgrow’ his eczema like them.

As Michael entered his early teens…that is just what happened.

When Michael was young, another one of my husband’s friends alerted me to his eczema-like reaction when he ate McIntosh apples…I put two and two together and realized that the same thing might be happening to Michael.

After explaining this friend’s experience with Michael, he switched to picking apples with gloves on. Over the years, he has also learned to limit his intake of apples…he, himself, has discovered a link between eating too many apples, oranges and cantelope…his skin becomes inflamed.

This same friend has a fish allergy…yet he loves to fish. In fact, my husband and he just came back from a 4 day fishing trip this past weekend. The fishing was phenomenal! His friend just makes sure he brings his own food to eat and is careful about handling the fish when he has reeled one in.

Learning from the life experiences of my husband’s friends with eczema and food allergies gave my boys role models…best of all, they gave them hope.

I like to think that working towards controlling my asthma through running, continues to encourage the boys to stay active in their lives. Both boys play hockey in the winter, Michael has just joined a gym and Matthew will be joining a swim team for the summer.

Asthma need not be an excuse for an inactive life.

Do your children with food allergies/eczema/asthma have role models to learn from their life experiences?

Are you a role model yourself?

P.S.  Chelsea Vineyard won Miss Teen Ottawa Worldshe is allergic to peanuts. She has chosen anaphylaxis as her platform in the hopes to raise allergy awareness.

“I also want to be a role model for children and show them that they can follow their dreams no matter no matter what life challenge they have.”

Chelsea was interviewed by Why Risk It? Click here for the full interview.

Press Pause…And Enjoy All The Beauty Around You

One of my favourite methods of de-stressing is my run first thing in the morning. Monday and yesterday were no exception…yes, it was raining.

Running in the rain brings out the kid in me. Why avoid the puddles and fret about getting wet…half the fun is the pure joy of throwing worry aside. Besides…there is a warm shower awaiting my arrival at home.

The greens of nature have never looked so green…the air is filled with an earthy aroma mixed with fragrant hues, birds are chirping, bunnies dash about here and there and the few people I see…other runners and dog walkers…acknowledge my presence with a smile and a wave…pleased to see they are not alone in the joy of being out in the rain.

It is the little things in life that bring the most pleasure to me…I hope you take the time to pause…and enjoy all the beauty that is around you today.

Here is one to start you off.

Beautiful Peony from my husband's grandmother's garden

My treasured peony from my husband’s grandmother’s garden is now in bloom.

Enjoy!

P.S. Check out this ‘good feel’ article that ran in the Toronto Star yesterday. Click here.

I am always looking for ‘good news stories’ in the newspaper as my boys complain there is too much reporting of all the ‘bad news stories’.

Well ,’Chalkboard Guy’ was a hit in our house!

“1 Smile could change Everything”…”life’s short break some rules”…”Make (picture of a heart) Not War”…”Let’s Party House Warming Fri 9…”…”Grace Trumps Karma”…”Chalk $5 black-board $20 Making u Smile PRICELESS”…”Read the News or Make the News”…It’s not to late to be a ROCKSTAR”…and…”Need: -Chalk -Wife Soon”.

Imagine, how wonderful it would be to wake up every morning to a new positive message written on a chalkboard and displayed in your neighbours window for all to embrace.

How do you stop and smell the roses in your day? What little treasures have you paused to enjoy this week?