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!