Twelve years ago, in a mall in Northern Michigan, we let The Princess ride a merry-go-round. It was her very first ride. The ride operator, a lovely woman, wanted to give the Princess a sucker. She was so little I was concerned about her choking on the candy, so I declined. She then offered half a cookie. She got them from Subway, she explained, pointing across the food court. Would the Princess like one?
We were on vacation. The cookie was peanut butter. It crossed my mind, briefly, that the Princess hadn’t had peanut butter yet. We’d followed suggested guidelines that we hold off on peanut products until after the first year and had never introduced them. After the ride, we loaded the Princess back into her stroller and continued strolling around the mall while she ate her cookie. The next time I looked down at the Princess, her eyes looked swollen.
Over the course of a few minutes, her little eyes seemed to swell completely shut. We felt as though she was having an allergic reaction to something and rushed to Meijer to get some benedryl to try and stop the reaction. We called our pediatrician. He advised that since she wasn’t having trouble breathing, that we could continue to dose her with benedryl and not worry too much, but I was a new Mom and I DID worry. A lot. When the swelling hadn’t gone down by the next day and several benedryl doses, we decided to go home and drove back to Chicagoland.
We checked in with our doctor. We told him about the peanut butter cookie. He told us while it was possible it was a reaction to the nuts, we couldn’t be sure. His advice was to withhold nuts and test her for allergies when she got older. That’s what we did. We were careful. We didn’t give her nut products. We weren’t overly diligent, allowing her to consume things like M&Ms that are “may contains” (meaning they’re processed with peanuts and may not be safe). It wasn’t until the Princess was four and had a few more reactions (semi minor, mostly swelling of her lip. “Fat like a tummy!”, she’d chirp) that we opted to pursue testing. The news was shocking. The Princess had a severe peanut allergy. Class six. The worst she could have.
Our lives changed.
No more M&Ms.
Epi-pens at school.
Calling ahead to any and all restaurants.
Hardly every having bakery cake for birthdays.
Telling the Princess, at just barely five, that consuming the wrong foods could kill her.
Encountering less than helpful people who “just couldn’t monitor the food in the class”.
Having the Princess go hungry the day she forgot her lunch, couldn’t contact me and couldn’t have a school issued PB&J sammie.
The boys who teased her and said they were going to make her eat peanuts (the Principal handled them quickly).
Allergy plans and peanut free tables and no school lunch.
Recently, we realized that all the restaurants on the Ohio Turnpike are labeled as being technically unsafe. As is every single item packaged by Walmart, including their meat.
Over the course of the last few years, we’ve settled into a routine. We read labels on new things. We stick to tried and true things. I make the Princess’s birthday cake. We worry about ordinary things. Sleepovers. Sixth grade camp. Seventh grade class trip. I mean, beyond the usual worries about how late they’ll stay up and how close the chaperones will watch.
A few years ago, I began hearing about a new treatment for peanuts. The theory was, an allergic person could be given small doses of peanuts, building up their resistance slowly until peanuts were no longer a threat.
I waited. I watched. I googled. I waited for news. Studies. We applied. I wanted an out for the Princess. I wanted her to be safe. I wanted her to throw herself heard first into the fun of growing up. I wanted that peace for her.
Could we relocate if we could get into the study? Could we live some place else a year, if that’s what it took? Could we commute?
Peanut Oral Immunotherapy seemed just out of our grasp.
In two weeks, the Princess has an appointment with a semi-local clinic (semi-local in that we can go there and back in a day without too much trouble). We meet with the doctor to begin a preliminary assessment and hopefully, very soon, the Princess will begin to consume small amounts of peanut every day, slowing working her dose upwards with once a week visits to the semi-local doctor until she can consume 8 peanuts at one sitting with no reaction.
Let that sink in.
Birthday cake from anyplace.
Sleepovers with no phone calls and no epi-pens tucked in her bag.
Not worrying about what frat boy ate peanuts before he shared a beer with you. But, who wants to think about that?
A gift. The biggest gift we can give the Princess. Safety. Something we haven’t been able to give her completely in so very long. The biggest gift we can give her as she’s striking out on her own more and more. If our process goes well, if the Princess tolerates all her updoses and doesn’t get ill during treatment (from colds or something) she could be through this process before school begins in the fall. She’ll start her eighth grade year with a lighter burden.
I’m so excited for her. My heart is so full. What a great big step for our young lady.