Tag Archives: NG tube feeding

Bitter disappointment

Two years ago, M and I waved goodbye to G as she trekked off on the adventure that is Year 6 Camp and, as he had his NG-tube in place, we chatted about whether Year 6 camp was a possibility for him. I reassured him that Mike and I were both keen for him to go and would work hard with the school to ensure that his every need – medical, dietary or otherwise – was met as he needed, whether the feeding tube was still in place or not. Despite never having spent a night away from family, M wanted to go, to try out new activities and to challenge himself as opportunity offered.

One year ago, as I manoeuvred M’s wheelchair through the back gates of school and across the school field to his classroom, we breathed a sigh of relief that it was during Year 5 that he had spectacularly broken his left leg and not in the weeks leading up to the Year 6 camp. The slow reintroduction of foods following the removal of his feeding tube would not hold him back and once again I found myself reassuring him that, if needs be, I would bake a batch of M-friendly cakes or cookies to accompany him on the trip and that we would ensure that the camp kitchen could safely cater for whatever his food requirements were when he went. His week away at Over The Wall built his self-confidence as he realised that he could tackle anything he put his mind to and succeed.

For the last 2 years, M has been looking forward to this rite of passage, this week of school camp and practically counting down the days until it was finally his time to go. He has been in discussion with G about the different activities he might get to do and planning all that he would need to make the week the success he so desperately wanted it to be. I met with the school to talk over the arrangements for meal-times and sleep that would need to be in place and was confident that they would do everything in their power to make it a week to remember for him and all his class-mates.

And then 2 weeks ago, M had to make what has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions in his life so far. The past 4 months of food challenges have taken their toll and when that was added to the stresses of SATS, we saw an unwelcome decline in his health that we weren’t sure could be overcome easily. Despite our best efforts and hard work since mid-May, M has decided that going away to Year 6 camp is not the right thing for him to do at the moment. To say that my boy is bitterly disappointed would be an understatement. For 2 years of longing and planning to come to nothing is heartbreaking for us all and has been a bitter pill to swallow. For M, life has just seemed incredibly unfair once again.

M is frustrated that he can’t go, but he has based his decisions on the health struggles he is currently facing and knows that ultimately it is the right choice for him. He has tried to remain cheerful in school and has been an active participant in the tasks set to his class as they have researched where they’re going and what they’ll be doing. Mike and I met with his teachers and arranged for Mike to take him to the camp today for a half-day*, so that he can join in an activity of his choice and not feel that he is missing out completely. What has made it even harder to bear is that he currently doesn’t have a place on this year’s OTW Health Challenges Camp and is instead on the waiting list, with his fingers tightly crossed that a place might become unexpectedly available.

I know that in the long-run, M will pick himself up and dust himself off and keep going, just as he always does, but it’s hard to comfort him when he’s railing against just how unfair life can be because, in all honesty, right now I agree with him and it’s hard to find the positive and that silver lining we so desperately need to cling to.

*I’m delighted to share that today’s morning has turned into a full day at camp with his friends. M enjoyed the mud assault course so much that he felt confident to stay on and try his hand at abseiling and anything else he could find the time to do.

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NEAW 2017 – His illness does not define him

Our life experiences influence our view of the world that surrounds us. Good or bad, everything we do or see or hear or learn will affect our outlook on life, on whether we become individuals who see that hypothetical glass as being half-full or half-empty and how we react to our interpretation of that reality. When you’re growing up with a chronic illness as your one constant companion, it can come as no surprise that that condition begins to shape the person you become and the relationships you have with the rest of the world.

Rightly or wrongly, I have encouraged M to embrace his EGID diagnosis and become an advocate for himself and others living with it. M is, without a doubt, so much more than this disease and yet it is an integral part of the young man he is growing up to be. Our local gastro team are keen that M doesn’t view himself as a “sick kid”, that he doesn’t let his diagnosis stop him doing whatever he wants to do or being what he wants to be and those aims sit well with our approach to helping him cope with it all. However, I can’t and won’t agree to ignoring the reality of his life – the numerous hospital appointments, admissions and procedures; the daily medicines; the restricted diet and 12 months with a NG-tube mean that he is not like his friends, like other kids his age. In the last year alone, M has been seen at our local hospital over a dozen times and that does not make him the same as the rest of his classmates. Despite everyone’s best efforts, 2 and a half years after that first feeding tube was placed, M still only eats 6 safe foods on a regular basis and that makes him stand out from the crowd, not just at school, but at every activity or event he attends. He is, in all truth, a “sick kid”, but that label does not sum up who he is as an individual.

No matter what the medics suggest, I can’t pretend that all those experiences didn’t happen to him, to us as a family, but I will endeavour to make sure that M’s illness is not all that defines him.

Yes, he’s a child who cannot eat the same as his friends; but he can eat out and enjoy food with them.

Yes, he’s a child who lives with constant pain; but he has learned to ignore it and overcome it and achieve despite it.

Yes, he’s a child who spends too much time in hospital at medical appointments; but he is developing a confidence to question and understand and advocate for himself.

Yes, he’s had experiences that most adults I know would struggle with; but he has developed tremendous courage and an increasing self-worth in who he is as an individual.

The truth is that, just as my 30+ years with T1D has shaped the woman I’ve grown up to be, M’s life has been, and will continue to be, affected by his EGID diagnosis. We cannot pretend that the difficult times haven’t happened, we can’t airbrush them out of our family history and it would be doing a disservice to the fortitude and bravery of both my children if we tried to do so. They are so much more than the sum of their parts and whilst EGID has an unquestionable influence on the individuals G and M are becoming, it absolutely does not define either of them in their entirety, and nor will we ever let it.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

A Survival Guide For School & Allergies

The end of August always seems to be something of a surprise in our household. We arrive home from our holiday feeling relaxed and calm and then almost immediately face a madcap race to reach the finish line of shoes bought, uniform named, PE kits found and bags packed before school starts. In years past I have also had to make sure provisions are packed, discussions had and medical notes updated for M, but, for the first time ever, this year I wasn’t trying to squeeze in a critical meeting alongside my own new start with a new job. img_11331I know that next year when M moves up to our local secondary school it will be a very different picture, but after 3 years of working with the teaching community at our junior school, and with no major changes to contend with, M was able to start in Year 6 without this over-anxious Mum hovering in the background.

Without a doubt we have been incredibly lucky with the amazing support given by the fantastic teaching staff at our local school, but we have also had more than our fair share of bad experiences and teachers who don’t care in the past and I can well remember the anxieties and hours of meticulous planning that heralded the start of every new school year. The novelty of not having to head into the classroom before the end of M’s first week back has still not worn off and I’m certain that it’s thanks to the hard work that’s been put in on all sides to formulate strategies that meet M’s needs and to develop a strong working relationship between home and school that is reliant on open communication that flows both ways.

Over the last few weeks, there’s be a lot of chatter in the online allergy community about the fears that surround the milestone of starting school and, with over 8 years of “parenting-a-school-child-with-allergies” experience under my belt, I’ve been asked what tips I would give to any parent facing this situation for the first time. In all honesty, M’s first few years at school were difficult and certainly not the positive experience we would have liked. We had to deal with a SENCo, who trivialised his allergies because they “…wouldn’t have to call 999 if he ate something he shouldn’t…” and refused to recognise how important it was to communicate his allergies and health issues to any member of staff dealing with him and not just his class teacher, which led to numerous occasions of him being offered food he couldn’t eat. His teachers lost their focus in teaching him because they felt he already had a lot to cope with with his regular appointments at GOSH and his education suffered as speech impediments, dyslexia and dyspraxia were missed by those who worked with him on a day-to-day basis.

Fast-forward to the start of Year 3 and all our negative experiences became a thing of the past. The year actually began at the end of Year 2, when I met with the Head, SENCo and class teacher of his new school to discuss all of M’s health and educational needs and worked with them to put practical solutions into place before the term started. They understood the value of seeing him as more than just his EGID and food allergies, circle-timebut also knew that his health problems were a big part of his everyday life and couldn’t be ignored. At the end of his first week there, M’s teacher held a circle time in class where she shared about M’s ill-health and restricted diet with his classmates. It was done in such a nurturing and non-confrontational manner that by the end of the session M was willing to answer any question that his new friends had about what they had been told himself and has being doing so ever since.

fabed1The information sheets that I had provided were given to the teachers and, combined with the notes they had taken whilst talking with me, used to draw up a healthcare plan for M that covered all possible situations. His on-going bowel control problems were sensitively handled and a contingency plan put in place to ensure that he always has access to a toilet wherever he is in the school. The HCP was written by the school SENCo and then sent home for my review before being published, shared with the whole teaching team and displayed prominently in the staff-room. Even better, every year since then I have been asked to review and amend his HCP to reflect any medical changes that have happened and the school continue to be sympathetic to his needs.

SAM_1175As for his swap box, it has proved to be an invaluable tool in the classroom setting and is something that is really easy to implement. The idea behind the swap box is a simple one – it contains a selection of safe items, be they edible or non-edible, that can be swapped for those unexpected treats that sometimes come into the classroom to celebrate birthdays or other special events. When M’s swap box came into being, it was filled with a mix of Haribo sweets and the odd Lego minifigure and the choice was his as to what he chose to take. Since going elemental 2 years ago, the box now contains Lego, trading cards and other fun small toys and ensures that M never feels that he is missing out when his friends celebrate. What’s more, his teachers have taken inspiration from it for their own purchases of small gifts at Christmas or the end of term and given him something he can enjoy.

I think the biggest secret to our great experience with our Junior school is communication. The lines of communication are always open and actively work in both directions between home and school through meetings, phone calls, e-mails and the home/school book. The willingness of so many of the school staff to learn to support M to the best of their ability has created a level of trust unlike any other and means that I am ea544311f5697d6334b2df7079ccedf9happy to leave M in their more than capable hands on a daily basis. It is a testament to their dedication to their work that, in the last 3 years, the only things that have caused an extended absence from school have been the annual hospital admissions at GOSH. They have always endeavoured to make sure that M is safe whilst at school and the fact that he was able to attend as normal with both his NG feeding tube and his broken leg is incredible. A truly remarkable relationship has grown over the years between our family and so many of the teachers and is something I really value.

They have also nurtured and encouraged M to talk about his allergies and EGID and have shown continued support as he has become an advocate for educating others about his illness. M has held cake sales, run playground games and created short films explaining the impact his diagnosis has on his life. He has developed a confidence in talking to others and 18 months ago was able to answer the questions asked by members of home-school-connectionevery class in the school. When he left his Infants school, he was a child reluctant to talk about his food allergies or hospital appointments because he was scared of being isolated and bullied because of how different he was to everyone else. These days he has an incredibly strong friendship group who look out for him during school hours and think about him when he’s had to be in hospital, and he never thinks twice to share what’s going on with his friends.

If I had to sum it up, I guess I would say this:

Be open, be honest, be available. Keep communicating and tell them how they can make it better if you need to. Do what you can to help them out and don’t forget to say thank you when they get it right.

Rice Two-Ways

When we made the decision to go elemental in an attempt to bring about a reduction in M’s chronic symptoms, I never imagined that the reintroduction of foods would be as fraught and intensely stressful as it has proved to be. In the past 12 months we have made absolutely no progress whatsoever and everyone is stumped about what the root cause of M’s problems actually is, with opinions fluctuating between complications from his EC, “simple” multiple allergies or a physiological problem with his gut. Whilst the teams of medical professionals involved in M’s care try to decide on what direction they should follow next, I’m left stretching my ingenuity to its very limits when it comes to preparing meals for my understandably fed up 10-year-old.

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I’m constantly on the search for anything that will make my cooking life that tiny bit easier and a lot more interesting and love finding products that are both M-friendly and a little out of the ordinary. Like many of you I’ve eaten rice for years, but generally just as boiled rice to go with a tasty chilli con carne or egg fried from the local Chinese takeaway and had never really thought much about it. Since rice has become the staple carbohydrate of M’s diet, I’ve come to love the versatility of this ingredient and continue to be delighted by the many versions of it I’ve uncovered along the way. Rice milk, rice porridge flakes, rice cereal, rice flour, rice crackers, rice noodles, rice pasta, rice vinegar and your choice of plain rice: long grain, brown, basmati, wild or black have an overwhelming presence in my kitchen cupboards and so now do 2 rice-based products that I’ve discovered over the summer.

img_08441First are Blue Dragon Spring Roll Wrappers, which do contain a small amount of tapioca starch, but are predominantly made from rice flour. Having recently perfected my own version of lemon chicken to satisfy M’s longing for some much-missed Chinese food, these seemed like a great addition to the repertoire and I couldn’t wait to make both M and G some M-friendly pancake rolls for dinner. If you’ve never attempted to cook with these before, let me tell you that they are not the easiest ingredient to use, but I suspect that a lot more practice will make a big difference. I set up my workspace next to the kettle, filled a shallow baking dish with boiling water and then painstakingly soaked the wrappers, 1 sheet at a time, before filling them with some thinly sliced chicken, cucumber, apple and pear that I had already prepared. img_08461I cooked them in 2 different ways, interested to see which my discerning duo preferred and was very much surprised by the results when they came in. G loved the bigger roll which was just prepared as I described above, whilst M told me he’d opt for the shallow-fried triangles every time. I am thrilled that the wrappers were so well received by both children and can’t wait to see what else I can cook with them as I’m sure that they are versatile enough to be used to create some sweet treats as well as the more traditional savoury dishes.

img_11031The other is a real store cupboard essential and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to discover this item when I was perusing the virtual aisles of the fantastic online supermarket that is the FreeFromMarket. As for when the box of Clearspring Brown Rice Breadcrumbs arrived, nestled in the midst of my other purchases, well, Mike and the children were all summoned by my squeals of joy and then left me to my celebrations, shaking their heads sadly in complete disbelief. I am sure that there are so many ways to use the breadcrumbs in my cooking, but I started by preparing a breaded, stuffed chicken breast along the lines of a more traditional chicken kiev. I made a coconut oil and herb mix, which I carefully squeezed inside the cut I’d made in the chicken breast, before coating it liberally with the breadcrumbs. 25 minutes later and img_11091dinner was ready with a golden brown chicken breast tantalising the taste buds with both its look and its smell. They really were delicious and neither child was very willing to sacrifice a mouthful of their meal for Mum to taste-test herself. Now that the summer holidays are over and we’re heading into the autumn, roast dinners will make a more regular appearance in our household and I’m hoping to use these breadcrumbs to create an M-friendly stuffing for us all to enjoy.

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Lost in Translation

As Mum to a child with additional health needs, you have to be prepared the minute you venture outside your front door. You don’t just carry with you the medicines, equipment and food items you need to get you through the next few hours relatively unscathed, but also the necessary mental strength to explain your child’s needs to everyone you encounter and ensure that your trip outside of the safe bubble at home goes as smoothly as it possibly can. There are, of course, times when an essential gets left on the kitchen counter and you have to think on your feet and find a solution that will work until you get back home, and, for us, there have been times when, despite the clear explanations given and the seeming comprehension of the waiting staff, mistakes have been made and the children have suffered the consequences of those misunderstandings.

global-travel-destinations

When you add travelling abroad to the mix, those unavoidable stresses become even more intense and, as an allergy Mum, I can tell you that worries about safe food are right at the top of the list. As you may remember, last year we decided to stay in the UK during that first holiday season with a tube in place and had the most amazing week in Cornwall, where we discovered hidden treasures of restaurants and sight-seeing spots that we are still talking about nearly 12 months on. However, we decided that this year we would venture back to a favourite haunt and visit the Algarve in Portugal, with a few extra days in Lisbon tacked on to the start of our trip. We know the resort of Alvor extremely well, but this will be the first time of visiting with such a restricted diet and I have to confess that nerves have been a little greater as we plan our 10-day stay away from home.

One thing I learned early on in our holiday planning with M was to talk to our airline about taking an extra case filled with whatever medicines or foods we will need whilst we’re away and have had superb experiences with both Easyjet to Portugal and Virgin Atlantic to Florida. These conversations paved the way for our long-haul flight to the USA and we found that both the airport lounge and the airline were able to provide safe meals for M when we gave them a little advance warning, but what happens once we’ve landed abroad, especially in a country where we don’t speak a word of the native language? dictionaryOur back-up plan is our self-catering apartment, which means that there is always somewhere to prepare a simple meal of M’s safe foods without too much trouble, but I do, perhaps selfishly, want a holiday from that daily grind of cooking and be able to enjoy a family meal as we used to do when the children were small. Our previous holidays to Portugal were challenging, but not impossible as M loves fish and seafood which are always readily available, but I worried that the current restrictions might be a demand too far.

Fortunately, there are answers to the anxiety about communicating food allergy requirements in a foreign language and whilst it took a little more effort than originally planned, I got our perfect solution in the end. I started by calling Allergy UK, who offer a fantastic service of providing translation cards which “…feature an allergy alert message, an emergency message and a message for use in restaurants to ensure that your food order is free from the particular allergen that causes your reaction…” and can be ordered in any one of 36 languages to cover 70 different allergens. However, I really wanted a bespoke message detailing M’s current safe foods and unfortunately Allergy UK was not able to tailor their cards accordingly, but they did point me in the direction of the amazing Yellow Cross, a company I had never even heard about until recently.

IMG_0824[1]Thanks to a detailed e-mail conversation with Yellow Cross Director, Jane Harrison, she agreed that it would make far more sense to detail what M can eat, rather than a lengthy list of his many allergens and suggested she spoke to their translator to cost out these personalised cards. We settled on appropriate wording, it was passed to their Portuguese translator and I was quoted a very reasonable £20 for a set of 4 eating out translation cards. I confirmed that we wanted the cards, made payment and in less than a week, the finished credit card-sized cards dropped through our letter box. The cards are printed on card and then carefully laminated to extend their life, and I couldn’t be happier with the finished product. They clearly state the wording I had discussed and agreed with Jane and their service was absolutely faultless. I found Yellow Cross willing to help us with our request and I’m certain that the inclusion of these cards in our travel survival pack will ensure that our Portuguese holiday goes with a swing.

Hollywood-inspired

13227528_948528031911468_2074589086660293308_oIt never ceases to amaze me that there is a huge number of allergy-suffering children out there who love nothing more to cook despite their dietary restrictions. I know of so many EGID children, even those with feeding tubes, who have a passion to cook and have taken qualifications in food technology, even though there may be very little they can eat. One such story that has recently hit the headlines is of Abigail Carper, who is living with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (Eoe) in the US. She wrote to well-known celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay challenging him to cook using only the limited safe foods she currently has and was delighted when he not only agreed, but invited her to join him in LA, where he prepared a meal that her Mum described as “a heavenly phenomenon“. It’s encouraging to hear that Gordon Ramsay and his staff also took the time to understand more about EGID, how to correctly read food labels and which foods could and couldn’t be used in their tailored meal.

Big thanks to Abby and her Mum for allowing me to share these photos of her amazing day

M and G are no different and both love watching cooking programmes on TV almost as much as I do. BBC offerings such as the “Great British Bake-off” and its recent spin-off, “GBBO Crème de la Crème”, are constant favourites in our household and nothing beats the high-energy episodes of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on the Food Network Channel when there’s 30 minutes to spare at the end of the day. All of these have led to requests from M in particular for me to enter the competitions or invest in a restaurant for Guy Fieri to visit, thus showing off what he thinks of as my considerable culinary skills. Despite the massive compliments from what must be my biggest fan, I’m not convinced that my M-friendly bakes would live up to the standards expected on our favourite shows and I won’t be entering any cooking competitions any time soon. Unless an allergy one pops up and then I might…just might…be tempted!

As well as being amazed by the creativity and culinary techniques of the chefs on these programmes, I also find myself being inspired by their bakes and thinking through whether any of the recipes can be tweaked to bring something new to M’s diet. I know I’m not the only one as fellow EGID Mum and friend Berenice, kindly wrote a guest post for me last year about her attempt to create an allergy-friendly Madeira cake, after seeing an episode of GBBO. No matter the time of year, there always seems to be one programme or another that we can enjoy together as a family and this May has been no different. All it took was a single 30 second trailer and M was smitten, this time with “Paul Hollywood City Bakes“. 566777371_960, which sees Paul Hollywood, one of the stars of GBBO, visiting cities around the world, investigating their bakes, meeting bakers and putting his own unique twist on a speciality dish in each venue.

M has been entranced by the entire series, which has proven to be a great distraction from his broken leg. From the laws surrounding the baking of a particular cake in Munich, to the bullet-ridden suite, location of a mafia killing at the Biltmore in Miami, he has hardly paused for breath when regaling anyone who’ll listen with the stories that those half-hour episodes have shared. We now have a long list of “must-go-to” holiday destinations that both G and M are desperate to visit as soon as it’s even remotely possible. G was delighted to see a couple of naturally gluten-free bakes highlighted and even better, there have been the occasional bakes which I am sure I could translate into M-friendly versions without too much effort. I’ve yet to decide which of these I will turn my hand to first, but you can be certain that I will share those recipes once they’ve passed the rigorous testing of my discerning duo.

NEAW 2016 – All over for another year

With a blog post a day for the last 7 days as well as daily mini fact updates via my FB page, you’d think that I’d be glad that the EGID awareness week has finally drawn to a close. There is, I admit, a certain relief that the busyness of the week is over and I can at long last pause and take a breath, but just as EGID is a constant presence in M’s life, so raising awareness of it will continue to be an important part of our family’s life. A good friend and fellow EGID Mum has asked me to share her reflections of last week, which I am delighted to do as, as she says in her final line, “Knowledge is important this week and every week.”

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National Eosinophil Awareness Week 2016,

A time to share personal experiences,

Taking time to tell others what it’s like to live with or care for someone with an Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorder (EGID)

Inviting those who have never heard of EGIDs to find out more,

One way to help raise awareness,

Not for self but for others as we are,

All in this together, the EGID community, so,

Let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to be the mum of a child with EGID.

 

Elevated levels of eosinophils in the gastrointestinal tract are often disorder indicators,

Often this will mean that there will be pain and possibly inflammation,

Sometimes this will mean that there is a need to exclude foods; sometimes many, sometimes all,

Ige or non-IgE mediated food allergies may also be present, but not always!

Naso-gastric tubes and elemental nutrition may be the only way to manage symptoms,

Often the only option for many is a feeding tube as the body struggles with food proteins,

Pain, discomfort, nausea, altered bowel habits are just a few of the symptoms,

Hospital visits, hospital stays, invasive tests, medications and restricted diets become a part of life,

Illness can be socially restrictive; days, weeks or months may be lost to ‘flares’,

Life can be difficult for those diagnosed with EGIDs.

 

Awareness aids understanding of EGIDs,

Watching what you eat, if you are able to eat, is central to managing symptoms,

Avoiding known triggers, being a food detective, scrutinising labels, are also key skills that need to be developed,

Research is important; finding a cure and raising awareness of what it’s like to live with an EGID,

Education is also key to raising awareness and understanding of the impact of EGIDs,

Networks are central to enabling those with EGIDs to feel supported by those who understand

Eating … when food is the issue, is an issue …,

Support from others; a community of people who understand what it’s like when someone is diagnosed with an EGID is so important,

Societal understanding though will help those with EGIDs to engage more with their communities.

 

We hope for a future where the disorders are better understood, when we don’t have to fight to be heard,

Enabling those with an EGID to share their experiences with others can help this,

Eventually we hope for a cure or better ways to manage the disorders,

Knowledge is important this week and every week; please take a moment to read some of the stories shared by those living with EGIDs.

NEAW 2016 – Definition of a hero

image17How do we define a hero?

The dictionary definition describes a hero as “…a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities…“, but personally I prefer the description given by Christopher Reeve. That man, best known for portraying iconic superhero Superman and his unparalleled physical strength, had to learn to develop a mental strength of epic proportions when faced with the devastation of complete paralysis following an accident that changed the direction of his life in the proverbial blink of an eye. He truly became an individual who persevered and endured and succeeded despite the obstacle of his impaired health and he willingly lent his voice to the campaign seeking a cure for spinal cord injury as well as improving the quality of life for those living with paralysis. An amazing and inspirational man.

Last week’s Invictus Games gave us a glimpse of a different set of heroes, who have survived, and continue to survive, against the most unbelievable odds. Their stories bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat and are more than enough to inspire you, and their determination to live life to its fullest is simply awesome to witness. These servicemen and women have taken the tragedy of mental and physical injury and turned it into a stepping stone to reach a new goal. Be they athletes or members of the Invictus Choir, their courage in overcoming challenges that most of us can’t even begin to imagine, as well as being prepared to share their struggles in the public eye, makes them a great inspiration for anyone facing their own silent battles.

So, it seems that M’s recent homework came at an opportune time. He was asked to think of a person who inspires him – famous, family member or friend – and come to school prepared with a picture and a 1 minute presentation explaining what makes that person inspirational in his eyes. With so many varied choices out there, I was intrigued to find out who he would choose, fully expecting him to struggle to decide and wanting to see if his final selection would give me an idea for a blog during #NEAW16. I’ve got my blog post, and it turned out that I was wrong as M knew almost immediately the person who inspires him and the reasons why. This is what he wrote:

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Finley, who is nearly 6, is one of M’s #EGID and #GOSH friends and is unable to eat anything. M often talks about Finley: the uniqueness of his chronic illness and his ever-present smile despite the challenges, so it came as no great surprise to me that M finds him inspirational. For M, Finley is the definition of an EGID hero; but he’s not the only one. We have come across hero after hero in our contact with our extended EGID family, including those young people and adults who, in the way they live their lives, are giving my son something to aspire to and showing him that he can achieve the goals he sets for himself. We’ve celebrated with others as their loved ones have achieved exam success, received college or university places and started out on new careers. Sharing these milestones within our EGID community reflects that these are families like ours, who are trying to make the best of the situation they find themselves in and using their own experiences and successes to encourage and help others whenever they can.

For me, the best response to M’s homework came during his last Stagecoach session as he described Finley to his singing teacher. That lovely teacher turned to my boy and gently said, “You are one of the most courageous and kind-hearted children I know. That reason you’ve just given me for why you admire Finley, is the very reason why you inspire me. Despite everything you cope with, every week without fail you turn up here and have a cheeky smile on your face that cheers me up and makes me smile.” And the look of quiet pride that slowly spread across M’s face as he absorbed that compliment told me everything I already knew: that in his own unique way, M also embodies the very definition of an EGID hero.

Just a reminder that as well as raising awareness of EGID this week, we are also fundraising for Over The Wall Serious Fun camps. If you are able to donate, even a small amount, that donation with make a big difference to children like M and G, who benefit massively from these camps. You can donate via my Just Giving page or the link on the side of this page. Thank you!

Reaching out

I am, without a doubt, a firm believer that things happen for a reason and that the lessons I’ve learned, the situations we’ve survived and the successes we’ve fought for and achieved over the last few years have given me an understanding and empathy that nothing else could have done in the same way. I have discovered within myself a strength I didn’t know was lurking, which has seen me through some of the darkest days I’ve ever had to face. My Mum and Aunt love to remind me I come from a line of strong women and these challenges have helped me grow even stronger. The struggles I’ve had to face have enabled me to reach out and bring some comfort and reassurance and offer an ear always ready to listen when others have most needed it. What’s more, not only can I speak from a shared experience and the common bond of parenting a child with a chronic illness, but I want to give support when it’s most needed. you-never-know-how-strong-you-are-until-being-strong-is-the-only-choice-you-haveThat incomparable insight is what almost makes the challenges of M’s health worthwhile, for whilst I would give anything for him not to have to live with a rare illness like EC, it has, without a doubt, given me a compassion and understanding beyond what I would otherwise have known.

When setting up my blog 3 years ago, part of the process was to pen something that would honestly capture who I am and the reasons behind my decision to start it to include in my “About me” page. I won’t deny that this blog has undoubtedly become an inexpensive form of therapy for me, allowing me to explore my innermost thoughts and feelings about the chronic illness that has dominated so much of the last 10 years of our lives as well as sharing our experiences of it; but that wasn’t my raison d’être. What I wanted most was to be able to reach out to others who were facing similar challenges “…if I am able to speak to the heart of even one parent who is going through the same turmoils, then I know the hard work will have been worth it…” In the months since I first wrote down that somewhat ambitious desire, I have received the occasional e-mail telling me that what I’ve written has really resonated with another parent, responses that have meant so much as they acknowledge an achievement of my goal above and beyond what I originally wanted.

Knowing that I have received those messages you could easily assume that I might consider it a job well done and just leave it there, but over the last few weeks I have received more messages of encouragement than I ever anticipated and have found myself in the position of being able to offer support and advice when I least expected it. Those opportunities have drawn on the many facets of my life experiences, from seeking a diagnosis of EC to coping with a new diagnosis of T1D and from facing the daunting reality of tube-feeding to the challenge of switching a child to a gluten-free diet. What is even more amazing is that the people I’ve been talking to have been a mix too: Mums from school, friends met through support groups and those just looking for reassurance from someone who has already walked the path they now find themselves on. I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these things, but I am an expert in my child and our experiences and can offer an insight into how we have coped and the tips I’ve picked up along the way. When we started out on our search for a diagnosis for M, and then again when we made the decision to move to tube-feeding, the information readily available was scant and it took dedicated research and hours of reading, and re-reading, medical journals and the such-like to even begin to understand what we were facing. It was thanks to on-line forums such as FABED and PINNT and their members that we began to truly comprehend the complexities of life with a chronically ill child. social-media-treeMy blog has simply been an effective way to put all of our experiences into one place, hopefully with some useful pointers for others in the same shoes and, by doing that, to create my very own, very personal resource.

What’s even better in my opinion is that my passion to reach out and help others has been adopted by both children too. G has developed an empathy and understanding that extends out from the home into the classroom and wider world, and which has been commented on in recent weeks by her teachers and the volunteers at camp. She shows an amazing amount of tolerance towards the challenging behaviours and differing views of her peers and is always prepared to listen and respect what they have to say, whilst standing her ground with her own opinions. G is also sympathetic to those who are in the same position of having a sibling with a chronic illness and can fully understand the frustrations that the sometimes difficult behaviours of those siblings can cause. Whilst sometimes reluctant to deal with M at home, she never hesitates to offer help to those around her when it’s needed.

In similar fashion, M has developed a compassion that I can only attribute to the reality of a life altered beyond recognition by EC and multiple food allergies. At a recent birthday party, one of his friends was confined to a wheelchair due to an ankle injury and M immediately stepped in to make sure this friend could be as involved as possible, despite the constraints of the wheelchair. He took the time to push his friend around the garden so he could join in the activities and toasted marshmallows on the camp-fire for him, even though he wasn’t able to eat them himself. Likewise, another good friend has just been switched to a gluten-free diet and M has made sure he sits with him during lunchtimes at school to discuss the different foods that C has been trying. The parent of this friend rocked my world nearly 3 years ago by inviting M home for tea and being willing to cook to suit his complicated needs, not just that one time, but numerous times since. It feels rather wonderful to know that my boy is now returning that favour and giving this friend the chance to vent about his new diet.

I don’t know what the next few months will bring and the opportunities to offer support may start to dwindle, but there’s one thing I know for sure, as a family we will all continue to reach out and help out whenever we can.

reach-out

A Birthday* surprise (*cake recipe included!)

11009339_10152614451586123_8225188594845865541_o20140912_225331Six months ago I tackled the challenge of a birthday cake for M, where the only ingredients he could eat safely didn’t lend themselves to whipping up a tasty sponge and he ended up with a 3-tier Cluedo-themed “fake” cake. Six months before that, I adapted a crazy cake recipe to create a M-friendly chocolate masterpiece for my Mum’s milestone birthday.

Somehow it seems fitting that we’ve come almost full circle in our cake journey and I’ve recently found myself facing the task of another birthday cake for Mum and, more than that,  one which could be eaten and enjoyed by us all. The apple and rice flour cupcakes I’ve been making have been a real winner with the children, but the ever-persistent problem of a granular taste to these bakes, no matter what I’ve tried, meant that I was desperate to find an alternative and better recipe to mark this special occasion. Despite frequent google searches, that recipe was proving to be irritatingly elusive and it was only when we finally achieved a fifth safe food for M that I struck birthday cake gold.logo-eureka-01

To be perfectly honest, it really all came as something of a surprise success as I had no great hopes of yet another search turning up a rice flour cake that would 1) accommodate M’s restricted diet and 2) taste delicious. Despite my doubts, I thought it worth a look with our new ingredient of pear added to the mix and came across this easy recipe for pear and rice flour cupcakes that were not only gluten- and dairy- as advertised, but also egg- and soya-free too. I decided to do a test run and made a quick batch whilst G and M were in school. By the time they arrived home, the house was filled with the tantalising smell of fresh baking and M’s nose instantly went into impressive action as he begged to know if he could taste-test the cakes I’d been preparing that afternoon. Three cupcakes quickly disappeared from the cooling rack and I was thrilled to discover that there was none of that unpleasant granular taste that I’ve come to associate with rice flour baking. With an instant hit on my hands, I now needed to decide whether to attempt a cupcake tower for my Mum or see if I could cook a more traditional cake using the same recipe.

Due to an abundance of apples in our household at the moment – the benefit of apple trees conveniently located at my Mum’s, my office and at a friend’s – I tweaked the recipe to include some apple and reduced down the original quantities of oil and syrup as the original cupcakes had been a little too sweet for my liking. I waited nervously as the cakes baked, fingers tightly crossed that the larger layers would turn out as well as the cupcakes had and I needn’t have worried. The cakes looked impressive and I now have yet another great recipe to add to my list. Having left them to cool in the fridge (no #GBBO-style “wafting” in my household!) I sandwiched them together with some home-made apple purée before turning my mind to the knotty subject of how to decorate it all.

appleswansNow, if I had seen at that point episode 7 of #GBBO, I might have taken my inspiration from Paul’s amazing apple swans and spent my afternoon carving the intricate decorations to top the cake, but fortunately, or maybe unfortunately – I suppose it depends on your point of view – that episode had yet to air and instead I found myself using my time much more wisely: I was back on google trying to work out if a dairy-free buttercream icing was at all possible. To my delight and complete surprise, I found a way to adapt a recipe and create my very own coconut oil icing, which would tick all the boxes when it came to M’s dietary requirements. Whilst he is unable to eat coconut milk or flesh, he is able to tolerate the oil and I was over-the-moon to have the chance to finally bake a cake that actually looked and tasted like “real” cake for him to try for the first time in nearly a year. I took a tentative and small first mouthful to check the taste before spreading it across my cake. It has, unsurprisingly, a strong coconut taste, but this complimented the apple and pear flavours of the cake and was beautifully easy to use.

The icing was easy to make and I’ve no doubt I’ll be making more the next time a M-friendly cake is required. To make my recipe, I used:

  • 250g solid coconut oil
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 3tbsp rice milk
  1. Put the “solid” coconut oil – it should not be liquid at room temperature – into a bowl and blend until smooth 20150912_185526
  2. Slowly add the icing sugar and vanilla, continuing to beat the mixture 20150912_185815
  3. Finally add the rice milk, 1 tbsp at a time until you reach the consistency required. You can add more or less rice milk depending on how spreadable you want the icing to be 20150912_190502
  4. At this point I added some food colouring, one drop at a time, until I got the colour I was after – I’m not too sure about the green icing I ended up with, it was Mike’s suggestion and I’m not convinced it was the right one!
  5. Use to decorate cakes or cupcakes. Whatever your opinion of the colour, the finished result looked spectacular and I’m pleased to say it tasted amazing too!20150912_204048

NB – you can add any other safe flavours or colourings instead of the vanilla

This recipe is an entry into the #Swearbyit challenge with Vita Coco. Find more great coconut oil recipes and tips on using coconut oil at http://www.swearbyit.com”