“Dealing with Jacob’s cancer was less stressful, and easier, than dealing with his food allergies.”
Yup. I said that. Yes, It is a strong statement.
But this is how I honestly feel. I am NOT saying that cancer is stress free or easy, or even preferential. Trust me, it isn’t!
What Cancer and Food Allergies have in common is that both nail you with the reality that your child may die. It’s just that with cancer, you are powerless to prevent it. With food allergies, you must be vigilant to a point of paranoia~ Every. Single. Day.
When a diagnosis of cancer happens, you are given books and handouts to read, you meet with a medical team to help guide you, doctors, nurses, social workers. When food allergies get diagnosed you are handed a list of foods and ingredients derived from that food to avoid, and a prescription for an epi-pen. You are sent out the door with less than a pat on the back and a “good luck” to face trying to find something safe to feed your child at the grocery store.
With a cancer diagnosis, there is stress, fear and anxiety. The fears, and the unknown, as you enter the cancer journey: Getting the diagnosis, doing the research, putting in a mediport so your child can get chemotherapy. The chemotherapy itself, and what that does to a body! The surgeries to remove tumors, healing, more chemotherapy, radiation, complications, the “scanxiety” of waiting for MRI results. With cancer, there are doctors and specialists, who already have a plan for curing, treating, and fighting the disease. They all help you navigate the journey. They are the ship’s captains, steering and guiding you through the storm, while you are merely a passenger. There are follow-up tests and scans every 3 months, for years. There is new research, new medicines, support groups, financial assistance, as well as public acceptance and support. Yes, children die from cancer. Children also die from anaphylaxis caused from food allergy reactions.
When you are dealing with food allergies, you must protect your child every single day. Every meal, every single social interaction, holiday, birthday party, restaurant, special occasions, they are all risky! A visit to a friend’s home, a trip to the mall or the park, a barbecue, can end in an accidental exposure to an allergen that could cause anaphylaxis or death. Every single day poses a risk. Even those well-meaning friends, or family members, who forget about cross-contamination as they serve your child a safe sandwich for lunch using the same knife they used to cut their own PB & J, or mayonaise-ham-& cheese sandwich.
We face our fears everyday. Is there Peanut butter on the grocery cart? The door handle? The playground equipment? Will a bully decide to shove a peanut butter sandwich in my child’s face at school today? Did the dog who just licked his face eat a PB milkbone? Will my child eat something that has been cross contaminated with his allergen? Will he know to speak up if he starts feeling ill? Will the Epi-pen be there when he needs it? Will someone recognize his reaction and know to use the pen? Will they know HOW to use it? Will it fail? Will the ambulance get there in time?
We try to ignore our “Future fears.” Will my child always carry her Epi-pen? We fear simple things like just letting them eat alone! An aspect of food allergies that I truly fear and loathe, is the ease in which a simple food can be used as a weapon by others. We fear sending them to college, of them being reckless, or drunk and careless about their safety, about what they eat, or who they kiss. Will they kiss someone who ate nuts? For those of us with daughters, food allergies put them at increased risks for miscarriages. Am I preparing them enough to shop, to cook, and to manage their food allergies?
And let’s not forget the “Mommy Guilt” that comes with food allergies. Did I just poison my child? Did I cause his allergies by nursing/not nursing/eating peanuts while pregnant/by feeding him solid food too young, or too late? How did I not realize the ant traps, shampoo, lotion, chapstick, etc. contained milk, peanut, tree nut, egg, oats… How did I not recognize his allergies? Am I being paranoid? Or too over-protective? Am I doing enough to keep him safe?
When cancer strikes it is unexpected, leaving you reeling. Food allergies can strike just as unexpectedly, to any food, at any time. Food allergies follow no rhyme or reason. They may cause a mild reaction, just as likely as a severe one. They change, with no set pattern, a person can out-grow some foods, while adding new ones. You can be allergic to raw fruit, but able to eat cooked fruit. You can eat oats, but not gluten, or peanuts but not tree nuts.
Food allergies are EXPENSIVE! The cost of the specialty foods, the cost of the Epi-pens that must be replaced every year, the extra sets you must purchase for daycare, school, the in-laws, or ex-husband/wife. The cost of the Ambulance and ER visit that occur every time an Epi-pen is used. The extra time it takes to prepare everything from scratch, to bake safe cupcakes, bread, cookies, and meals. The planning that has to be done for every outing, from checking menus, to packing safe foods. We have trips to the allergists. We try to soothe the child who doesn’t understand why he can’t eat the cookies, donuts, or goldfish crackers that all the other kids are eating. We don’t Trick-or-Treat, or do Easter egg hunts, or ice-cream socials. We try to teach our children not to touch anything in the grocery store, not to take food from anyone before checking with us, to always carry their epi-pen, and to wear their medic alert bracelet.
Life Threatening Food Allergies are a constant stress, because they can kill my child~ Just as certain as cancer can.