July 25, 2011

A cure: what it would mean

The recent research study on milk allergy desensitization by Stanford has given me so much hope. Could there be a treatment to rid my kids of their milk allergies?

Generally speaking, I try to think of the positive.  I'm a "glass half full" kind of gal.  And what I have in my glass is a lot of gratitude for the wisdom that living with food allergies has given me.  I have learned more about what goes into growing and processing what we eat, and what foods our family can and should do without.  This has definitely led to healthier, fruit-and-veggie-filled choices for meals and snacks.  I have become a lot more assertive as far as advocating on my kids' behalf at school, among family, and within our different social circles.  When you manage food allergies, you learn quickly to speak up loudly and often.

Over the years our family has adapted well to the speed bumps presented by food allergies.  Our kids are happy, healthy, regular kids.  As glad as I am with how our lives are, there is no doubt in my mind that life without milk allergies would be better.  A hundred times better.  And it's not just about being able to eat cheese and butter. It's about safety, convenience, and inclusion.

Families without food allergies get a glimpse of what it's like for milk-allergic kids at get-togethers.  The looks of yearning as other kids devour pizza, mac 'n' cheese, and finger foods; eyes transfixed when the fancy birthday cake is brought out, followed by, "Mommy, does that have dairy?  Can I eat it?!"  Pouting, grumbling, and tears when the off-limits dessert is served.  Every party is an emotional up-and-down when you have a severe food allergy.

Food allergies, from the parents' point of view, are also an emotional, mental struggle.  I can say without overexaggeration that my kids' allergies are always at the forefront of my mind.  Last year, whenever the phone rang during Ryken's school hours, I tensed up and braced for a voice on the other end telling me about an accidental ingestion.  (Thank goodness, that did not happen.)  I feel my blood pressure rise when we are at a playground or library and other kids are running around with cheese sticks, Go-gurts, and peanut butter sandwiches in hand.  I used to love to travel.  Nowadays, an invitation to travel is met with hesitation because of the risks and detailed planning involved.  There is a knee-jerk reaction of panic when we first commit to going somewhere.  "How will I feed the kids?" "Will I have access to a kitchen?" "Will there be cell service and a hospital nearby?"  Even when we have been very careful with vetting foods for group camping trips and finding out "safe" choices from a restaurant's menu, we've still made mistakes or been plagued with random hives from Lord knows where.  This week Ryken begins his first full-day summer camp that is half an hour away from our house...and I really nervous about it.

Unless you have a child with a life-threatening health issue, it is hard to describe what it would mean to be free of the ominous cloud that is food allergies.  To spontaneously go out without having to tote all of those meals and medications.  To drop your child off at a playdate without fear.  To casually choose something off a restaurant's menu without a second thought as to whether it could make your child sick.  To be on a plane and worry about whether your kids are going to kick the seat in front of them but not about whether they're going to have some freak allergic reaction while you're halfway across the Pacific. 

I am looking forward to following the Stanford team's research as they treat a wider pool of patients.  I am very hopeful for progress in treating food allergies.  Really, hopeful is all I can be.

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