Happy Birthday, Maddy!

When Maddy turned seven, our family celebrated by beginning a new chapter that was be life changing, helped to raise awareness for those suffering from food allergy, and helped educate people about OIT. Now, as Maddy turns 8, and will begin the 3rd grade, so many possibilities are open to her as a child that doesn't have food allergies standing in her way!

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Check out my other blog, The Best Medicine, about my husband's battle against cancer.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What's It To Ya?

Greeting her upon arrival.

 Recently on a Facebook thread, a question was posted on the wall of one of the allergy discussion groups I frequent. The question is loaded. It is subjective. And in my opinion it can only be answered in one way, yet it had so many responses. The question: Is it worth it? 

The woman wanted to know if it was worth it to try peanut desensitization for her child; if it was worth the possibility of it not working. She wanted to know if her child’s “numbers” matched any of those that could be problematic or if her child could even be eligible for Oral Immunotherapy. Would it be worth the trouble, the consultation, even attempting.  

Waiting to eat that 1st peanut.
Now, on-line I don’t chime in on a large number of things. It seems that much has been said, argued about, or is simply not worth the time it takes to type. Often, I don’t feel I have enough information on a subject, I haven’t done enough research of my own to put in writing my personal opinion - I don't want to look like "that idiot," you know who I'm talking about! I’m not saying that I never add my two-cents, or have an opinion; I certainly do. If you and I were sitting next to each other, you’d certainly get a good eye roll out of me. And if I’m really passionate about a topic, you might never get me to shut up. It just needs to be something that lights my fire when it comes to a Facebook thread or other internet chat. 

The first face. Yuck!
Her questions caught my immediate attention though, because I remember those questions running through my head. I was there once, hemming & hawing, waiting for an answer to come to me. Expecting one person to tell me the right thing to do; the best thing to do. Hoping for someone, something to tell me the best answer for us, for our family – telling family members that this is what our decision was, just waiting for them to disagree and give us a better option. Eventually our right answer came to us, for us. Just like it will for her. After 35 – 50 people chime in on that particular thread, after she researches hours upon hours on the internet, chats and chats on different sites, talks to every person she can about the issue, discusses it with her husband, her family members, her doctor, gets a first opinion, a second. Finally she will rest upon a decision. Finally. 

Getting the taste out!
I came upon this question, 'is it worth it?' right around the time Maddy ate her first peanut – a day we will never forget. Up until this point in her life Maddy had not really tasted anything resembling a peanut even. She was only two years old when we’d learned of her allergy. She’d never been one to try the peanut butter alternatives; she’d always thought they too closely resembled PB for her tastes - that texture & taste was alien to her. Desensitization treatment to this point had consisted of increasing amounts of peanut ‘dust’ in a fruit juice concentrate. And then as the flour became too much to mix into juice, we mixed the flour into applesauce, pudding, whipped cream, or even ice cream. It eventually becoming more & more difficult to hide the burnt peanut flavored flour as it increased in quantity. We were finally to that first peanut with high hopes of her loving it! 

That wasn’t quite the way it happened. Maddy’s entourage followed her in that day - bulbs flashing, videos rolling, and cheering her forward. Maddy hid her nerves with smiles, jokes, and a wall of confidence like no other seven – year old I have ever seen. Nurse Amy had Maddy’s first peanut envelope and a giant smile waiting for her the moment she walked in the door. Vitals were checked, cameras were loaded, and Maddy’s shaking hand was out ready. The first bite was taken, though quickly and with a confident ease and then came the faces. Oh, the faces. She did not like those little peanuts, maybe as much as they did not like her little body! This time, though, they each accepted each other. Maddy made faces, ate the peanuts, and the peanuts accepted that and did not react in her system. We had balance! 

Always such a good attitude, though!
So she ate them, and she ate them. And she kept eating them all week long. She made terrible faces when she did it, but she did it like a champ. She had no reaction to them because her body was and is doing exactly what it is supposed to - becoming used to this foreign substance that it once needed to attack. Desensitizing. Amazing!

A few recent pieces have come out regarding desensitization that are important in the allergy world, especially to allergy mommies & daddies. One study, in relation to the effect OIT has on a peanut allergy patients’ quality of life after the completion of a desensitization program. The conclusion? And I quote, “peanut oral immunotherapy significantly improves food-specific quality of life.” Duh! The children (ranged in ages 5 – 18) found improvement in a number of areas - allergen avoidance, dietary restriction, risk of accidental exposure, emotional impact, food-related anxiety, and social and dietary limitations (see the abstract here) . More recently, in my mailbox, was the “Food Allergy News” bulletin from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network that highlighted an interview with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology president, Wesley Burks, M.D. - blah, blah, blah… right? His point, though, was that, along with two other possible treatments coming up, with Oral Immunotherapy, “we know that the threshold for these children will go up during treatment and that we can achieve a desensitization effect in most patients.” . So, the real question, to me should really be, "why not?" All signs point to yes, It is worth it! Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Such a smart little girl!
I pointed out to Maddy, again, my amazement of her - that she was taking this on, eating peanuts when peanuts were her poison and that she obviously had distaste for them. Maddy told me, “even if I don’t like the peanuts, I’m going to eat them. They’re just my medicine.”  Have I mentioned to you that she is just seven? Such a smarty!

Each morning and night – when she is eating her dose, I have been amazed at her attitude and gumption. She has been nothing short of incredible. At this age, to understand, be challenged even, to complete this program no matter how bad it tastes! No matter how hard it is to wrap her mind around the fact that she is eating a peanut, poison. Because the reality is, it is worth it, in the long run, it is absolutely better for her to know she won’t accidentally ingest something at a birthday party, a Christmas party, or something as small as a bite of a cookie. Even if she has to eat peanuts every day for the rest of her life, she knows her safety and her life are not just important, they are everything to us. Her life & livelihood are worth it!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Friend, Dear Friend

Maddy & Livvie

One of my favorite quotes about friendship is “A good friend is cheaper than therapy” (author unknown).  In my life, over a beer, during a car ride, in the classroom, or on the phone, many a conversation have helped me hash out my problems or theirs. My friends are as important as  family and we’ve raised Maddy to believe friendships are not only important, but essential components to a healthy life – expecting her friends to treat her well and to treat her friends the same – by giving and getting love, support, and a sense of belonging. 

The girls playing at the desk.
In our lives together, Jason and I have not only been lucky, but blessed, to have an amazing group of close friends. This remarkable group of people has been a part of our lives since college, some before. At Michigan State we studied together, partied together, and at one time or another, lived together. We’ve stood for each other in weddings and have held each others' newborn babies.  Every time we see each other we hug each other like it has been a decade since we’ve spoken, but pick up conversation as if it was just yesterday. We try to get together when we can but also reserve a few very special days out of the year just for each other, New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July, and an especially fun day in September.  Even as we age and can hardly handle our adult beverages anymore, we party like 30-something rock stars – stay up late around the fire, argue over politics, religion, or any other controversial topic that may come our way and maintain every bit of love & respect for each other through it all. Even as the group has grown to include new spouses and the occasional neighbor or two, this is our core. Our history. 

Amazing Doc - Doctor Mayer.
Amazing staff - Nurse Amy & Nurse Lety.
Madeline has watched us with this group of friends and others. She has been witness to how we treat our friends, as well as how we expect to be treated in a friendship. Jason and I would do anything for them because our true friends, this group I speak of and others I haven’t even mentioned have been with us through thick and thin, especially in recent years. When Madeline was first born, they were there at the hospital & then the house to hold her little hands. When chemo threatened Jason’s hair, these guys shaved their own heads. When trips back & forth to the oncologist were simply too much - we were given the amazing gift of a cleaning lady to help out with the house - now that's friendship! We are surrounded with beautiful people who hold us in their hearts and them in ours. Friends keep us going at times.

One big happy family!
The beauty is that in watching Madeline experience peanut desensitization, she is learning more about friendships, too. Madeline’s best friend, Conley, will always be her BFF, “till we die” they say and we are sure to keep a regular play date going. But the “peanuts gang” has a different connection that has provided Maddy a chance to show empathy, caring, and support that she has not needed with her BFF so far, but may someday. When Ella graduated she had a chance to see where she was headed with the program. When Izzy had to stop OIT because it was just not working for her, we said prayers, talked about Izzy's feelings, her family and what it might mean for her future. We still do. And when Livvie graduated it was bittersweet. It was hard for Maddy to say good-bye but so awesome for her to see her really great friend moving on to such great things. She wanted nothing more than to be there to see Livvie eat that peanut butter and make sure all was well with that final challenge. Madeline has treated each situation with the dignity and grace of a mini adult; I am impressed and proud of her!

The girls sitting still long enough for a pic!
Maddy has felt nothing but love and support from the staff and patients at Dr. Mayer’s office – exactly what I hope for her in life. Everyone cheers her on - like this time as she went from 250 mg of peanut flour to 500 mg - the last stop before a peanut -  and she does the same for them! The day Livvie graduated was a happy one for everyone – another success story, no problems for Maddy, just another day of playing with friends for Livvie, and just another (exhausting) day at the office for the staff - and another reason to feel hope for those living with food allergies! As the parents bonded over next steps, Maddy, Livvie and the rest of the gang just had fun – because sometimes that’s what it’s all about, too!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Take Care Now Y'Hear!

175 mgs and a smile!

Jason and I have always taken great pride in the balance we’ve had in our lives. We’ve always had beautiful friendships with a long-time support system, upheld a strong relationship together, and have had an amazing family to help us raise this gorgeous child of ours. We did this happily, healthily, and without major incident for some time. Sure we had the same problems as everybody else – not enough money, time, or resources as the rest of the world to get our yard work done, keep our house clean, or even to go on a family vacation every single year. But we were and still are a happy family with few complaints. We had each other! Then, food allergies hit our life and we had to adjust. No problem, no problem – we adjusted. Then cancer hit, as well. We adjusted then, as well – big time! Life happens. When life happens, though, balance is thrown off. It takes time, energy, and a lot of work to maintain any semblance of balance and let’s face it, taking care of ourselves is one of the first things to go and one of the most difficult things to preserve, even if we know better!

250 mgs! Biggie!
Maddy was diagnosed with food allergies when she was just over two and it was devastating and difficult – how do you keep a two year old safe when you have so many plans for her? How does this fit in with school, sports, life… how do I leave her with anyone else? I questioned everything we did with her or without her. Somehow we took that idea of balance, though and went with it – modeled with her involvement and caution and taught her how to take risks and be safe at the same time. Food allergies are an ongoing management issue, though, as every mother and father that deals with them knows. No stone goes unturned in planning every daily activity weeks in advance, going only to restaurants that are recognized, calling caterers of weddings or skipping them altogether, preparing with Vacation Bible School coordinators in advance, training people to use Epi-Pens, helping with food menus, bringing in extra snacks, preparing meals … planning, planning, planning. Anything to keep your child safe, happy and healthy, even if it throws off the balance of your healthy, happy household. 

Maddy cuddles with Dad on her birthday.
Jason has been treated for cancer for nearly three and a half years now. Of course this news was overwhelming and shocking. At 32 years old, who could have imagined such information? He started with a colon resection surgery in July 2009, 4 days before Maddy’s fourth birthday, which led to his first six – month round of chemotherapy.  The following fall, a PET scan revealed the colon cancer had traveled to his lung, requiring a lung resection surgery and 6 more months of chemotherapy. We were exhausted at this point, yes, but we had life to attend to. After finding another small spot in his lung then, he received six weeks of radiation, and continues to receive treatments of a drug called Avastin, which is to prevent the growth of new blood vessels that feed a tumor.  Amazingly, my husband has had tremendous health otherwise, the most positive attitude, and a ridiculous sense of humor that has kept him and myself moving right along. Aside from certain chemo days, he has worked right through most of his treatments, even receiving a promotion to detective along the way! I mean, really, the man is my hero. He is an unbelievable father & partner in my life, even on our worst days, I love him more today than I did the day I married him. Something most people are blessed to not know is how much cancer can test a marriage. You may believe ‘the big C’ would bring you ever closer, and it will. But there are also times it tests your limits, hurts your heart, and throws you both off your equilibrium. 

A good friend of mine, a math teacher, has told me many times, “everything has a tendency to disorder.” And she is right. Ever notice your house cannot stay clean? Your car? As soon as you check off items on your to-do list, you realize you’ve forgotten a few? It takes work to keep yourself up as well!

I will be the very first person to tell you, “be sure to take care of yourself,” when you are in time of need especially since I have been there myself, but I’ve recently realized I don’t follow my own advice. I know moms are their very worst enemies when it comes to taking care of themselves. They just do for everyone else before themselves, so much until they are worn out entirely. Usually it’s moms that don’t get enough sleep at night, skip exercise routines, forget a doctor’s appointment, forgo a shower, a meal, or drop their own hobbies or interests all together for their children and families. I’ve heard many a conversation about forgetting to look in the mirror even before walking out the door! 

There are many things in recent days that have made me realize that I am not taking care of me. I went to the dentist for my annual cleaning only to find out that my annual cleaning hadn’t occurred since before Jason’s diagnosis! I remember cancelling the appointment; I had no sick days left due to his chemotherapy and didn’t feel that I should take any off for myself! I simply never rescheduled. I didn’t even realize it had been so long, I just went about my business taking care of my family. There are times that I just don’t know how I do all that I do! And then I look around my house and see that everything has found itself in disorder and dig in again. Because we do what we have to for the ones we love. 

It has taken me a lot of time to realize a few things about my life and those things remain constants. I have to find time for myself, time to do the things I love, even if it is terribly difficult. Last year I joined a singing group and perform with them twice a year. I love the people and love the joy in singing and performing, even if I’m not the solo act. Also, every now & then, even if it isn’t a regular thing, I have got to have an occasional ladies night. My girls - I love ‘em, I laugh with ‘em, and I couldn’t live without ‘em. They know what I'm talking about and when I'm talking about it – my work girls, my PTO girls, and my college friend girls! Man, I have great friends! On top of all of that, my family – I have to get home now and again, for a good ol’ game of spoons with the fam! Isn’t it nice when you know that you can just go home, get centered, and play a game with your family? It is always good to go home. These things I must have to keep me sane, keep me, well, me. A healthy mommy is a happy mommy!

It's only up from here!
Maddy’s peanut desensitization has become our focus. I’ve drawn that line in the sand for many other activities in my life. I’ve dropped many things that have lost importance to me and now I am beginning to bring focus back to things that are important; one of those things is me. And the balance shifts – the scale is different than what it was when Jason and I were first married; some things remain important yet others have changed. I need to figure out where we all fit and how. Such is life now. What hasn’t changed is that I am just as important to this family as I always have been, and in order to give them all of me, I need to carve out time for me, take care of me. 

Peanut desensitization takes full commitment from everyone involved and even though Maddy practically flew through the weeks of October 24th with 175 mg and October 30th with 250mg of peanut flour, there are always worries, so taking care of myself is important. She flew through peanut flour so easily though, that it began to seem too easy, almost boring! We began to knock on wood, and “wait for the other shoe to drop” kind of easy. Halloween came and went. Talks of “next year” and the candy she will be able to eat passed our lips. As she screamed through the neighborhood, our friends and family remarked about how her allergy hardly slowed her down anyway and how next year will be so amazing – next year, next year, next year! Hopefully next year – we'll be that happy, HEALTHY, balanced family again!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Drawing a Line in the Sand

As a mom, you all know, there is never enough of what we need – money for what we want, let alone need, enough arms to complete our tasks, and certainly enough hours in our day. Projects and deadlines consume our life, take up our energy, and exhaust us. In these recent months I have been reminded, that sometimes, we aren’t able to do it all, even if it all seems ‘essential,’ and there are times we must set aside our career, our committees, and our tasks for the truly important ‘things’ in our life.  A good friend of mine put it to me quite simply, “sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand,” she said, even if it seems vital; this simple phrase has helped me prioritize lately and has thus changed my life!

Maddy's next step.
For whatever reason, I get into ‘the zone’ each school year come September. When its ‘zone time,’ I feel the need to be Super Mom, Super Teacher, Super Wife, and this feeling overwhelms me, takes over my being and makes me feel as though I can handle being a part of any group, organization, or add any other responsibility to my life that I can sign up for - completely forgetting my personal needs and wants along the way. While being a member of PTO, holding the Room Parent position for Maddy’s class, and being active within our church are important to me, they keep me busy beyond regular work hours pretty regularly.  And though I am on a friendly basis with my co-workers, am able laugh with them at lunch, carry on friendly, yet professional meetings, there are still agendas to fulfill and action items to complete – my work day is filled to the brim, often spilling over! Add one 160-mile round trip drive to the allergist’s office each week and it tends to compound the ol’ “To-Do” list. 

50 mg of peanut flour in apple sauce.
Much like most parents, though, I am stretched to my limit. As it turns out, though, I pretty much suck at knowing my limits. I bite off more than I can chew and then suddenly I’m choking!  And as I get further in age and career, I get worse at this. In the past, I’ve juggled responsibility just fine, but as Jason has recovered, I’ve taken on more and more, believing I can do it all with passion and vigor because I feel it is all important. When it comes to Maddy, the need to be in control and be directly involved because of her peanut allergy is absolutely necessary for a number of reasons - I don’t want anyone to view it or her as a burden, I want her to be safe, and I know that allergy backward and forward - simple, right? In both cases - my husband’s cancer and my daughter’s allergy, I sometimes feel as though I owe it to the world to do more, to give back, “Hey, world, I owe ‘ya one! You save my husband & keep my daughter safe; I’ll solve the problems of the world, one committee at a time!” And so my line in the sand has never existed, until now. 

I knew I had taken on too much when my husband finally let me know enough was enough and he had noticed. It was evident in the amount of work I’d been bringing home at night, weekends, and my stress levels. It was clear that there was a pattern to migraine headaches, zonking out by 11 pm on Friday nights and my sweet mood since school had started. There was no reason for this other than the level of stress, the amount of hours spent in front of the computer, and how little I’d been able to make it home for the bus in the afternoons. The reality was it wasn’t fair to him, my daughter, or me. So when my friend and co-worker told me, “sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand.” I thought about that. A lot. I used the line. A lot. I have said it so much to my co-teacher that she has given me dirty looks. 

The moment my co-worker actually said it to me was actually not a good one and I was actually kind of pissed at her for not helping me with my problem. Jason and I actually had just been in a good ‘ol fight the night before where some of these same issues had come up. I had been stressed to the max at work. I was trying to go above and beyond to get some things completed - it was a good time to draw that line. I walked away from her, down the hall, walked into another co-worker and broke down, right there at work. It was one of those moments, one of those people you’d never expect to reach out to or have a moment with, but I did and I needed it. Peanuts, action plans, homework, assessments, dinner ideas, curriculum, agendas, dosing schedules… it was all swirling in my mind and not meshing at all. After a moment alone in the bathroom I composed myself, got my act together and faced the day again. The line had been drawn. 

Lucas is moving right along!
It is amazing what a few little words can do to a person. I don’t even think the person who said to me “sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand,” has any idea the impact that moment would have on me. But at that moment, it meant so much. I often put a lot of pressure on myself to put out the best that I can at what I do. So, when I have my hands in everything, it makes it extremely difficult to put 100% into everything. I have an extremely difficult time admitting defeat and an even more difficult time admitting when I am wrong. So the time had come to make some changes before it was too late. I bet I’m not unlike many other “Super Moms” out there. 

Drawing a line in the sand for me meant this- refocusing.  Maddy’s desensitization is what our family is concentrating on right now. October 3, 2012 was her final peanut solution day and it went off without a hitch! That same day we celebrated with another little boy in the office, Lucas, who got to eat his first peanut. Maddy & Livvie cheered him on while waiting out his dosing hour and he had no problems. Maddy cannot wait for that to be her! 

The following week, October 10, 2012, we entered a new stage in our peanut desensitization journey: peanut flour! It is amazing with what excitement my child attacks OIT. She and Livvie began a project, a drawing of “Peanut Land,” a creative region where even those allergic are safe from the dreaded legume! Livvie and Maddy’s bond over Peanut Land is extraordinary. We are thankful for all this therapy is doing for Maddy, especially the support she is receiving from the kids in the program. She loves to see them each week. They keep her going week to week. 
Peanut Land: A land where no child is allergic to peanuts!

With the mindset that my family needs to be central right now, I set about scaling back, and setting a few new goals for myself. There is no good reason that I need to run around like a crazy woman for my job, for my church, or for PTO. So, I dropped a few committees, said no when asked to join others, and did not raise my hand to participate when asked to help when help was needed. Yes, there was some guilt, but it subsided when the knowledge that others would step up announced itselfPThere is no good reason that myself, or my family shouldn’t come first. Sometimes that line in the sand needs to be drawn in order to keep my sanity, sometimes in needs to be drawn to keep marriage aflame, or refocus my family. It may also mean, it makes me a better teacher actually, or a better board member. In my life, when I take on too much or when I am tempted to do so again, I will remind myself to draw that line, especially now, when my focus is my daughter and my family. They need all of me.