Today I am writing about a health concern that is near to me--my peanut allergy. I dedicate this post to my parents--without their advocacy, strength, and perseverance I wouldn't be the label-scrutinizing, tip-of-the-tongue-taste-testing, crazy-cautious adult that I am today. Raising two allergic kids in a world full of sticky fingers, potluck lunches, and hidden ingredients is no walk in the park. To put things into perspective, we must rewind the clock twenty plus years. Living with a peanut allergy in the early 90s was nothing like what it is now. Today we hear buzz-words like "peanut-free", "may contain tree nuts", "made in a factory that processes peanuts" all the time. Whether we have them or not, food allergies have slowly trickled into our lives and into our vocabulary. Growing up, I was a pioneer of sorts in the field of peanut-allergicness. An anomaly at school and even at the doctor's office, it was up to me to protect myself and educate others about this strange and uncommon health phenomenon. Not only was I the first peanut allergic student at my school, my paediatrician was baffled at my intolerance for peanuts. She diagnosed me by reading a page in a book she had never referenced before and sent me off with an Epinephrine prescription and a strict order not to touch or ingest peanuts or tree nuts. This was way before skin tests and blood tests, peanut-free airlines, factories, and schools.
The way my parents describe it, it was a difficult task getting people to understand the severity of my allergy. My mom really did have to speak to my teachers and draw the terrifying connection between a peanut butter and a gun. This was not just an annoying intolerance for me; even the tiniest speck of peanut butter was enough to take my life. My parents did everything in their power to make me feel normal and safe. Instead of placing me in a bubble, I was encouraged to be social and to participate in fun activities with my peers. I was taught to be vigilant with hand washing, not to touch my face or mouth, to always ask for an ingredient list before eating anything, and to always, always read the label twice. For as long as I can remember, I've carried an Epi-Pen. First in my fanny pack, then in my pencil case, and now in my purse. I never missed a friend's birthday party... I could just never, ever, ever eat the cake. My precautionary routine has been meticulous, but I've had the odd close call. Just last week I purchased something from a work bake sale after receiving confirmation that it was peanut-free. I bit into a homemade Rice Krispie square and it was amazing how fast my body recognized the peanut taste and rejected it. Upon first bite, I became enveloped in a haze. It was like a sense of doom washed over me and the only sensible thing to do was to spit out the treat and run for the bathroom. After rinsing thoroughly with soap and water, I developed a tingly, itchy sensation on my tongue and throat and could see hives forming around my mouth. Thankfully I was able to curb the reaction with an antihistamine. The weird thing is that I don't even remember what peanut butter tastes like; my body just knew I shouldn't be eating it. I thank my lucky stars that I had the sense to spit it out because swallowing it could have triggered a full-blown reaction. I have been living with a life-threatening peanut allergy for over two decades now and although avoiding peanuts has become a whole lot easier, there is no safe zone. The only proven line of defence is diligence. Carrying my Epi-Friend, reading labels, verifying ingredients, and educating others has become second nature to me. I don't live in fear of my allergy because I know for the most part I can control it. A combination of increased awareness and stricter labelling laws has made it easier for me to order safe meals at restaurants and recognize "may contain" items at grocery stores and bakeries. Some factories have even committed to offering peanut-free treats--Nestle chocolate bars, Dare cookies, and Chapmans ice cream to name a few. While some people grow out of peanut allergies into their adolescence years, others continue to experience symptoms and show positive test results for life. It looks like me and allergies go together like PB&J.