I have known Jessica since high school when she hung out with the “older” punk crowd, and so I always looked up to her. I moved away after high school and fell out of contact with most everyone I went to high school with, but with the rise of social media, I have been able to reconnect with so many people – Jessica being one of them. It has been a pleasure “watching” her become a mother (with her high school sweetheart by her side!) and see the love she has for her two sons. I know food allergy awareness is close to her heart and I am so happy she has decided to share her family’s story with us. SC
When I sat down to write this blog post I had no idea where to start. This topic brings up so many emotions and thoughts and I want to share them with you all. It is Food Allergy Awareness Week, which is near and dear to me because my five-year-old son has a peanut and tree nut allergy. I hope that by sharing a bit of my family’s experience with you, I can shed light on life threatening food allergies and help bring awareness to everyone who may be reading.
Before my son Cameron was diagnosed with a peanut allergy, I was completely ignorant as to how serious food allergies are. I always figured “just don’t eat the food your allergic to – it’s that easy, right?” No!
Cameron was just 15 months old when his daycare provider gave him a peanut butter cracker and he had his first anaphylactic reaction. I arrived to pick him up and found him in a playpen, crying inconsolably, his face was red and blotchy, and his lips beginning to swell. Everything that followed was a blur – I ran out of their house with Cameron on my hip and my phone to my ear as I called Kaiser Hospital. We immediately hopped into the car and drove straight to the emergency room.
I knew something was very wrong, and although at that time he had no known allergies, I am glad I trusted my gut and took him straight to the hospital. Once we arrived at the hospital they gave him Epinephrine and Benadryl and watched him for a couple of hours to make sure he wasn’t having any trouble breathing. Although we assumed this reaction was caused by the peanut butter crackers it would be another twelve days before would could have any testing done to confirm that he did have a food allergy; we had to wait because the antihistamine he was given in the hospital could return false results. But two weeks later, his allergy was confirmed.
This moment changed the lives of our family FOREVER. There is never a second that Cameron’s allergy is not in the forefront of my mind – it has to be. Every time we leave the house I run a list through my head: do we have safe snacks? Do we have both epi-pens? Is the Benadryl packed? We must always be prepared. We do everything in our power to make sure that Cameron is safe at home, at parties, during holidays, and on vacations, and we try hard to make sure that he sure that he never feels excluded. Having one child with food allergies and one without can be a challenge – I never want Cameron to feel left out because my other son can eat peanuts and tree nuts. To prevent this, we never have any of his allergens in the house and stock up on safe snacks so there is always something yummy and safe for either of my sons to eat.
How do you protect a child with a life threatening food allergy? Educate yourselves, your family, and most importantly your child. My husband and I have been talking to Cameron about his allergy since the age of two and he is well aware of what can happen to him if he eats one of his allergens. Because of the open dialogue we have with Cameron about his allergy, he is aware of what he is eating at all times. He will ask “Did you eat peanuts?” before a family member leans down to give him a kiss on the cheek because he knows the food proteins on their lips could cause a reaction. He will refrain from petting a dog we don’t know in case they ate peanut butter or had a peanut butter dog treat and accidentally lick him (he has had a reaction caused by this in the past). It has been over three years since we opened this discussion with him, and I’d say we are doing a great job educating him on his allergies.
EVERY LABEL. EVERY INGREDIENT. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It’s not enough to say, “this cereal was safe two months ago so it is probably still safe” – NOPE. You always have to double check because allergy warnings change all the time. I have become a very diligent label reader over these past four years, but I have become an even better ingredient investigator! Believe it or not, not all companies label for shared lines or “may contain” and sometimes there isn’t even an allergy statement on the packaging. So, when your five year old is freaking out because he really wants to know if he can have the cotton candy that his brother is eating what do you do? You call the company/manufacturer (check for a phone number on the packaging) or email them and wait for a response. Luckily, companies are getting better about putting their allergy information on their websites, but sometimes you still have to dig. We like to joke that allergy moms do better research than the FBI – this just might be true. 😉
There are days when I get really overwhelmed. Days where I realize that his life will never be “normal” and he will not be able to just pick anything from a shelf and eat it because it could literally kill him. I try my best not to think about those things, because when I do, I can’t stop myself from crying. There is NO CURE for food allergies but scientists are working every day to find treatments for Cameron and other kids like him. As his mother and his advocate, it’s my job to support Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in their research efforts and to bring awareness to life threatening food allergies, so that is what I will continue to do!
To find out more about food allergies or how you can support research, visit the Food Allergy & Education website.