Return of the Prodigal Cat

Do you remember the story of the Prodigal son?  The one who returns home, down on his luck after years of partying and living the high life with little regard for the family he left behind.  He is greeted with open arms and tears of joy from his father and a fatted calf is prepared to celebrate his return, whilst grumbling in the wings is his much relied on and increasingly disgruntled older brother.

No tale of cats is complete without mentioning M's precious Cat

No tale of cats is complete without mentioning M’s precious Cat

Last week, our household was the unexpected location for the return of our very own prodigal, G’s cat Misty.  Misty has been part of our family for a couple of years, but is considered the pain-in-the-neck younger member by our elder statesman family cat, Jet and M’s “fat” cat, Ginger.  When we returned home from our summer sojourn in the Florida sun, there was no sign of Misty and despite hours of calling, this errant puss appeared to have moved on from our humble abode. It seemed so unfair that once again it was G’s cat who had gone, as the last kitten we lost to the neighbouring A-road and a large milk tanker was also hers, but he was also the most independent of our feline trio and was often lured by the bright lights of the nearby farms.  We kept hope alive for a while, but there came a tearful hour one Sunday after church, when I had to explain to G and M that I thought it unlikely that Misty would be back.  I regaled them with a story from my own childhood, when our much-loved cat, Delilah – and yes, we also had her brother Samson – returned home after months away from the fold, saying it was possible he could return, although I thought it unlikely.  I was careful to make no promises and hoped that eventually the sorrow of his leaving would diminish.  As time passed, both children appeared to have moved on and even though G still occasionally called to him from the kitchen door when summoning the others inside for a cuddle, she seemed to have accepted his loss and had even added a new “kitten/hamster/gerbil” to the top of her birthday/Christmas wish list.

20140722_075343So, you can imagine my surprise and the children’s delight when, getting home from school last week, who should saunter around the car in the driveway, but Misty.  I’ve never seen G move so fast or heard her squeal so loudly than when she caught sight of her beloved pet reappearing as if he’d never been away and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  In the 10 days since his return, G has taken every opportunity to shower love and fuss on this cat and both children anxiously ask every day at pick-up if I know whether Misty is at home or not; and he’s lapping up every moment of their unfaltering devotion.

You may wonder why I’m sharing this story with you.  It’s partly because our life isn’t all about EGID, there’s a lighter side to it that we strive to grab hold of much of the time and partly because it made me consider the impact of pets on our family life.  I’ve grown up with cats as an integral part of the family and so have G and M.  These cats have become a key part of our household and bring immeasurable comfort and enjoyment to us all.  There is nothing more soothing to me than a cat curled up on, or next to, me as I work or watch TV or read.  When M is feeling under the weather and is struggling with his EGID symptoms, he takes huge amounts of comfort from having any one of our cats alongside him and we have found that it has even helped him calm down and settle to sleep at the roughest moments. 20140803_200241The simple, unassuming acceptance by our family pets of my boy’s sometimes turbulent moods has been an unexpected blessing and Mike and I have been known to usher one cat or another towards him when nothing else can break through his tantrums.  G thrives on the peace that being curled up on the sofa with her book on one side and her beloved cat on the other brings.  Both children have learned to take some responsibility in looking after their pets and G can often be found dishing up their dinner in the evenings without being asked.  I know we’re not alone in experiencing the companionship and joy that pets can bring, nor the life lessons of love and loss that have been taught as our children grow up.  Our prodigal cat might not have been fed with a fatted calf, but we’re all delighted to have him back home, especially my beautiful girl.

A Birthday Treat – Lemon Meringue cupcakes

This time last year, M was admitted into GOSH for scopes and he and I spent Mike’s birthday away from the birthday boy himself, leaving him to celebrate at home with the rest of the family.  There was a point this year when I thought history was about to repeat itself as we’re once again waiting for an admission date for M, who needs further testing to try to sort out the games his body is currently playing.  However, Mike’s birthday came, and went, with no sign of a phone-call from GOSH and I finally had a chance to make a long-awaited attempt at the Lemon Meringue cake I’d been dreaming of making last year. lemonmeringue

Lemon Meringue pie is Mike’s favourite dessert and there was a time, many eons ago, when I’d actually make him one from scratch for his birthday treat.  With the arrival of G and M, the general busyness of work and juggling the school-run alongside business meetings and the general day-to-day running of the household, I don’t think I’ve turned my hand to such a dish for at least a decade.  Add into the mix, the newer challenges of egg-free meringues and MEWS-free pastry and it’s not been the easiest pudding to make.  I attempted a cheesecake version for Fathers’ Day this year, but that didn’t quite go as planned, so I put my thinking cap on to see if I could figure out an alternative format for this popular dessert.

I settled on lemon drizzle cupcakes topped with vanilla butter-cream icing and small meringues.  I’ve made Lemon drizzle cake before, but found that the rice flour made the sponge taste very granular and I was keen to see if I could improve the texture.  I found a lovely recipe for vegan lemon drizzle cake and read around the options for replacing the flour to make the cake both gluten- and potato-flour-free. 20141015_194117 My final recipe included gram flour – an ingredient that’s been lurking in my cupboard for a while, but which I had yet to brave using – rice flour and tapioca flour and the end result was infinitely better than the last time, though some further tweaking to create the perfect lemon drizzle cupcake is needed.

I whipped up a small batch of my vanilla butter-cream icing and used it to secure the mini egg-free meringues to the top of each cupcake.  I was delighted with how these cakes looked and M spent most of the day, and evening, before Mike got home from work, begging to try one to “just check it’s okay for Daddy!”  I am assured by the family that the cupcakes were a huge success and so that’s another recipe added to my ever-increasing repertoire.


National Chocolate Week – Part 2

Despite arriving late to the delight that is National Chocolate Week, we have been lucky enough to receive another fantastically M-friendly chocolate product to try and then review.  As I mentioned in my last post, Moo-free chocolate bars are a staple in the fridge at 7yearstodiagnosis HQ and this latest find might soon become another permanent fixture in our store cupboards.

chocshotI had never even heard of Sweet Freedom foods until I came across a stray comment on Twitter last month that pointed me in the direction of their allergy-friendly product, Choc Shot.  This chocolate syrup is made in the UK from “Sweet Freedom® (natural fruit extracts; apples, grapes & carob), water, cocoa, rapeseed oil, natural chocolate flavour” and promises to deliver great taste for a low calorie and GI content.  The website includes a wealth of recipe suggestions for using Choc Shot and I couldn’t wait to see whether it could do all that it promised.  M tried it first, opting to have it spread sparingly on a piece of toast, a rare treat in our household.  He liked the flavour, but didn’t love it, finding it quite rich and not overly sweet.  I could quickly tell that it didn’t quite hit the mark here as he hasn’t asked for a second helping at all.

Mark:  A tentative 7/10

20141007_182950However, I was keen to see whether we would fare any better if I used the Choc Shot to cook with and here is where this product really comes into its own.  I decided to whip up a batch of my Canadian-style pancakes for pudding and chose to deploy the Choc Shot in 2 ways to see which worked best to satisfy my hungry hoards.  The first lot was pancakes made with a generous helping of frozen forest fruits  – think cherries, blackcurrants, grapes and blackberries, all the things G wouldn’t usually touch with a barge-pole – mixed into the batter and drizzled with Choc Shot to serve; the second round saw me incorporating both the fruit selection and the Choc Shot into the mixture to produce delicious-looking Chocolate and fruit pancakes.  I dished them up and waited nervously for the reports of my discerning children.  Two rapidly emptied bowls soon appeared on the table, accompanied by requests for more pancakes, even from G, who barely blinked when I told her what fruits were included in her dessert.  I was delighted with this result, not least because the Choc Shot added a delightful chocolate flavour to the pancakes without making them overly sweet.

Mark: A resounding 10/10

20141017_122336The final test was to try the Choc Shot as suggested on the bottle itself – to make Hot Chocolate.  I heated mugs of rice milk in the microwave, added a generous squirt of the Choc Shot and topped it off with some boiling water.  The end result was fantastic – rich enough to feel indulgent, but not too sweet.  It was quick to make and was, by far and away, the best M-friendly hot chocolate I’ve been able to make since diagnosis.

Mark:  10/10

I was impressed with Choc Shot and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for an allergy-friendly alternative for chocolate to use in cooking.  It is readily available from most supermarket chains and is reasonably priced at around £3.50 a bottle.


*Disclaimer – We were sent bottles of Choc Shot and Sweet Freedom for the purpose of an independent review and the views expressed are entirely my own and those of G and M.

National Chocolate Week – Part 1

I’ve rather belatedly discovered that this week is National Chocolate Week and what better way to enjoy this amazing celebration, than to review 2 fantastic AND M-friendly chocolate products in my blog?

20140916_170227Tonight’s offering are the wonderful creations from Moo-free.  I discovered this chocolate 2 or 3 Christmases ago, when I spotted it on the shelves of one of my local health food shops. The chocolate is vegan and soya free and is made using sunflower lecithin, instead of soya lecithin, which my hyper-sensitive boy reacts to, even in the tiniest of trace amounts.

The chocolate is rich and delicious and has become a staple of our fridge at home.  They have developed their range over the last couple of years, which now includes the likes of Cheeky Orange, Minty Moo, Bunnycomb, Chocolate Drops and Cranberry and Hazelnuts bars to name but a few.  Their seasonal offerings are equally impressive with Chocolate Santas, Chocolate Advent Calendars and a brand new Chocolate Selection box as well as Easter Eggs on offer at appropriate times in the year.

Moo-free were kind enough to send us the individual bars included in their Christmas Selection box and, needless to say, G and M were more than willing to taste-test each bar and give their marks out of 10:

Cheeky Orange A lovely crunch and just the right amount of flavour


Mark:   10/10

Nice, but the orange flavour reminds me of medicine


Mark:   9/10

Minty Moo Delicious, the right amount of crunch & an awesome flavour


Mark:   10/10

Not quite 10/10 as it tastes a little like toothpaste & I don’t like seeing the mint pieces

Mark:   9/10

Bunnycomb Perfect crunch!  I love it


Mark:   10/10

I loved it, great flavour and the perfect crunch


Mark:   10/10

Chocolate Santa Nice, but I liked the flavoured ones more 

Mark:   9.5/10

The flavour’s good and the shape is fantastic 

Mark:   10/10

Overall family rating:  10/10


Both children enjoyed them all and are more than happy to nibble on whichever one is available.  If they’re able to choose, then M would always go for the Bunnycomb as his favourite flavour, whilst G’s top pick is the Minty Moo.  They are readily available in most of the big supermarket chains now, are reasonably priced and the choice is brilliant especially as it is all safe for M.  I’m thrilled by the offer of a selection box this Christmas, the first time either of my children will have been able to enjoy this festive treat.  You can buy these from some supermarkets or can find them on-line at Freefromforkids or other on-line stockists.


 *Disclaimer – We were sent this selection of Moo-free chocolate bars for the purpose of an independent review and the views expressed are entirely my own and those of G and M.

Who feels like chicken tonight?

Who remembers that advertising slogan from 20 years ago?  I couldn’t quite believe it when I googled to see just how long it’s been since the “Chicken tonight” adverts first started being played on TV – 20 years and that song is still reverberating around my head as if I’d heard it yesterday.  For those who never had the joy of seeing these the first time round, here’s a quick sample to show you what you missed:

The reason that jingle came to mind is that I decided to attempt a M-friendly version of that other classic, Chicken Kiev.  My reason?  G read something in one of her books where the main character was sitting down to a dinner of Chicken Kiev and she had to ask me what the dish was.  I realised that, as a result of the multiple allergies we deal with in our household, there are several meals I remember from my childhood that G and M have never had a chance to try.  Chicken in any form is a meal they will eat, so I thought it might just be one they could both enjoy and something new to add to their repertoire.

As always, I searched around for an easy recipe and then converted it for the family’s dietary needs.  I always keep any left-over bread crusts or pieces in a bag in the freezer as they are perfect for making into breadcrumbs.  20141003_201701I’ve also used frozen wraps, which work similarly well when making crumbs and add a slightly different texture.  Everything prepped, I coated the chicken breasts, popped them into the oven and kept my fingers crossed.

The finished dish looked delicious and both children commented on how wonderful dinner smelt as they washed their hands and came to the table.  I served it with rice and a mixture of steamed vegetables the first time and with mashed potato (or sweet potato) the second time at G’s request.  The chicken was beautifully succulent and the garlic butter oozed across the plates as the children cut into the Kievs.  Both plates were quickly emptied and G and M have asked me to prepare it again soon.

The Message from “My Man” at the BBC

Three weeks on from that episode of the BBC’s hospital drama, Holby City and I’m still reeling from the amazing response to my blog post and the unexpected bonus of two phone-calls with series producer, Simon Harper.  When I penned my heartfelt response to what Mike and I had watched on-screen, I expected to reach a few more than my usual readership and dared to hope that I might beat my previous “top score” of 186 readers in a 24-hour period with my letter to our local hospital.  I never dreamed that over 2,000 people across the world would read, comment on and share that plea for responsible portrayal of chronic illness in the mainstream media.  As well as sharing my thoughts through my blog, I made a formal complaint to the BBC and, through the wonder of Google, managed to track down Simon Harper and sent him an e-mail, expressing my concerns about the inaccuracies about EGID portrayed in that episode.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

I didn’t expect to hear anything back, so you can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when Simon not only replied to my e-mail, but also offered to pick up the phone and discuss the matter with me.  We agreed a day and time to talk and I spent the week making notes and talking to fellow EGID parents through FABED and other on-line forums to get their points of view on what I needed to raise in my conversation.  That first phone-call lasted for around 30 minutes and at no point did I feel that Simon was keen to close down the conversation and finish the call,  He was genuinely interested in learning more about EGID and understanding why this episode had caused such distress in the on-line community. We spent a long time discussing the difference between “intention” – what the program was trying to portray – and “perception” – what the viewing public understood – when it comes to producing a drama for television viewing and here Simon explains it in his own words:

The intention: “the guest character’s general allergies were a dramatic smoke screen to the actual underlying cause of his pain, neuralgia – but that in no way were those allergies supposed to suggest a condition as specific and, as I now know from talking to you, severe as EGID.  In no way was the story supposed to say that EGID was in fact just neuralgia!“.

The perception:I think it comes down to one scene where Zosia (the doctor) mentions that Nigel’s eosinophils are up –  due to his general allergies – and she then goes on to mention “his eosinophilic gastro-enteritis”.  What I can see maybe wasn’t clear was that Zosia, excitedly bandying round theories and possible prognoses at this stage of the story, is in fact supposed only to be raising EGID at a possibility at that moment.  perceptionA possibility that, in fact, turns out not to be the case.  But I can see that the phrasing “his” – combined with the fact that dramatically speaking, we never see Zosia rule out EGID (a moment we assume happens off-screen) – could have given the wrong impression.  It’s a tough call with medical drama – you never play on-screen every single beat of medical treatment that would happen in real life, choosing the moments which best serve the story,  and sometimes rely on the audience’s imagination to assume and deduce. It’s a delicate balance, and there is definitely a lesson to be learned here, because evidently, missing out that moment has in this case given the wrong impression.

I also mentioned my concerns that a range of inflammatory bowel diseases had appeared to be ruled out through a simple ultrasound, whilst those of us living with this family of illnesses know, from our first-hand experiences, that endoscopies, colonoscopies and biopsies are the only reliable ways to confirm a final diagnosis.  The conversation ended with an agreement that Simon would spend time investigating what research was done, talking to the consultant concerned and checking out the ultrasound situation before phoning me back a week later to talk some more.  I was struck by his commitment to unpicking where and how things went so wrong and have to confess to being cheeky enough to send another e-mail, thanking him for his honest discussion with me and pointing him in the direction of various EGID websites, so that he could truly understand what our families deal with on a daily basis.

A week later and that second phone-call happened.  Another 30 minutes valuably spent clearing up those outstanding points, including his agreement that the discussion regarding the ultrasound came across as far more definitive than was their intention.  I have to say I’m impressed with the research into EGID he had done during that week and appreciate that he took the time to properly review the research done originally for the program.  Finally, and definitely most importantly, he has sent a huge apology to our EGID family and I truly believe it is a heartfelt one.


Courtesy of

I repeat,  I  am absolutely aware that despite all this, an upsetting impression was given due to the way EGID was referenced and never ruled out on-screen and there is absolutely a lesson to be learned there for the future.  I can’t undo any upset caused, I realise, but do so hope I have been able to reassure you that we take the medical research aspect of HOLBY with the utmost seriousness and that in this instance, it truly was not an instance of inaccuracy, but, I think, a point of clarity that had an unforeseen impact on how the story came across.

 I truly have enjoyed our conversations, as not only did I get an education on the condition that  your son,  you, your family and many others are so courageously living with, but, as a producer, it is always absolutely invaluable to get insights on how our story intentions actually translate to an audience member –  that gives us great help in the way we tell our stories for the better to make HOLBY an entertaining but hopefully also stress-free hour!  And I do hope that you will continue to watch and enjoy the show.

A big thank you to Simon Harper for his willingness to be open and honest about the research done for this storyline, the errors of judgement made in the production, to talk to me not just once, but twice and his apology for the upset unintentionally caused.  As one of my fellow EGID Mums asked (and I wholeheartedly agree):

Any chance they’ll get Mr Allergy (grrrrrr) back and do a proper episode on EGID?

Simon, I wait for your answer!

“Out of difficulties grow miracles” – Jean de La Breyere

stormyThese last few months have been, well, interesting; and yes, that’s one of those euphemisms you use when you really don’t know how else to explain what’s been going on.  In many ways life was reduced to a whole new level of hell in our household; one that I’ve hesitated to discuss because of the nature of our experience.  Sometimes I need to delay publishing my posts to give us all time to process what we were dealing with before revealing it to the outside world, to allow the storm to pass and to let those memories start to fade.  Now, I’m – we’re – finally ready.

The reason for it all has been M’s ongoing issues with his bowel.  When the pellet study was done a year ago at our local hospital, the x-rays indicated that he had developed what is termed “mega-rectum” and “mega-colon“, caused in all likelihood by ongoing and previously undiagnosed impaction.  The priority at the time was to clear out his system and keep it clear, but unfortunately, for reasons still unknown, M has limped from one bout of constipation to another over the last 15 months.  The constant flow of problems has taken its toll on the whole family, but most noticeably on M, who is finding it tough to be positive when he feels that nothing is making a difference.

Our first meeting with our local consultant led to a long discussion about what, if anything, we could do to try and ease this problem and how we could help M’s bowel to recover.  He suggested a course of treatment that sounded extreme, but which he felt would encourage this troublesome body part to start to repair and would therefore hopefully alleviate some of the issues.  He proposed starting M on yet another laxative, called Bisacodyl, which would be administered by a daily suppository each evening.  This would cause an immediate response, thus reducing the likelihood of ongoing impaction and hopefully M’s bowel muscles would eventually recover some of their elasticity.  This treatment was not to be a long-term one and we would start doing it daily for just 4-5 weeks before being assessed in clinic again.

willowtreeOf all the medicines that M has endured over the last 3 years, this is, by far and away, the worst one we’ve had to put him through.  Day 1 was tricky as he was incredibly nervous and had no idea what to expect.  The subsequent week was hell and the nightly battles as I gave my boy this medicine accompanied by his incessant crying and pleading took an almighty toll on the family.  Job being done, a nightly cuddle was needed to reassure and comfort us all.  Due to unexpected problems during that first week, M experienced a heavy bleed and we were advised to take a week’s rest before restarting and finishing the course of treatment.  Unsurprisingly that was even more difficult to do, in fact almost impossible, but we persevered and carried on until our next appointment.

Mike and M had their hopes pinned on the medicine stopping then, I was slightly more sceptical and sadly I was proved right.  There had not been sufficient progress in that 5 week period for our new consultant to be satisfied and he wanted us to keep going until the start of the school holidays.  At that point, he asked us to double the dosage, administering the medicine both morning and evening until we flew to Florida.  I think that everybody’s heart sank at that point, although M cheerfully focused on his idea of a silver lining – he got to stop taking the Senakot, which was his least favourite medicine and that it would all stop as soon as we got to Florida.  How we got through those 8 weeks, I really don’t know and I hate knowing that we might be told to restart the medicine again in the future.  Worst of all, we won’t know whether this treatment has been of any help for a while yet, which is discouraging, but we will continue to keep our fingers crossed and hope that out of that difficult time, we really will start to see small miracles grow.