September 29, 2015
Have you ever had one of those years where you want to climb under a rock and stay there for a good long time? Well, this year happens to be my year to climb under that rock. We all like to think that we have some morsel of control over life, but when tragedy strikes, or our loved ones fall ill, we realize how precarious life is and within seconds everything can change.
The year started off as most do with a long to-do list and New Year’s resolutions. But little did I know what was ahead of us. On January 12, my brother’s 54th birthday, we gathered at his bedside to say goodbye as he lay unconscious and dying. My brother Fritz had just undergone cancer treatment a week earlier and had returned home to recuperate. His body was so weak from the cancer treatment that he blacked out twice and hit his head both times. Since he had been on blood thinners to reduce the likelihood of a stroke, he developed a brain bleed which couldn’t be stopped. It was heart wrenching to say the least. As we gathered around his bedside, we played one of his favorite songs, “Landslide, by Stevie Nicks. Within seconds, he passed.
My mom, trying to be as stoic as ever, kept saying “I can’t imagine how horrible this is for parents who lose a young child, at least I had him for 54 years.” She repeatedly said this, and each time she did, I found myself leaving the room.
Losing a child, even one at 54, is too painful to contemplate. Yes, cancer is a horrible disease and can come with little warning. So while I don’t want to equate food allergies with cancer, a severe food allergic reaction can occur with little warning. Each day I try not to think about the fact that I could lose my daughter to something so ubiquitous as milk or cashews.
Exactly three weeks later, I returned to the same hospital–same intensive care unit– to a room just across the hall from where my brother had died. This time I had come to say goodbye to my brother-in-law, Tom, who at the age of 63 was dying; the result of lung disease and pneumonia. Seriously, life was now being cruel. He died exactly three weeks to the day after my brother.
As we all tried to move forward through the grief, my mother then fell seriously ill with the flu and had to be hospitalized for nearly a week. For a time, we wondered whether the flu and her grief were going to get the best of her. We didn’t have the emotional capacity to say goodbye to yet another family member. Fortunately, she didn’t have any preexisting medical conditions so she was able to fight the illness. We know that had she had any other health issues, she most likely wouldn’t have made it through. She’s made a remarkable recovery, but again, we’re not taking anything for granted this year. Since her illness, three other close family members have been hospitalized due to serious infections. Truly, what gives? Is anyone else having this kind of year?
While I was ready to write this year off and skip to 2016 as quickly as possible, we had what I consider a true miracle. As many of you are aware, my 10-year-old daughter has severe dairy and nut allergies. She’s had trace amounts of dairy which has caused her to go into anaphylaxis. She’s had close calls with cashews. She’s reacted to airborne nut proteins on a plane. I don’t know what possessed me, perhaps I’m still not functioning at 100 percent, but I let my allergist convince me that it was time for a peanut challenge. She had done a peanut component test which indicated that Elyse would not likely go into anaphylaxis if exposed. I agreed.
The day came, Elyse was calm and I was anything but that. Since she has asthma, I asked the allergist to simply open a can of peanuts and place it under her nose to make sure that she wouldn’t have any asthma issues if she inhaled the airborne peanut particles. We opened the can and waited. Nothing happened. No reaction. We kept moving forward, and after spending five hours in the allergist’s office and consuming nearly four tablespoons of peanut butter, the allergist declared that Elyse was no longer allergic to peanuts.
OMG! I consider it a gift of life. For ten years, we’ve avoided peanuts, peanut butter and anything peanut related. Now, all of a sudden, peanuts no longer pose a threat. Again, I wish I could describe to you the mental adjustment this kind of outcome requires. It’s not been easy, but it is liberating.
Needless to say, my world has certainly changed this year. My family no longer looks or feels the same. While I miss my brother and brother-in-law dearly, I’m more mindful of celebrating the victories, and Elyse’s victory is one I will be celebrating for years to come. While she no longer has to be fearful when she sits next to a person eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we still have two more big ones to go: milk and cashew. But I’m more committed than ever to see that we find a cure for food allergies. To that end, we’ll be announcing a new initiative soon so stay tuned for more to come. There would be nothing better than to create a world where food allergies don’t exist.
Sometimes, from tragedy comes hope. Let’s give hope to millions of families grappling with severe food allergies with a first step in stemming the tide.
Safe Travels –