A mother of two, living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I recently survived stage 3 breast cancer and have now been handed the task of dealing with a hypoallergenic dog at the same time as changing my eldest child’s diet to be gluten, cheese and milk free. the dietary change is a big challenge and a tad overwhelming. The results, however, have already been significant. To keep my sanity, I have decided to create this blog to document the journey and maybe share a gem of knowledge or two along the way.This is how it all began:
One thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment…
2 weeks after the dog was diagnosed with food allergies and was put on a hypoallergenic (super expensive) doggy diet with strict instructions for no other morsel to pass his lips, 2 months after a double whammy surgery on my part, a year and a half after my diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer, my son was put on a gluten free/no milk/no cheese diet.
The breast cancer had been fought with all of the tenacity that you have to fight such a disease with. Chemo, surgery, radiation, more surgery had been dealt with in the best way possible when you are juggling the daily pressures of life and two small children on top of it all. The dog thing – well – he’s stolen the cat food almost every day so far, so we’re not really doing particularly well on that front, but the gluten/dairy free thing – that’s a whole new ball game.
It’s an exciting ball game, as it signals the potential end of months and months of stress and discomfort for my eldest child. I’m relieved to have found an answer to a stream of ailments and I’m determined to make a significant lifestyle change that will benefit us all. Since the whole cancer debacle, we’ve had a pretty healthily stocked fridge. Most everything has been organic and we’ve worked hard to eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg. The kids haven’t really noticed a difference and it hasn’t been too much of an effort to date. Our fall-back, however, to enable us to cope when our energy levels have been at rock bottom lows and the kids have still needed feeding, has been healthy frozen convenience food. Organic pizzas, quiches, pot stickers, frozen pasta dishes etc. All great when needed – but all stashed with the now dreaded ‘G’ word.
On Saturday morning we went to see a Tibetan doctor (http://www.tibetanacademy.org/). My expectations, admittedly, were pretty high, as I’ve heard amazing things about this guy and I had a good sense that he was going to be the answer to my son’s problems. Well – at least the obvious problems. I knew that he’d look at things holistically and I felt that for months we’d been chipping away at bits of the picture rather than the whole thing. I’d also been super stressed and riddled with guilt for the longest time, as I pretty much blamed myself, and the fact that I’d had such a nasty battle with cancer, on the fact that my child was now suffering as much as he was.
Early this year, ‘C’ was diagnosed with chronic anxieties. It was felt that this was a direct link to having lived with the fact that his mom had been so sick. To have seen me losing my hair, to have been teased about having a bald mom at school, to have lived with the unspoken fear that I was going to die. The list is endless. The poor kid had had a lot of pretty heavy stuff to worry about. And all of that on top of becoming a first grader, dealing with playground politics and daily power struggles, figuring out the rules of engagement in the friendship stakes and learning that life isn’t always a bed of roses.
He had several symptoms that led to this diagnosis – some nervous habits such as chewing his sleeve, sucking his bottom lip, and holding his breath in while he talked. More seriously, he’d started to lose control of his bowel movements and was having daily accidents at school (somehow he managed to hide the fact that this was happening – I have no idea how), and in general he was quick to get upset, pretty stressed out, always exhausted and completely lacked focus at school. Luckily, he’s a pretty smart kid and somehow still managed to keep himself in good shape with his schoolwork, but his mid term report from school constantly fell back on the fact that he needed to pay better attention and be more focused.
We all honed in on all of these things being symptomatic of his frame of mid and as soon as I’d recovered from my last bout of surgery we started driving up the freeway once a week to visit a highly recommended child psychologist. The pediatrician had also immediately ordered tests for Crohns disease and a stomach x-ray. ‘C’ was severely constipated and so off we trooped to the gastroenterologist who put us on a pretty intense clean-out regime – I’ll spare you the details.
Things did improve. His coping skills at school became markedly improved, he started to have ‘better days’ again and the tummy thing looked as if it may be improving, but on that front we were told that we were in for the long haul and that we’d need to have at least 6 months of being accident-free before he could stop taking his daily Miralax.
On Saturday, ‘C’ threw the dreaded Miralax in the trashcan. Woo hoo! After 10 minutes of feeling ‘C’s’ pulses the Tibetan doctor rattled through all of the above symptoms, asking ‘C’ if he suffered from any of them. How did he know, I had told him nothing! He explained that ‘C’s’ body had an imbalance, that he wasn’t absorbing fatty acids as he should be and that his nervous system was being starved of the fatty acids it needs – especially in a developing child – as a result. He prescribed Tibetan herbs to help rebalance ‘C’s’system and asked that we move to a gluten/milk/cheese free diet to ensure that the herbs would be as effective as they possibly could be.
That was Saturday. Today is Tuesday. Today we took a whole new child to school. A child that bounced out of bed, dressed himself, brushed his teeth and put on his shoes without a word of complaint. A child that ate a huge, nutritious, breakfast without complaining that he was too tired to lift a spoon to his mouth and a child that was smiling as he walked out of the front door. We haven’t had that experience for a long, long time. Getting to school has been akin to pulling teeth and the fall-out has been agitated parents and a hugely wound up little brother.
Is it the herbs? Is it the lack of gluten and dairy? Is it the fact that someone finally got what was going on and provided instant calm in giving a solution that was previously not available to us? I’m not sure, but what I am sure about is that this whole gluten-free thing is quite a journey and that we have a lot to learn. With this blog, I aim to document that journey, share learnings and recipe’s and tips that I pick up from fellow gluten-freeites along the way. Hopefully this will help to ease the path of dietary Armageddon for other families with children who are asked to make similar dietary changes.
Nicola can be contacted at nicolastockmann (at) gmail (dot) com