Category Archives: Chronic Illness

#NEAW2018: C is for Change

May 23: C is for Change

The dictionary defines change as “to make or become different” or “an act or process through which something becomes different“, but what does that really mean in the context of raising awareness about a rare disease?

There are so many things that need changing when it comes to EGID, some of which we can actively work towards achieving and others which can be nothing more than a pipedream at the moment. Educating others about what EGID is and how it affects those diagnosed with it will hopefully bring about a change in attitude in both the community surrounding M and the wider medical profession. Even though this often feels like an uphill battle, it is an achievable target and something we should all keep working towards, chipping away slowly at the seemingly indestructible walls that surround EGID as a valid diagnosis. Those changes in attitude will help M feel less isolated by his health problems and more confident in being the unique individual he is despite his EGID and not because of it.

The 12-year road we’ve travelled since M was born has seen many changes and there is no question that there will be many more to be traversed as he grows towards adulthood. He’s gone from an active, can-eat-everything toddler, through a stage of being a tube-fed child taking 13 medicines multiple times a day to now being a tween eating 9 foods on a regular basis, taking 4 medicines plus a multi-vitamin each day and thriving. The next few years of teenagedom will undoubtedly bring a myriad of changes to be navigated, mostly thanks to those pesky hormones, and which will hit us in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Who knows how treatments and medical breakthroughs will change as he gets older and the best change we can hope for is that his doctors will find a way to improve his quality of life beyond our wildest expectations.

What are the changes that M would most love to see happen?

  • To be eating as “normally” as possible. What he wants when he wants and with no repercussions at all
  • To be able to go without all of his medicines, especially the E028 drink, and not worry that a reaction could be just around the corner
  • And to not feel different, or alone, or set apart from his friends because of a condition that he can’t predict or control, but can just manage as best he can

What I want is not really a change at all. I want him and G to remember that they are able to live life to its fullest, loving and embracing every moment of it and grasping every opportunity that comes their way and making the most of them all.

Advertisements

#NEAW2018: U is for Unite

May 22: U is for Unite

Over the years, our primary focus for “unite” has been on spending the week, or a part thereof, “Eating like M“. Mike and I are embracing it fully again this year, much to M’s delight, but I have to wonder whether following his restricted diet for 7 days really does enough to show him that we’re standing in unity alongside him. A natural consequence of our choice is that those we work and spend time with during this week will inevitably ask questions, which obviously gives us both a great opportunity to talk about EGID and start to educate the uninitiated, but I keep returning to the question of whether M truly feels a benefit from us standing shoulder to shoulder with him for such a short time.

Of course, the truth is that, for us, every day living with EGID, even though we are not living with the diagnosis and reality of it ourselves, is a day spent supporting M through what has been some of the toughest times he’s had to face in his 12 years. We have lived through and survived the most difficult challenges, but we are still not really living in unison with him. My 30+ years of living with my own chronic illness, Type 1 diabetes, means that I do perhaps have more of an idea of the experiences and angst that he faces each day than others and I know that that truth has brought M some comfort in his darkest moments. I can’t make EGID disappear, or allow him to eat completely normally once again – or, at least, not without some pretty catastrophic reactions that would take their toll and require a huge amount of time to recover from – but I can offer a level of understanding and empathy to him, along with an ever-ready cuddle, kiss and encouraging words from Mum, which may or may not be gratefully received depending on the occasion.

This week, social media, and Facebook in particular, is swamped with the CURED banner for NEAW, which promotes worldwide unity in the EGID community, with all of those living with EGID holding hands and pulling together to seek a cure. It is an image that has resonated with me, especially given the ongoing tumultuous relationship between EGID and the medical profession here in the UK.  Despite M’s objections to the word CURED (which actually stands for the Campaign Urging Research for Eosinophilic Disease) because, as he rightly points out, “…there isn’t a cure yet for EGID and this makes it seem as if there is…“, he too is a fan of the sense of inclusion rather than isolation that is reflected in the words. The realisation that EGID affects others just like him across the world is sinking in and we all find some comfort in the truth that other countries are investing in the area of gastro research, which includes seeking a deeper understanding about EGID and how it works.

Whether its eating like M this week, or sharing the same meals with him at different times throughout the year; supporting M when life isn’t going as smoothly as it could, or cheering him on when he’s talking EGID to those around him; or actively helping both him and G when they’re fundraising for the charities that have worked tirelessly to support them over the years, all of it is standing in unison with M during NEAW and for the rest of the year. Because unity is not just for a day or a week or even a year, but it’s for a lifetime and it’s a commitment I’m willing to make to the EGID community, not just to him.

The question is, are you?

#NEAW2018: D is for Donate

May 21: D is for Donate

There’s nothing I hate more than spotting a charity canvasser on the street and I’ll happily confess that I instantly become one of those individuals who speed up and drop my eyes down to avoid drawing too much attention to myself if I can help it. It’s not that I’m not prepared to donate to charity – oh how ironic this post would be if I was – but I am definitely not a fan of being pressured to sign up to an ongoing commitment to any one charity whilst out and about doing other things. Part of my problem is that I hate to say no to people and always end up feeling very disingenuous as well as guilty when I come up with a reason why I don’t want to set up a regular donation on the spot.

A cash donation can help, of course it can, but these days I don’t really know what charity to suggest when it comes specifically to making a financial contribution to support those diagnosed with EGID. There are no charities in the UK currently working on research into gastro conditions and few investing time and energy into supporting families living with the consequences of this challenging diagnosis. As long as gastrointestinal disease remains the “poor” cousin to so many other life-impacting conditions, there is little chance of much progress when it comes to finding ways to improve the day-to-day life of those living with it.

However, donation is about much more than just the money. Your time, your care and your support can make an incredible difference to a family living with chronic illness and the impact should never be underestimated. When someone takes 5 minutes to ask how M is doing, and, even more importantly, asking how G and the rest of the family are too, that effort is priceless. At the moment, we seem to be a state of status quo with M’s health which is fantastic, but there is also a sense of overwhelming ennui when it comes to our ongoing relationship with our local hospital and M’s gastro consultant. Taking the time to talk to me about life apart from M’s EGID makes a big difference and should never be seen as inconsequential. We teach M constantly that there is so much more to life than his illness and it’s important that we hold on to that truth and don’t get bogged down in the mundane.

There are, of course, a million and one charities who need financial support and it’s a challenge to choose the cause that’s not only closest to our hearts, but needs that money the most. This year we’re not actively fundraising as part of NEAW, mostly because I only changed jobs a month ago and haven’t found the time to be more organised, but thanks to M’s bold cheek, we have a small fundraiser planned for the end of June. Last year, he asked the founder of their Saturday dance school if this year’s end of year concert could be a fundraiser for the amazing Over The Wall charity and he and G are now working hard on their presentation to introduce the evening. M is thrilled to be attending an OTW Health Challenges camp again this summer and we continue to be extremely grateful for the care, support and opportunities they have given both children. Both OTW and my new role with our local air ambulance have shown me so clearly that whilst the money is important and enables both charities to continue doing their fantastic work, volunteering with them has equal value. At work our volunteers are an integral part of our workforce and the truth is, quite simply, that their daily contribution to the running of the charity cannot and should not ever be underestimated.

#NEAW2018: E is for Educate

May 20: E is for Educate

When M was finally diagnosed with EGID 5 years ago, it came at the end of a long, relentless and frustrating battle with the medical profession to have our concerns heard and acknowledged; and not simply be dismissed as over-protective parents; or worse. By the time the diagnosis was actually formalised, I had done a lot of my own reading around the subject and already knew as much about the condition as was readily available online. In the 5 years since that hospital appointment, we have found ourselves continually having to educate those around us, including the medics, who know little to nothing about what is becoming an increasingly controversial diagnosis, especially when it affects the lower GI tract as M’s does.

EoE, or Eosinophilic Oesophagitis, is becoming more widely recognised and the diagnostic criteria for this condition are well established, not least thanks to the continued research of Dr Marc Rothenberg and his team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. When it comes to the rest of the GI tract however, there opinion is very much divided. There are no clear guidelines as to how any of the other Eosinophilic disorders should be identified and diagnosed; and as the recent documentary about GOSH revealed, there is definitely no consensus on how they are best treated. One of the biggest problems facing children like M is the minimal investment into the research of gastrointestinal disorders and the fact that there is absolutely none into paediatric gastro research. With the credibility of EGID as a “real” chronic illness under debate, consultants all too often veer away from it as a possibility and either move towards a more psychological diagnosis or simply shrug their shoulders and leave these individuals to cope on their own, with little or no regular input.

Whether you want to lay the blame of M’s health issues at the feet of eosinophils, or mast cells, or indeed any other type of white blood cell that could be causing his body to attack itself and react to more foods that you can even begin to imagine, I don’t really mind. I’m not one to hang my hat on labels particularly, especially when that label has no meaning for the greater proportion of the people that M comes into contact with on a day-to-day basis; but I also know that being able to put a name to a problem lends a sense of genuineness to his symptoms as well. As a family we’re not able to walk away from the reality of living with this condition day in and day out because every week we experience the effect of it. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it now and I will no doubt say it many times in the future:

The symptoms that M suffers are very real and can be hugely distressing at times.

M is absolutely your average 12 year-old. He has attitude, he knows it all and he could argue that black is white with the best of them. He loves computer games, fantasy stories and endlessly watching Star Wars or Marvel films. He runs around and is noisy and can drive even a saint up the wall at times. He doesn’t look ill and I’d defy anyone who doesn’t know him to pick him out as the “sick kid” in the line-up. But that’s the face he presents to the outside world and reflects the attitude to his health that Mike and I have worked hard to engender within him.

What you don’t see is the worn out child who can’t move from his bed at times because of the pain and lethargy that accompany a flare-up. You don’t hear the quiet heart-to-hearts late at night, when he’s struggling with yet another reaction and doesn’t understand why it’s happening to him again. You don’t feel the despair that hits hard after another food causes soul-destroying disappointment because it’s clear that he just won’t be able to eat it without problem. And you can’t imagine the heartbreak of seeing the quiet acceptance that he won’t be able to go to a friend’s sleepover or away on school camp because of the possibility of suffering an embarrassing symptom that none of his friends really understand.

That is the truth of life with EGID and that’s the reason we will always endeavour to educate those who come into contact with M as well as the rest of the world in whatever way we can.

#NEAW2018: This is where it begins!

Over the last few years since we received M’s diagnosis of an Eosinophilic Gastro-Intestinal Disorder (EGID), I’ve approached National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW) in a myriad of different ways. As NEAW 2018 has been approaching, I’ve been racking my brain trying to decide on the best way to talk about EGID for another year. I started posting my daily insights via my social media channels at the beginning of May, trying to highlight each day a different aspect of life with EGID along with a photo or image that captures the sentiment as best I can; we will almost inevitably spend the week “eating like M” again, though Mike might find that more of a challenge than me as he will be away on business for at least a small part of this week; and I will be attempting to post daily blogs during the week itself, sharing just a little of what our journey with EGID is really like.

In the past I’ve tried to come up with different ways to present my week’s worth of daily blogs, but with having just changed jobs and a busy few months at home, this year I decided to fall back on the format I chose 3 years ago and follow the NEAW theme itself, using the word E-D-U-C-A-T-E as illustrated above to inspire my posts each day.

And, as always, all that I ask is that you bear with me for the week ahead and read as many of the posts as you can. If you can also share them on to help spread the word about EGID, then you’ll be supporting families like ours and those of so many we know to raise awareness as much as we possibly can. The message is get out is that we’re working together, across the world, to make a difference and hopefully working towards finding a cure.

Eating Out with Allergies in…Glasgow

Whilst I wouldn’t recommend spending an hour or so wandering the streets of Glasgow looking for somewhere to buy the right kind of cereal with a stroppy 12 year-old and his big sister in tow, I have to be grateful that we stumbled a great little cafe which provided us with the allergy-friendly packed lunch we hadn’t actually realised we were looking for.

iCafe, Sauchiehall Street – As we trudged our way down the street, Mike spotted this unassuming cafe and suggested we stopped to take a look at the menu before we went on too much further. Our eagle-eyes spotted both the gluten-free bread option to accompany the soup and the vegan offerings, so it didn’t seem like too big a leap to hope that they might be willing to make us some gluten- and dairy-free sandwiches to take with us for our lunch later that day. We made a quick decision to allow M to have a “treat” and agreed that he could have a chicken and bacon gluten-free sandwich (no spread) as his lunch choice. He has long been hankering for some bread and we all agreed that this was a fantastic opportunity for him to do so. I was also impressed by the selection of allergy-friendly snacks they had on display and G was also thrilled to have a soya-milk hot chocolate to take away with her and enjoy as we headed towards the bus stop. These toasted sandwiches went down a storm whilst we were at the Riverside museum and I was delighted by this unexpected find.

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow – This isn’t the first time we’ve successfully eaten at a Hard Rock Cafe, having tested the allergy-friendly mettle of those in both Lisbon and Athens over the last couple of years. I think that now is an opportune moment to confess that I am something of a die-hard Hard Rock fan and love nothing more than visiting the Hard Rock Cafes of the world, picking up a City Tee in each location to add to my collection. G and M have become mini fans too and every time we travel anywhere, once of M’s first questions is whether there’s a HRC for us to go to whilst we’re there. It was therefore inevitable that our dinner would be at the Glaswegian Hard Rock Cafe and G decided to try something a little bit different by ordering the GF pulled pork sandwich with chips for her main course. M agreed to compromise on what he really wanted and played it safer as he had already had the GF bread earlier in the day, finally opting for a plain GF burger accompanied by a chicken breast, bacon and cucumber sticks.

Despite the initial run-in we had with our waitress, who wasn’t prepared to accept my first answer that it was easier to tell her what M could eat, rather than list his allergies in full, we eventually convinced her to work with us and with the restaurant manager to place our order. Once they had grasped what we were trying to explain when it came to feeding M, things turned round quite quickly and I absolutely cannot criticise the care that was taken with the children’s meals for the rest of our dinner. Once again we enjoyed a superb meal at yet another restaurant from my all-time favourite chain and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit there to anyone with allergies.

From Gormley to Glasgow via Gretna

With our brief stint in Liverpool having come to an end, we set off to more Northern climes, planning to cross the border at where else but the infamous Gretna. Before setting off from our Liverpool base, we nipped into the local M&S to pick up a selection from their incredible GF/DF range as well as some other bits and pieces for us to enjoy as a packed lunch whilst we were en route. There was just one more place for us to visit before our journey could properly begin as I insisted on a detour to Crosby Beach, home to Antony Gormleys incredible art installation, Another Place. Mike and I had visited it during our previous trip, on a grey, wet and fairly miserable December afternoon and the weather wasn’t really all that difference on our second visit this March. The children found the statues themselves quite disconcerting and M wasn’t keen to get too up close and personal with any of them after he’d examined the first one. Whilst Mike and G wandered towards the shoreline to see the furthest one that was still accessible on foot, M and I instead stood back on the boardwalk to see how many we could spot out in the depths of the River Mersey. It is an impressive sight and was a detour I was glad we had taken.

 

Unfortunately, the delays from both the shopping trip and our visit to the beach plus a late morning start meant that we hit traffic as we joined the M6 Northbound and we quickly found ourselves in the hell of bank holiday traffic and lengthy queues. Thankfully M slept his way through the worst of them and by the time he woke up, we had headed off-piste and were relying on my map-reading skills and the GPS on Mike’s phone to find short-cuts along A roads and through small towns to try to circumvent the M6 nightmare. We eventually found ourselves heading towards the Scottish border with a fast-approaching teatime and decided to stop in Gretna to have some food before continuing our journey to the next planned stop on our travels, Glasgow.

 

We spotted the ever allergy-friendly Pizza Express at the Gretna outlet village and instantly decided it was the easiest place to stop as we know they can cater well for both children. The one thing that made me chuckle when choosing my dinner was spotting the Irn-bru – often described as Scotland’s second national drink – available on the drinks menu. As I said to Mike, “You know you’re in Scotland when…!” After an enjoyable and much-needed meal, during which I had explained the historical relevance of Gretna Green for young English couples looking to elope, we set off once again to complete the 90 miles or so remaining to reach our final destination. We arrived at our hotel on the banks of the River Clyde in the dark and were just about able to make our weary way to our room before bedding down for the night. It seems that endless queues of traffic can really take it out of you!

Eating Out with Allergies in Liverpool

As I promised in my last blog post about our short visit to Liverpool, it’s time to reveal the wonderful places we found to eat safely whilst we were there. I’ve said it before, and no doubt will again, but whenever we travel on holiday, be it home or abroad, we always relax the restrictions on M’s diet a little to allow him to enjoy some more “normal” meals with the rest of the family. M has now reached an age where we allow him to make more of the decisions about what he will and won’t eat on any given day and he understands the direct link between that choice and any fallout he might experience in the hours or days that follow.

There were 2 restaurants that we found that were absolutely brilliant in accommodating our allergy needs and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either of them. M and G absolutely loved the meals that they had here and were desperate to find an opportunity to visit either one of them again, but most especially the first.

Ed’s Easy Diner – This is actually part of a national chain, but not one that we had ever heard of before, though as their website reveals, there are a number of locations across the length and breadth of the UK. There’s even one not too far from us, though I haven’t yet revealed that particular fact to M! G and M were thrilled to discover a lengthy gluten-free menu for them to pore over and whilst G was disappointed that she couldn’t select from their breakfast/brunch options, she quickly decided what her choice would be for our late lunch. We continue to encourage both children to order for themselves and to make their allergy needs known to the servers, only stepping in when it looks like the message might be misunderstood or they haven’t quite made themselves clear.

G settled on “Big Bubba’s Bacon ‘n’ Cheese” burger with gluten-free fries and without the cheese. M was desperate to have a gluten-free burger bun, so he asked for the “BBQ Chicken ‘n’ Bacon” burger – without any of the constituent ingredients apart from the grilled chicken breast, streaky bacon and the bread roll. He shared a handful of G’s gluten-free fries and enthusiastically savoured every single mouthful. Mike and I were a little disappointed that they had run out of hot dogs by the time we got to the diner for lunch, but instead shared a caesar salad, onion rings and sweet potato fries as well as a burger. All in all, this was a fantastic find and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat here again.

Marks: G – 8.5/10     M – 9/10

Chung Ku – G and M absolutely love Chinese food, so I was delighted to find this much-lauded Liverpudlian restaurant during my quick internet search. With a menu catering specifically for those with coeliac disease, there was much excitement with my discerning duo as they pondered their choices for dinner. They eventually settled on Jasmine rice, Aromatic crispy duck served with lettuce instead of pancakes, Salt and Pepper chicken fillet and, especially chosen by M, King Prawns in rice paper. Mike and I were still full after our late lunch at Ed’s Easy Diner, so we agreed to share a platter of dim sum, supplemented by a bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup for me, with full knowledge that we’d be able to pick at any leftovers once the children had eaten their fill of their choices.

The food was absolutely fantastic, but sadly the service at the restaurant very much let it down. Our dim sum platter arrived first, only beaten to the table by the prawn crackers that had been delivered with our drinks. We tried to take our time in eating our food, painfully aware that the children were just sitting there watching, but at the same time, we didn’t want to let it go cold and we were waiting a long time for the other dishes to appear. M’s King prawns were the next to arrive, eventually followed by the Salt and pepper chicken and Jasmine rice. G picked at some of the rice and chicken, patiently waiting the arrival of the Aromatic duck, which is her all-time favourite Chinese dish. By the time it reached the table, there wasn’t much left for the rest of us and unbelievably we then had to chase down the lettuce leaves – they delivered normal pancakes by accident – and my bowl of soup. Everything did eventually arrive and the food was absolutely delicious. The poor service we experienced was a huge disappointment that spoiled what was otherwise a memorable dinner and would certainly make Mike and me think twice about visiting another time.

 

Marks: G – 9/10     M – 8/10

A Brewing Storm

Yesterday a social media storm hit the EGID world, especially for those of us who are, or who have been, under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital over the last few years. The reason? A story published by The Guardian newspaper on Saturday night, which has raised questions about the treatment of patients of GOSH’s gastro department following a huge number of complaints from parents and successive reviews of care carried out by the RCPCH (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) since 2015.

As a parent to a child with an EGID diagnosis and one that was given by GOSH at that, this story is heart-breaking and yet one that I know needs to be told. Whilst M has never been subject to the “aggressive treatment” described in the reports published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (see here and here), we have struggled with our own issues rising from some of our experiences during inpatient admissions at GOSH and I have always been open and honest in sharing these via my blog. We have made complaints, challenged M’s consultants and spent time talking to the Chief Exec to try and make sense of it all and improve the way that, not just M, but other children have been treated whilst they’re there.

Last summer I shared my fears about the huge question marks that have been hovering over the EGID diagnosis for a while and how they could impact on the treatment and care that M receives from the medics in our lives. This week my fears grow even greater as the TBIJ documentary investigating these allegations about GOSH will be aired on ITV1 at 10.40pm this Wednesday, April 18th. Whilst I know that the documentary is seeking to reveal the truth behind some of the treatment decisions made for certain families, there will undoubtedly be concerns raised about the veracity of the diagnosis of EGID itself and with that comes inevitable questions about whether any of those diagnosed with EGID are genuinely living with it, or not. Comfortable viewing it may not be, but I will be watching it – and probably keeping my eye on the resulting social media frenzy too.

At the end of the day, I’m not really that bothered about what the label itself actually is for M – EGID, MCAS, food allergies or something else – as all I want is a better life for him and the others who find themselves in the same boat. As I said last year,

“For us, and for the families we’ve got to know who live with it, EGID is a part of our lives that we have to accept and learn to come to terms with, no matter what discussion is being had in the medical world. It might not be clear whether EGID is in itself the final diagnosis, or if it is simply part and parcel of a larger problem that is, as yet, unknown, but it is our reality and it shapes every step that we take.”

*You can read a more in-depth, first-hand commentary about this GOSH story here

And I’m back!

You might have noticed that my blog has been quiet for a few weeks and, in time, I will explain a little more about the need…my need… for an extended silence as life has happened around us. However, we’re home after some family time away from home over the Easter holidays and I’m back with a vengeance with just so many reviews, recipes and photos to share from the last month or so.

But, before I get to the fun bits, I thought there was a much-needed health update, which is desperately long overdue. On the medical front, things are still ticking along without much intervention from anyone other than us. We haven’t been seen at GOSH for over a year and I have no idea when or if an appointment will come through the door. The gastro department there are very much working on moving patients back into local care and whilst I have steadfastly refused to let them discharge M from their care fully, they have definitely taken a step back and are in the background in an advisory capacity only should we want or need to call on them.

It also feels a little as if our local hospital has shrugged their shoulders with something of a “…we don’t really know or understand what’s going on with him…” attitude and are touching base with us on a fairly infrequent basis. I don’t really blame them as, for the most part, M is just going along as always and frankly I’m certain that I know far more about managing the ups and downs of his EGID on a day-to-day basis than anyone else. The one biggest change that has hit us has been the confirmation that there is almost definitely a mast cell problem lying alongside the EGID, but as the treatment is more or less the same for both, that diagnosis hasn’t made a difference to him or us in any way.

Food-wise, we’re now tentatively up to around the 9 or 10 food mark, having introduced onion, bacon and bananas on a regular basis and allowing the occasional other food creep in when circumstances call for it and we can be reasonably confident we can manage the outcome. These 3 foods have really added to my repertoire of recipes and make cooking so much more interesting and flavourful for M. Holidays continue to be the time when we really stretch our boundaries and whilst there are always consequences to live with – some of which are easier than others – our approach has led to a much happier M.

Both children are doing well at school with glowing “short” reports and parents’ evenings for them. G has selected her GCSE options with relatively little fuss or argument or discussion and we’re heading with a little trepidation into the wonderful world of humanities combined with dance. She recently took and passed her Grade 3 clarinet exam, a day I wasn’t sure we’d ever see and is also teaching herself to play the keyboard, guitar and ukulele in any spare moments she finds at home. G and M also recently took part in a regional Stagecoach performance celebrating 30 years of Stagecoach and loved every moment of it. It was great to watch them from the wings (I was back in chaperone role once more) as they danced and sang with enthusiasm on stage. As you can see, it’s been a busy few weeks and there’s just so much to share that I’m not entirely certain where I’ll begin!