Remember when a peanut allergy was The Peanut Allergy? When it was so nouveau, so under-understood, we’d speak about it like it was The Plague or some dreadful affliction that only happens in other people’s families?
When my older son Lucas was first diagnosed with multiple food allergies (including The Peanut) six years ago, we were without Sabrina’s Law. Funding for food allergy research was microscopic at best. There were no nut-free Mars Bars (least they weren’t marketed that way), no allergy-safe schools, few support or education groups and no websites, magazine or online forums devoted to living with anaphylaxis.
That word itself – anaphylaxis – was only really known to people with it. Nut-free may not even have been a term yet. I remember checking our allergist’s (The Allergist’s) website after our first visit to find nothing more than you’d find today in a Wikipedia definition of The Peanut Allergy.
The expression The Peanut Allergy suggests it means one thing. But as most of us seasoned allergics know, every reaction, every person, every allergy is different. It is only through experience that you can really understand this. It is only through experience that you can even begin to grasp what living with a life-threatening allergy means to you.
And it is through experience that I’m happy to say we have grown up, big time, since Lucas’ 2004 diagnosis.
We, being the allergic community – which six years ago was disparate and anything but a community – the food manufacturing industry, medical research, government, the non-allergic world and, alongside, our own little allergic family.
In the early days, I was anything but OK with another child in our company eating something Lucas couldn’t have on account of cross-contamination. It was beyond heartbreaking for me to see my child miss out on something as important as dessert.
Why should it be in his face? Can’t the other kid live without ice cream this once? Is it such a huge sacrifice for other people to refrain from non-nut-free treats for an hour, so Lucas doesn’t have to feel deprived or reminded that he’s different? How’s he supposed to understand why he can’t have it too?
These projected concerns and restrictions on the people around us made up at least half of my allergy stress in the early years.
But my good friends were great about it. Most of Lucas’ friends’ parents were, too. And I’m not talking about refraining from eating nuts in front of him, which remains a given.
This was about the ice cream truck or the chocolate cake at the restaurant – the “may contain” stuff that he couldn’t eat – but would not likely cause a physical threat to him if someone else was. The stuff that today Lucas still can’t eat, but as a more mature allergic parent I take (as does he) little issue with.