Tag Archives: understanding

#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?

Advertisements

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.”

13246175_10153457684031123_7113882376126390076_o

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 – I am an EGID Mum

Tonight I’m exhausted. Not just physically tired out, but feeling that kind of “deep-down-to-my-bones” emotional exhaustion that comes when you’ve finally and inevitably reached breaking point. That tiredness that makes every decision nearly impossible to make, from what to cook for dinner to whether to give in and go to bed and sink into sleep before the children do. That physical exhaustion that is felt in every part of my body as an unavoidable ache that is only relieved for minutes seconds at a time and returns full-force all too soon. In the last 10 years there have been many times, almost too many to remember, when I’ve felt tired out and fed up, but tonight is the first time in a long time that it doesn’t matter what I watch, or listen to, or read, or do because whatever it is, I find myself here with tears pooling in my eyes. Earlier I sobbed, uncontrollably, without regret and in isolation, not wanting the children to stumble upon the waves of deep grief I could sense rolling off me as I curled up and let those tears flow. I’ve been pushed to this point by the shock of M’s broken leg and the overwhelming sadness of an opportunity lost, but I know in my heart that really I’m grieving the loss of yet another “normal” part of my child’s life.

When we got M’s diagnosis 3 years ago, it was a relief. After years of angst and an unwavering conviction that there was something wrong, something more than the doctors were telling us, to finally have a name to put to the root cause of his problem meant that we hadn’t made it up, weren’t imagining the health struggles he had and could hope that we would start to get some answers to the questions that were battering our every waking moment. It didn’t take long for reality to kick in and we soon realised that the diagnosis of Eosinophlic Colitis (EC) would leave us dangling and asking more questions, rather than being the solution to our problem. Mike struggled with the not-knowing and needed to find out more, to fix the situation, whilst I took the hand we’d been dealt and determined to do the best we could in difficult circumstances. I’ve tried to face up to every new challenge with a positive attitude and to encourage the family to keep plodding on, even when it feels impossible to do so.

llifelived

This latest incident has shown me that even though we’ve weathered the harshest of storms and come out smiling, perhaps I haven’t allowed myself to grieve as really I’ve needed to do. I’ve not had to face the loss of my child, but I have had to survive the loss of the healthy child I thought he would be. The truth is that M will never have a life free from EGID. He will never experience a life free from pain. Neither he or G will ever regain the childhood innocence that has been taken away by chronic ill-health. He will never be medicine free and the chances are he will always have a restricted diet.

But that’s okay.

AND it’s okay for me to grieve those things.

Acknowledging those truths will help us accept them, will allow us to move on from them and will give us hope for the future; because from all those negatives have come some amazing positives, experiences and opportunities that would never have crossed our paths and a truly inspiring group of parents, now friends, who understand because of their own pain. What’s more, I’ve realised that whilst it is natural to be sad that some of my hopes and dreams for my children won’t come to fruition, it’s much more exciting to see where their lives and life experiences will take them.

Would I change the presence of EGID in our lives if I could? Of course I would. I’m a Mum and I want the best possible for my children. Life with a chronic illness is a heavy load to carry and I would do and give anything and everything to lighten that load for M and G; but I can’t. I can’t wish it away, but I can equip my children with the tools to accept and survive and do even more than just survive, but to live life to its fullest, taking every scrap of fun and joy from it that they can. My children are survivors, they are warriors and they will always be encouraged to achieve everything that they can. And along the way, we will continue to be open about EGID, about its impact on our lives and the reality of living with it day-to-day. We will raise awareness as best we can, educate the people around us and support those who find themselves facing the same battles we do because of this illness.

I am the mother of a medically complex warrior. I am an EGID Mum.

 12592666_841987539243702_6081498560895696795_n

 

 

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 pain scale for every season

My last blog post about M’s interpretation of his pain and how important it is for his medical team to understand him sparked a series of interesting conversations both on-line and in real life about just how effective pain scales can be for those who suffer from chronic pain. So many shared their own experiences of how their children express their pain and adapt to a new “normal” based on what their average day looks like and the symptoms they assume to be something that everyone has because they’ve never learned any different. What was most fascinating was the array of ideas and examples of the different pain charts out there that were sent to me and I thought I’d share some of them with you:

painG’s godmother shared this pain scale image with me and I love the wording that is attached to it as it sums up to a tee how M has described his levels of pain over the years. From the magical unicorn of no pain at all which happens occasionally, to the breaking point of inconsolable sobbing and unbearable pain that little can ease, I’ve seen M pass through every stage of this chart on all too regular a basis. I doubt the colours, images or facial expressions would appeal overly to him, but it helps to clearly explain how he copes to those who need to know.

charlie_brown_pain_scale-170452A fellow FABED Mum sent me this one saying, “It’s the only one that’s ever worked – I think it’s because apart from the last face, they aren’t very emotional, so she is prepared to admit to them. There is a Lego one, but the emotions depicted on the faces is *extreme* – I think it’s more for a paediatric A&E type thing. So a kid with a normal pain/health experience would probably find it helpful, but the level of distress the pain correlates to isn’t much help for someone who has made this into their normal…I do think these pictorial pain scales are good – pointing is so much easier than talking, to start the process. R finds the words ‘annoying/uncomfortable/miserable/horrible’ very helpful and she even sometimes uses them without prompting.” The recent release of the latest “Peanuts” film will no doubt lend added appeal to this Charlie Brown themed scale.

legoThis third one I discovered through Twitter and was posted up by @2tubies, whose 6-year old son helped make his own pain chart for the school environment with the help of the school SENCo and his Mum. They used Lego figurines to depict how he might be feeling and offered some easy solutions for his symptoms. This solution-based approach is one that I find works well with M and have started using it more and more over the years. I rarely give M the option of staying home from school when he’s feeling unwell, but will instead list out those solutions I think might ease not only his pain, but also the whirlwind of emotions that is so frequently tied into what he’s feeling on a physical level. Whilst he was still being tube-fed, I would always start with the offer to slow down or even stop his pump for a limited amount of time and then followed that up with pain relief or a hot water bottle. My final question has always been what M thinks will help him the most and given he has a clear idea of what I’m suggesting, then we have always been able to find a solution that works for us both. Whilst giving these choices verbally works well at home, I imagine that presenting them in a pictorial fashion would make great sense in the school setting.

Of course, the ideas behind these pain scales can easily be extended to cover other physical and emotional needs that our children may have when outside of the home. When G was younger and dealing with her own health challenges, one of her fantastic teachers introduced the concept of a “magic marble”. We had discussed the use of a password, a word that was random enough to not be misinterpreted as a genuine contribution to a conversation and which would indicate that G needed help, but she was at an age when she was reluctant to vocalise her needs and the use of “rhinoceros” actually stuck out like a sore thumb most of the time. Instead, G kept her marble somewhere safe and easily accessible at all times, be that her pocket, bag, drawer or table, and just needed to give it to her teacher or place it on the teacher’s desk to indicate she needed some support. No other child was aware of the significance behind this marble and consequently didn’t bat an eyelid if they spotted her handing it over, assuming that she’d probably just picked it up and was handing it in. It was an easy way for G to communicate her needs about a sensitive subject and gave her a sense of ownership over a situation that was otherwise lacking her control.

Signal LightAt G’s secondary school, they have included traffic light coloured pages in the back of the pupils’ planners and the children are encouraged to use them by putting the relevant colour facing up on the desk if they need some help during a lesson, but are too worried or nervous to ask. For some children, a “traffic lights” approach using counters or cards can also be effectively used to indicate how they are feeling in any given situation, where red can indicate their sense of losing control or not coping with the environment surrounding them. The opportunity to be tactile with the counters may also help children with sensory issues order their thoughts and be more able to express them when asked. Even if the child is not able to share what’s troubling them, a clear plan of how the teacher or adult in charge should respond to each colour will change that child’s perceptions and experiences away from home. Similarly, M’s school uses a “Fist to 5” approach to their work, where fist indicates a lack of understanding and the need for some help, and 5 means they are confident and happy to carry on on their own.

Whatever the system used, these scales encourage a child to communicate with the outside world about how they are feeling and coping, even when they don’t have the words to express it.

What’s in a word

I’ve long been aware that when it comes to understanding M, it really pays to understand how he interprets and sees the world. As for so many who live with chronic illness, M’s life is coloured by his EGID and multiple food allergies, and his view of “normal” is understandably skewed by his daily experiences. Courtesy of katbiggie.comThe sad reality is that M has been living with the symptoms of EC for so long that he doesn’t always realise when something he’s feeling isn’t usual and we have often discovered a symptom months, or even years after it first started to happen. These problems are frequently something we could have helped resolve sooner and it is never clear just how long M has been coping with it on his own.

My first experience of this was when M had his second set of scopes done 2 years ago. The nurse had started him on Klean-prep via a NG-tube and told M to tell her if he started to have reflux whilst it was pumping into him. Reflux was something we hadn’t struggled with since he was a baby and so he didn’t know what she meant. My explanation that he might feel nauseous or have some sickness come up into his mouth was met by a puzzled look, “…but Mummy, I get sick in my mouth all the time, why do I need to tell her if that happens?” He was genuinely perplexed by this request and I was made suddenly aware that there was an awful lot more going on with him than we really knew about.

Strangely, during our latest GOSH admission, that issue with reflux once again raised its ugly head and yet again, M more or less accepted it as being back in his life without complaint. When we first learned about the reflux, we worked hard to uncover when it was happening most and started him on a daily medicine to help treat the symptoms. We quickly found that it appeared to be triggered when he ate potatoes and raisins and by cutting those from his diet as well as the new medication, the reflux fortunately seemed to ease. The day after we started the potato food challenge in hospital, M complained that he was struggling with some reflux and explained in extremely graphic details to nurses, dietician and registrar what he felt. Whilst they made note of this problem, disappointingly they didn’t do anything to ease the discomfort he was in and delivered that line of “…he just needs to push through this…” that I quickly came to hate. Their dismissive attitude shown so clearly in front of M and obviously picked up on by him despite the illusion of him being absorbed by the TV whilst plugged into his headphones, meant that he stopped mentioning it and the medics assumed that it was a one-off event only.

It wasn’t until they needed to start adding senna to the klean-prep to clear his system that we learned that M had not been 100% open about what was going on. The conversation had turned to whether he would willingly take the senna by mouth or if it was best pushed down his tube, when M casually commented that it didn’t really matter as he would end up tasting it either way. A little gentle prodding by his nurse soon revealed that the reflux had in fact been ongoing since the food challenges began and during that middle week of our stay, he had been experiencing the vile taste of the bowel prep in his mouth on a very regular basis.

This story for me explains why it is so important for the medical teams to understand that every child is an individual and have very different levels of what they can accept and cope with, particularly when it comes to gastro conditions. In M’s case, this means that knowing how to phrase questions and interpret his answers is key to learning more about how he feels, especially when it comes to his coping strategies. For a number of years, Mike and I have repeatedly told our consultant that we firmly believe M lives with a level of pain that he has come to accept as his “normal”. When you see M running around with his friends or experience the whirlwind force of his personality, this can be difficult to believe and the fact that, between my reluctance to allow either child to stay home from school unless they’re dying and M’s determination to be in the midst of everything as much as possible, he has remarkably good school attendance for a child with a chronic illness, is in stark contrast to the picture we’ve tried to paint.

It’s at times like these that the words used with M, and by M, can reveal the most. At one of the many meetings I had with his consultant during our admission, she and I had talked about what the future holds for M. She told me that we might just have to accept that he would need to live with a level of pain that others might consider unacceptable, so that he has a more varied diet to choose from and my words that he already lived with enough pain seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was only when M met with the lovely GOSH gastro psychologist half-way through our stay that he was finally able to talk about how he feels each and every day. Whats-in-a-wordShe quickly established that M differentiates between a “pain” and an “ache”, which meant that unless he was asked the right question, M would proffer surprising answers.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, as we have repeatedly said, M has an almost constant ache in his tummy and bowels that he has just accepted as part of his reality. He doesn’t call that “pain” and, perhaps because of my unwillingness to unnecessarily dope him up on Calpol at the drop of hat, he doesn’t expect to have anything more than a hot water bottle or wheat bag to treat that discomfort. M calls that an “ache” and when asked to rate how that feels, he cheerily announced it was usually around a 4, the level where they would start to offer pain relief on ward. So when he was asked by the nursing team if he was suffering any “pain”, his answer was almost always a no except when he was experiencing a severe tummy cramp – his definition of what a “pain” was. The nurses had been struggling to understand how he could be rating his pain at an 8 or 9 at one point, only to say less than 5 minutes later that he had no pain at all before they’d even had time to give him any pain relief. This insight into the workings of M’s mind was invaluable as it meant that finally we all – doctors, parents and M himself – were singing from the same hymn sheet and receiving accurate feedback from M about how he was feeling; and all because we now understood the power in a word.

#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?

Because #livinginfear is not *just* about the allergies

I wrote yesterday about the #livinginfear campaign and started thinking about what that really means to me.  I quickly realised that #livinginfear is not what I want for M or, indeed, for G.  It is so important that they are both aware of their allergies and that M, in particular, could suffer adverse reactions to the foods he eats.  They must take on responsibility for their own health when away from home and have an understanding about what they eat and what they have to avoid.  They need to know how to deal with mild reactions and how to communicate their needs to the people around them, especially when in new situations, or when Mike and I are not there to speak up on their behalf.  After our experience with the sweet potato trials, they now know that there could be other, more serious reactions that M’s not experienced before and that they could be frightening.  Most critically, I need to teach them how to respond calmly should those reactions occur.

dsc02717However, the most important thing is this: that my children are still children and whilst living with a chronic illness has forced them both to grow up a little faster than their friends and peers, I don’t want them shouldering adult worries or concerns, or feeling weighed down with fears that may never be realised.  Until the point when they reach their majority, I want my children to laugh, play and simply live each day as children, trusting that Mike and I will always be there supporting them, ready to catch them when they fall.

The truth about #livinginfear for us is that it is my burden to bear and is about more that just the potential for serious allergic reactions.  My fear is not even about M possibly suffering from anaphylaxis one day as, although the prospect of facing that is daunting, I trust that my parental instincts and ability to stay calm under pressure would get me through that most difficult of experiences.

No, that weekend highlighted for me what my true and biggest fear about his allergies and his health really is:  that I will not be believed…that I will become “that” parent…and that the health professionals involved in my child’s care will doubt what I say, thinking I’m causing a fuss about something that is simply not true.  The years spent chasing a diagnosis despite everything the doctors were telling us have taken their toll on my self-belief.  I second guess myself at every turn.  I discuss and dissect and deliberate my every waking thought about M with Mike to check that I’m not going mad, that he, at least, understands where I’m coming from and that I’m not being unreasonable or over-reacting to the situation.

Nothing demonstrates that self-doubt more than the fact that I insisted we tried M on the sweet potato again the following day when Mike was there, just so he could see the reaction for himself and confirm that what I had seen, and M had experienced, was true.  Despite my natural concerns that it could have been an anaphylactic reaction, I needed Mike to be an eye-witness to it too and I had our back-up plans in place, just in case his response was even worse that time round (fortunately it wasn’t).  I didn’t want to put M through the terror and pain of the reaction again, what parent would, but I needed to be certain that I hadn’t imagined it to be more extreme than it actually was.

I know that my confidence has been shattered by the very people who should have been supporting me and my family every step along the way – the medical professionals we’ve encountered on our journey.  I am no longer comfortable in trusting my gut instincts about M’s health, even though I have been proved right time after time after time; and that’s simply not acceptable.

willowtreeBeing a parent is a hard enough job when you have a happy, healthy child – there are no superheroes living in secret in my local community as far as I’m aware; but the burden quickly becomes overwhelming once you throw a chronic illness into the mix.  I find myself not always being able to state my case clearly or argue M’s corner when it matters most and I lie awake worrying in the middle of the night that the treatment I’ve demanded may not be the best course of action, or whether there was anything I forgot to mention at the most recent appointment.  I know myself to be a strong, intelligent woman and yet I find myself being instantly returned to my school days, with all the mixed emotions of being sent to see the Headmaster, the minute I find myself facing a consultant.

And I worry that G is getting lost in the chaos that is hospital stays and food allergies and medicines and diagnostic tests and the relentless need to monitor, record and report everything.  As she approaches her SATs and the prospect of moving up to “big” school looms ever nearer, my firstborn is growing up fast and I wonder how our relationship will survive the inevitable traumas of her teenage years when my focus so often has to be on her younger brother. Time together is rare and incredibly precious and something we both need and enjoy because I’m fully aware that I’m not necessarily getting this parenting thing right.

So, raising awareness this week has to be not just with the general public, although that is undoubtedly critical to protect the allergy-sufferers around us, but within the medical community too.  For most of us, you are our firefighters and the people we are forced to depend on in our darkest moments.  We need you to be strong, focussed and the experts that we are not, BUT we also need you to be gentle, compassionate and understand that you are holding the future of our most precious possessions in your hands.  Don’t dismiss our concerns, but believe that we know our children best and have an insight or opinion that is just as valid as your professional one.  Don’t belittle our emotions, but be empathetic when they overcome us and we need a shoulder to cry on more than anything else in that moment.  Be honest, but in the kindest way, knowing that your words have the power to break us when we least expect it.  Most of all, understand that we are constantly #livinginfear about our children’s health and life, so they don’t have to.