Our thanks go to…

The week is winding down and I am definitely looking forward to the start of half-term and the chance to have a sleep-in over the weekend.  One’s thing for certain, being active in raising awareness whilst eating a restricted diet really takes it out of you!thank-you-languages

With T for Thanks being our topic for today, what else could I do, but issue a few heart-felt thank-yous to those who’ve made a difference to us in the 12 months since the last NEAW. It’s tricky to know where to start, but, in no particular order, I’d like to thank:

Our families – well it was a given really, wasn’t it?  But whichever side of the ocean they may live, our families have been there in whatever way they can 澳大利亚孩子-1202242and supported us in the tricky decision to move M to a NG-tube and the elemental diet.   We don’t know exactly what the next 12 months hold in store for us, but we can be certain that our families will be there every step of the way.

Our friends – another obvious lot, but again we couldn’t have survived the past year without them all.  Their help has been invaluable: from text messages to lengthy phone conversations; early morning G-sitting to late night conversations with a cup of tea; and much-needed hugs to unexpected hospital mail, every single gesture has meant more than they can ever imagine and helped keep us strong.

GOSH – our consultant, her great gastro team and, in particular, the fantastic nurses who work with such dedication on Rainforest ward. Their care for M back in December was just amazing and without them looking after us both and giving wise words and training, we’d have struggled even more with the reality of the NG-tube and the feeding pump.  We also owe massive thanks to M’s fabulous dietitian, Colorful  solidarity design treewho is always at the end of the phone or the email and has given me lots of helpful recommendations as well as reassuring me that I’m doing things right when it comes to the whole food re-introduction thing.

M’s School – I am very aware of just how lucky we have been with the staff at M and G’s school. They have been so understanding of how life was changing for both children during this school year and have made every effort to look after them and help them feel happy and safe when at school.  5 of the teaching staff bravely took on the role to learn how to manage his feeding pump, which meant that I could return to my job, confident that they were competent in what they needed to do.  This week they were also quick to agree to M’s request to share his presentation to the rest of the school and every teacher made time to make sure their class could see it and ask any questions they had.  This school has done a wonderful job of nurturing both my children and I will be sad when G moves on to “big school” in September.

G – the best big sister that M could ever have had.  She’s loved her little brother through some of his darkest moods and, even if there’s a bit too much squabbling at times for my liking, she’s managed to continue to work on building a strong relationship with him that I hope will only get stronger in time.  She’s survived the challenge of SATs, maybe not without the odd tantrum along the way, and continues to strive to do her best at school and at home.  P1000121And my heart nearly burst with pride the other week when she announced at Stagecoach that M is her hero, because of how bravely he lives and copes with EGID.

Mike – I couldn’t finish without recognising the person who stands alongside me on this, the most challenging of journeys we’ve been on together, and is my strength when I’m feeling weak.  We’ve reached a harmony that enables us to take turns in being the strong one during appointments and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be facing these decisions with.  He also understands my need to have some time to escape from the day-to-day grind of EGID and puts up with me disappearing off twice a week to choir rehearsals.

And thanks to all of you, who’ve kept reading my blog, put up with somemany…repeated requests on my part and have done an amazing job at sharing my posts on.  Your silent show of support is what helps keep me going, even when times are tough.

Day 5 and finally it’s A for Awareness!

A for Awareness has meant:

This…                                                                    and this…

                                                          …lots of this…

and this…  

This is the amazing video that M made, with help from his big sister, to share his story about life with EGID.  By the time this blog post is published, he will have presented it to every class in his school – that’s 8 classes, approximately 220 children and around 15 members of staff who will now understand his journey a little better.

So come on, you all know the drill by now:  share, share and share some more and help us get M’s message out there.

Changing Attitudes – NEAW 2015

Last week I took part in the Diabetes blog week and looked at my changing attitude to my T1D over the past 3 decades as well as changes I hope will happen in the future.  social-media-treeMy plea for improved education about T1D vs. T2D is closely linked to my longing for increased awareness about EGID and has resulted in my efforts to bring the focus of family, friends and our local community to the subject through local media coverage and social media this week.

During a music break in my recent radio interview, the presenter asked me an interesting question: whether I’m upset when people misunderstand EGID?  We had been discussing off-air the fact that there is often recognition of the food allergies side of the illness, rather than the disease itself and whilst I understand that allergies are something easy for people to understand, I’m frustrated that that’s what gets people interested in finding out more.  I pondered his question for a while and once the session was over was able to give him my honest answer: No.  I’m not upset that people misunderstand EGID because I’m usually impressed that they know something about it. The truth is that they must have heard of EGID in the first place to be capable of misunderstanding this complex disease and therein lies the problem.  Ignorance of EGID and the unseen effects it has on individual and family alike means that those of us living with it are sadly often viewed as making it all up or wildly exaggerating the severity. That attitude can leave a family feeling very alone at a time when emotional and practical support is needed most.

 This is what today’s C is all about – Changing Attitudes.


The truth about EGID is this:  It’s not just about the food allergies, that’s the easy bit to understand and, in many ways, the easiest bit to live with.  It’s about much, much more than that.  It’s about the unexplained joint aches, the never-ending tummy cramps, the relentless feelings of nausea or reflux whenever you eat. The dark shadows under the eyes, the manic mood swings, the overwhelming lethargy, or the inability to fall asleep and stay that way.  The damaged bowel, the fear of not being near enough to a toilet whenever you need one, or knowing that you’ll never get there in time anyway.  legoThe fear of your friends making fun of your allergies or finding out that you’re still wearing a pull-up because your bowel can’t be relied on when you most need it to.  The daily medicines, restricted diets and the feeding tubes. The chronic pain that can reduce you to tears, yet you don’t complain because nothing helps, even when it’s at its worst and you’re familiar with just about every pain chart created in the history of man.

It’s about getting used to these things as being normal, or not even realising they’re not. 

And it affects the whole family, not just the one with the diagnosis.  The endless merry-go-round of numerous hospital appointments, medicines to be taken and food to be cooked safely, avoiding cross-contamination at all costs is exhausting.  The keeping of meticulous daily records of food eaten and symptoms experienced to try to find a link and make sense of what’s going on, and dealing with the self-recrimination when you miss a day out because what if that was the one that would give you more answers? Pictures July 06 030Day trips, meals out, holidays all require military precision to organise and every decision is coloured by whether needs can be met or not. The feelings of isolation, for parent and sibling alike, because it’s frequently the case that there is no-one else nearby who has the same experiences or can truly understand. The lack of any conversation that doesn’t revolve around toileting and being too worn out to come up with an alternative subject.  The sense that I, as the parent, know more about the intricacies of my son’s chronic illness than any medical professional we meet along the way and the frightening realisation that my children know infinitely more than them too.

It’s about the heartbreak of holding my sobbing child at 3am, tears streaming down my own cheeks as I struggle to find the words to bring the comfort that nothing else can bring at that moment in time.

At our recent admission at GOSH, one of the gastro consultants told me that it is widely recognised that children with gastro conditions have the worst quality of life of any child living with a chronic illness.  EGID is an invisible illness, one where the individual frequently learns to hide, disguise and survive their struggles and just carries on regardless, accepting this life as their norm.  Families supporting a loved one with EGID often feel isolated – not just from their circle of friends, but from the medical community, who know little about it and may question the integrity of the very people who are fighting to get the best care they possibly can.  It’s not a parental fad about food allergies or an over-anxious Mum fussing about the small things; and it’s definitely not a figment of anyone’s imagination.  The effects of EGID can be cruel to experience and devastating to see.  So a change in attitudes is not only important, but a necessity for all those living with this diagnosis.

Now you know a little more about EGID and just how it impacts, take some time to think about how you can support those you know living with this disease.  Don’t think that there’s nothing you can do to help.  An offer of a cup of tea once the school-run is over, a home-cooked meal for the parent not in hospital or checking to see if there’s anything they need from the shops is more than enough.  No gesture is too small: a smile, a text message or even a FB like or comment on Twitter will let that family know that they’re in your thoughts and that there is hope for change in the future.

United we stand

Yes, you guessed it, today is:

U for Unite-page0001

and signifies perhaps the hardest challenge we’ve taken on for EGID awareness week, ever. This week Mike and I are standing in solidarity with M and with all those other brave souls out there who have to battle with EGID every day and have no chance to opt out when things get tough. For the past 2 years, I’ve documented how we’ve followed M’s diet for the week, restricting our diets as he has to restrict his and even drinking the occasional glass of Neocate Active to get a glimpse into that aspect of his life.

IMG_0940When we first started planning our activities for this year’s awareness week, I briefly considered eating like M again, but dismissed it, thinking that the limitations of 3 ingredients and a litre of E028 on a daily basis might just prove to be too much for both Mike and me.  However, fast forward a few weeks to my preparations for my newspaper interview and I revisited the idea of “eating like M” and wondered if actually this might be something we could achieve.  I chatted it over with Mike, debated whether we could do it and, both being keen to give it a go, decided this would be our diet for the week.  Each day will be filled with 3 meals of rice, chicken and cucumber prepared in a variety of ways and Mike will even be drinking the litre of E028.  I have undertaken this with careful consideration of my own T1D and will be keeping an even tighter eye on my blood sugar management to make sure that I stay fit and healthy during the week.  I have also opted out of the E028, but will be partaking in a pint of Neocate Active everyday to show willing.

We’re not on our own either as there are other parents, family members and friends who will be spending some or all of this week eating like their loved ones. Trust me, it’s not an easy decision to make, but is a great way to raise awareness and get conversations started, which is reason enough to stick to it for a week. I am filled with admiration for just how well M has coped with such a bland diet for so long and have been struck with the harsh reality of how much pain he must have been in for years to be able to cope with these limitations just because it’s helping him feel better. Three_Musketeers_SwordsSo tomorrow when you’re tucking into your bowl of honey nut corn flakes or a bacon roll for breakfast, or sitting with your feet up dunking a chocolate biscuit into your cup of tea, or perhaps even enjoying a plate of fish and chips for tea, spare a thought for M and the others like him who are eating a restricted diet right now or may not be able to eat anything at all.  This week it really is a case of “All for one and one for all“.

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letter…

D

imagesEver had that feeling that you’re appearing in an episode of Sesame Street?  Sadly my children have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, observe my poor attempts at impressions of the Count (1…ah ah ah…2…ah ah ah…etc) or Cookie Monster (me want cookie!) with complete and utter disdain, and yet it reduces me to giggles each and every time.  I am, without a doubt, drifting into the realms of “embarrassing Mum” behaviour just in time for G to advance into her teenage crisis years.

But I digress; today’s letter, D, stands for Donate.

This week is primarily about raising awareness of EGID, rather than rattling our buckets asking for money, but the harsh reality for children and adults living with EGID is that there is little promise of finding improved treatments until further research into it is carried out.  At the moment in the UK, there are no research projects listed specifically for EGID and less than 1% of all medical research funding is allocated for gastro research.  Kate, over at The Recipe Resource, talks about the need for increased funding for specialised research, especially for medical research in children, in her recent blog post, “Why we need a culture shift on medical research in children – for Eosinophilic Awareness Week” and it’s definitely worth a read.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not expecting the money we donate to change the face of medical research just yet, that sort of change will have to happen at a much higher level than my meagre pounds can help me access.  However, where these donations can make a difference is to charities such as FABED, who really are small fish in the big pond of the charity world.  20150515_151847I’ve talked many times about how much support is given to individuals and families by FABED and the image opposite, which I also posted on yesterday’s blog post, shows just some of the many ways they support their members. We’ve benefitted from most of them.  Our amazing trip to Legoland 2 years ago was organised by FABED and gave Mike and I the opportunity to talk to other parents living with EGID: some who were further down the line in their journey and full of years of hard-earned expertise to share; and some even newer to it than us, who were overflowing with endless questions.  More importantly, it enabled M and G to meet other EGID children and their siblings. They could compare war wounds and stories; and both came away feeling less isolated in their struggles.

The on-line community is a veritable hive of activity and no question is too stupid or concern too small when it comes to these amazing people.  They have extensive knowledge and experience that they are more than willing to share, and when they don’t know the answers, will send a virtual hug to let you know you’re not on your own.  The support doesn’t stop there and this week members have also been sharing photos, images and videos with each other to help raise awareness for EGID.  The emotional and practical support offered has been a lifeline for us more than once and the emails, text messages and phone-calls received from FABED members when we’ve been going through tough times are worth far more than their weight in gold.  This is one such video, which proved to be all the inspiration M needed to finish his own:

So, what can you do today?

With the help of the fantastic choirs I sing with in our community’s Singing Project, we raised an amazing £180 at Saturday’s concert and if you’re able, any small donation you can give to FABED will make a massive difference and will be gratefully received.  I have set up a JustGiving page for this week and all money will be going to this cause.  You can access it by clicking on the image below:

Fabed needs you

And if you’re not able to help financially, that’s ok too.  Please just keep spreading the word and remember that every single person you tell about EGID is one more person who can help support people like M.

NEAW 2015 – E is for Educate

NEAW

It’s difficult to believe that National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW) is once again with us and we have been, believe it or not, even busier this year than last in spreading our message about life with EGID.  I’m hoping to again post a blog a day to raise awareness and this year have decided to follow the theme of NEAW, which uses the word E-D-U-C-A-T-E to do it:

Today’s letter is E for Educate.

This year we have been focussing our energies on educating those around us and around M about EGID.

How? Well. in the last week I’ve been interviewed on our local BBC radio station, featured on the front page of our local newspaper and last night we had a display and raffle at a local choral concert. During the week ahead, M will be sharing his story at school via a PowerPoint presentation that he and G worked together to produce and later in the week, I’ll be sharing that video with you all.

stats

Why? Because awareness is key.  The more people who know about EGID and trust me, the number of medical professionals who have even a passing knowledge of this chronic illness is staggeringly low, let alone the general public, the greater awareness of it there will be, which in turn means better support for children and adults like M and families like ours.  Not only is there little understanding, but there is also an astonishing lack of funding for research into gastrointestinal disorders in the UK.  Without medical research, then it is highly unlikely that approaches to treatments will improve and nor, by default, will the quality of life for these individuals.

20150515_151932

What can you do? Re-read my explanation of EGID and then spread the word by talking to someone about EGID and explaining what it is.  You can share these blog posts this week and ask friends and family to share them on too. Keep an eye on my FB page and Twitter feed to see who else is sharing information for NEAW 2015.  Find out more about those charities supporting families living with EGID:  FABED in the UK, Apfed in the USA and AusEE in Australia. Change your FB or Twitter profile picture to one of those promoted by FABED or Apfed even for just one day.  Be more aware and know that by knowing something about EGID, you are helping support M and others like him.

20150515_151847

#Changes – Diabetes Blog week 2015

Sadly this week, time just hasn’t stretched enough to allow a blog a day for Diabetes Blog week 2015. The scant 24 hours in the average day mean that I barely have enough time for everything I normally need to do, and this week in particular has been manic as the excitement revs up for next week’s #NationalEosinophilAwarenessWeek.  I have grabbed 5 minutes here and there during coffee breaks and lunch-times to read what other dia-bloggers have had to say on the subjects of “Keeping it to yourself” and “Cleaning it out” and I’d heartily recommend a visit to Bittersweetdiabetes to peruse these thoughts for yourself as they really are worth a read.  However, today’s topic of #Changes struck a chord, not least because we’re about to embark on our own battle to change the awareness of another invisible illness, EGID and I wanted to blog my thoughts today.

Courtesy of youmatterlifeline.tumblr.com

Courtesy of youmatterlifeline.tumblr.com

The past 3 decades of life with T1D have seen a metamorphosis in my attitude to it:  I coped at the start; rebelled in my teens; became resigned to it during my 20s and in my 30s I have learned to embrace the lessons it has taught me and have relegated any other emotions to the back of the metaphorical cupboard of my mind.  As the next decade of my life comes ever closer, I’ve no doubt that attitudes will continue to change and that is something I look forward to embracing in a way that I now find myself able to do like never before.  The daily blood tests and injections are second nature to me and it’s not until I feel the curious gaze of strangers as I push the syringe needle into my leg/arm/tummy* (*delete as appropriate) during a coffee break with G at Costa or dinner out with the family, that I’m reminded that it probably isn’t a sight that most people see on a daily basis.  It has become, by necessity, an integral part of me and I am as oblivious to it as I now am to the tube that is stuck to the side of M’s face.

T1D is my partner for life and I’m okay with that.  All of the dramas and rollercoaster emotions I have experienced along the way have given me the huge advantage of immense insight and understanding of the frustrations of my own pair of mini superheroes, M and G.  When M has been sobbing on the floor because of a profound sense of despair and a feeling of hopelessness, I can honestly tell him that I know how it feels because I’ve been there and battled those demons myself.  I can empathise with G’s struggles with her own restricted diet and the temptation to cheat because I’ve done it and ended up in hospital as a result. I know that sense of isolation that overwhelms because it seems as if there’s nobody else nearby who’s going through what I’m going through in the here and now, and I know that however dark it might feel right now, there really is light at the end of that very long tunnel.

My parents were huge advocates for research into Juvenile diabetes and were involved for years in fund-raising, awareness events and medical research into T1D. A few months ago, I was talking to the Dad of M’s friend F, who has T1D, on the subject of the current developments being made in diabetes research and the search for a cure.  I am genuinely excited about the prospects of a major break-through that might see a more permanent cure becoming available, but found myself honestly admitting that, whilst I am excited for what that would mean for F, for J (another T1D friend of M’s) and for Pumplette, I am no longer concerned about the implications for me.  My focus has shifted and I have a new battle to fight – as an advocate for my son and his challenging life with EGID.  That, I believe, is the change of becoming a parent and just as my own parents worked tirelessly to support me through life with T1D, I found I have learned well from them and am hopefully just as dedicated to supporting M and G as they find their feet in the world of chronic illness.

Courtesy of ec.europa.eu

Courtesy of ec.europa.eu

That’s my change, but there is another change that I feel is very much worth fighting for: a change to the understanding of T1D which is so sadly lacking in the public eye.  Mike is well-used to hearing me shout in outrage at the television or radio whenever some well-meaning, but inadequately informed journalist or personality talks broad-brushstroke about “diabetes” and dumps those of us living with the epic failure of our pancreas to do the job it was designed to do in the same boat as those who have made lifestyle choices that have led to T2D.  Both are difficult to live with, of that there is no doubt, but the lack of clarity about the differences between the 2 conditions can be devastating for all concerned.

I did not choose to live my life accompanied by T1D, just as my parents did not choose for me to become so ill that living past my 9th birthday looked touch and go for a few dark hours all those years ago.  There are choices about my T1D management that I would change with the benefit of hindsight and I would rather have not even had to make those decisions, not just in the first place, but ever; and yet T1D arrived uninvited on our doorstep and we had no choice but to accept it, learn to tame it and eventually become comfortable with its presence in my life.  There is no reason, in this day and age, for there still to be so little understanding of the differences between the 2 types, nor so little regard for how this lack of distinction can impact young lives.  It is only when real change happens, when education improves so profoundly that there is proper understanding about what T1D is and why it happens, that those of us with it can sit back and breathe a little, knowing that that’s one less battle to be fought and that we can expend our energy on the important things in life, like continually working on preserving the best health we can, both physically and mentally.

Courtesy of annaraeburn.com

Courtesy of annaraeburn.com

Even more importantly for me, such a massive turnaround in the portrayal of diabetes in the media will signal a promise for things to improve for M too.  After all, if this is the state of affairs for a well-known condition such as T1D, then what hope is there for those of us battling to promote better understanding of the unknown ones such as EGID?