I’ve overcome my allergies and asthma! Bring on 2017!

I just realized the other day that I hadn’t posted in almost a year and decided it was time to get back into a routine with my posting! So much has happened over the last year. I wanted to update you all and keep you posted on the successes as well as the hurdles I’ve been working through. After 8 years living in Victoria, British Columbia I have moved back to Montreal, Quebec to be closer to family, where I grew up. I’ll catch you all up slowly ūüôā

On the allergy front, the past year has been filled with wins.

Firstly, I am thrilled to announce that I am still eating almonds!! It’s been over a year after passing my challenge to almonds, and I must say,¬†having one more source of protein in my life has made all the difference.

Secondly, after 6.5 years of cat and dog immunotherapy, I can be around all dogs without issue and without antihistamines. My body seems to be considering the same for cats though it has not been as accepting of them yet. Emphasis on yet.

During the holidays, I had an exciting win! I tolerated 3 hrs in a house with 3 cats! I had taken some antihistamines and gone for short breathes of fresh air throughout the evening… That being said, I was in a house with cats!?!?! if someone had told me 10 years ago that one day I’d be in the same house as a cat, I’d have told them they were crazy… But they would have been right ūüôā To all those out there feeling hopeless about your pet allergies, I urge you to look into immunotherapy and talk with an allergist. Reducing the severity of my pet allergies has changed my life. Everyone I run into who talks about having to deal with major allergy flare ups when they go to a family members house with a cat or dog, I say, you don’t need to suffer. There are solutions out there. There are advances in the science of allergies and asthma every day and the research is starting to come up with potential solutions to all of this. Please don’t suffer in silence. Ask me questions here if you want, or send me an email and I’ll gladly answer any and all you may have.

Getting control of my allergies has resulted in EXTREMELY controlled asthma. Without changing a thing for my asthma treatment, my lungs are better than ever! Allergies and asthma are a domino effect. Solve one thing, and another will be resolved too.

If there’s any wisdom to share with you all from the last year, I’d share this:

Ask questions and be curious.
Ask for help and never give up.

The¬†answer you’re looking for could be right around the corner!

And most importantly of all… Keep smiling and focus on the positives! Trust me on this one. Focusing on what’s not working the way we like is¬†not the way to go. Think of embracing the challenges you are faced with. Strategize how you might overcome them and who you might engage in your journey to success! And know that it’s ok to have moments where we feel down. I’ve had them too. It’s what makes us human. It’s what we do to get through these moments that shapes us. If you can find the strength and resilience to pick yourself¬†up when¬†you are at your lowest low, you can take on anything life throws your way.

Life’s a journey and we don’t have all the answers. Be open to asking others for help and guidance and you can reach your goals and milestones. I struggled with asking for help. Everything changed when I started asking for help and not feeling like I was burdening others by doing so. At the end of the day, it’ll be up to the people you ask to let you know if they don’t have time or the capacity to help you. To be your best self, one needs to believe that we are never alone. Friends, family, colleagues, medical professionals, people we meet on the ski trails or at a coffee shop. We are surrounded by people who all have their own successes and challenges. Speak up and you’ll get to where you need to go.

Wishing you all the best for 2017 and looking forward to sharing some recipes I’ve been saving up and some more insight¬†with you all on how I’ve overcome my allergies and asthma. You heard that right. I have overcome them because they no longer control my life, I control theirs. ūüėČ They exist, there are foods I can’t eat and some places I won’t go with a ten foot pole like a pet store, but I’ve got the reins on my life and no one can stop me!¬†Perspective is everything.¬†Watch out, there’s no stopping me now.

In health,
Erika

 

2016 Victoria Leadership Awards – Another Milestone

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The past few months have been a whirlwind. Though I am very involved in the asthma and allergy community in research, advocacy and support, I have always been extremely passionate about coaching youth sports programs. Fortunately throughout my youth I had some great coaches who believed in me and went out of their way to support me and help me reach my full potential. Over the last 10 years I have coached youth in cross-country skiing, sprint kayak/canoe, dragon boating, as well as rowing. The confidence, life skills, and determination I gained through sport has helped me become the leader I am today, and I have wanted to help youth have opportunities like I had, to learn and grow.

Back in the fall, VI Paddling (VIP) Society, the paddling club I have dedicated countless hours to over the last 2 yrs, nominated me for a Leadership Award. I was honoured and more than anything, excited at the attention this nomination would bring to our family and youth programs in the Greater Victoria community.

Fast forward to the morning of Thursday February 25th, 2016; hours before the Victoria Leadership Awards Event… All nominees had been asked to prepare a brief acceptance speech, which needed to be less than 90 seconds. To help make the event more memorable for all in attendance, we were asked that our speech¬†focus on something inspiring, helpful or touching that we¬†learned or wanted to share about leadership or our community. I spent a fair bit of time thinking about this, because I have learned so much, especially in my role as Director of Youth Programs at VI Paddling. As I wrote down bullet points of lessons learned, and stories I could share, I remembered what my grandfather always used to say, and my speech came together quite easily after that. He would always say “L’union fait la force!” which in English means that there is strength in numbers, and that together we can accomplish great things. Though my grandfather would not be in person with us for this milestone in my life, I knew he would have been proud of me whether I received the award or not. Sharing his wisdom gave me strength. I read my speech over and over again until I felt I had it just right.

The event was one I will remember for years to come, because of the extraordinary people in attendance. Victoria is home to so many inspiring leaders and organizations, working collaboratively to have a lasting impact in many areas, like health, housing and sports/recreation, to name a few. I will admit, sitting and listening to all that was happening in Victoria made the fire within me grow as I became more excited to connect with many of these leaders and organizations. All I could think of was if there would be ways to collaborate or even partner with some of these organizations making waves in our community. Sitting, listening to each award recipient, I knew my award category would be coming soon. I was a little nervous, however, with my friends and family surrounding me I was able to relax.

When my name was announced, I smiled and stood up. All the nerves disappeared. I was happy, confident and proud. This was my moment to share what I learned in my leadership roles at VI Paddling. Standing up at the podium, I was overwhelmed by passion, confidence and excitement. Passion that I was leading from the heart, confidence that I was heading in the right direction as well as excitement for what lay ahead with VI Paddling and my long term goals. Though I came home with a beautiful framed award Thursday night, it wasn’t all I came home with. I came home with a great ball of fire/energy within. A new, stronger energy I have never felt before. A drive to go bigger than I have gone thus far. And a renewed self-confidence that by embracing the challenges I have faced and continue to face, I can accomplish great things.

More stories about life with asthma and allergies!

It’s been a busy few weeks with multiple oral food allergy challenges and preparing to attend¬†Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology¬†(CSACI) conference in Vancouver next week, however I wanted to share with all my readers a few longer posts and stories or essays I have written about life with asthma and allergies. I’ve created a new page for these, so they don’t get lost in the my blog. The first two I have shared are titled: “Life with Asthma ‚Äď The Never Ending Game of Chess”¬†and¬†“When thinking positively makes all the difference”

Check out the stories by visiting Longer posts and stories

 

Sea otter named Mishka has asthma just like us

Credit: Seattle Aquarium/ Twitter

Mishka is the first sea otter in the world to have been diagnosed with asthma. Mishka is in Seattle and has to take an inhaler just like those of us with asthma do. You’ll want to watch this video of them training her to use her inhaler (Flovent) and hear more about Mishka and her asthma. More research will have to be done to look at environmental factors and impacts on asthma to see how changes in the environment affects everyone, not only humans.

Milestones’ extraordinary care and attention to food allergies allows me to eat out without worry

Last night we finished work and decided we were going to go out for dinner. Now, with severe food allergies I’ve always recommended calling the restaurant ahead of time, when you make your reservation. Last night we went to a restaurant we trust; Milestones. We went to the Victoria, British Columbia location.

We have been to Milestones in Victoria a few times now and have also been to several different locations in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto. I feel very safe at Milestones, even with my long list of allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, soy, legumes (beans and peas) as well as gluten and dairy intolerances. Being a chain restaurant, with numerous locations across Canada, they need to have policies in place to ensure that people can eat safely and trust the restaurant. Every time I have eaten at Milestones, I am always so grateful that every staff member genuinely cares and understands that my order, and by consequence, my meal is prepared with utmost care and attention to avoid any cross-contamination. They check-in several times to make sure I am ok, that the meal is to my expectations and that I know that they have taken every possible step they can to make my meal as safe as it can be.

Last night was no exception to that rule; as our waiter, Kyle W. took very good care of me to make sure I would have a safe dinner out. He checked in numerous times to make sure everything was ok and I was not having any reactions or worries about my food. He genuinely cared and wanted to be sur we had a nice evening out, without incident.

I had one of the two meals I always have, because it is delicious and I know it is safe and easy to make safely. When eating out, what I have learned over the years is that simpler is safer. When you have allergies and are eating out, keep it simple. With my allergies, I always keep it to meat and veggies. At Milestones, I keep dinner to either steak, baked potatoes and vegetables, or a nice salad with salmon, avocado, strawberries. On my salad I keep it simple; balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

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Dinner was delicious and it meant I didnt have to cook. I don’t eat out very often, however when I do, it is to have a nice evening with friends and family, and not have to cook. Yes I want tasty food, but I always keep it simple, because I like seeing exactly what I am eating. Knowing every ingredient in my meal. It means that I can eat without any stress. Milestones has always gone out of their way to bring me a well balance meal. When I am hungry, I’ll get a baked potato on the side of my salad and that is enough for me.

When looking to eat out, the first restaurant I will look up is Milestones, because I know without a doubt in my mind that they will go above and beyond to make me a safe meal.

Have you ever been to Milestones restaurants? Which locations have you been to? What was your experience like and would you recommend Milestones for others with severe food allergies?

From allergic to not: The many emotions around an oral food challenge

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It’s been quite some time since my last post. I have been meaning to post, however summer is always the busiest time of year for me as Director of Youth Programs and Head Coach for all youth camps and sessions¬†here in Victoria, British Columbia!

After being severly allergic to almonds and at risk for anaphylaxis the majority of my 26 years of life, the blood work and numerous prick tests for almonds my allergist did over the last few weeks came back negative. My allergist said it was time to do a oral food challenge to see if in fact I was no longer allergic to almonds. My almond challenge was last week. My last series of oral food challenges, done at the hospital under supervision of my allergist and a medical team was almost 10 years ago. After such a long time of no challenges I wasn’t sure what to think or feel leading up to this challenge!

Not sure what an oral food challenge is? Click here

A few weeks before my challenge at my allergist appointment I made sure to confirm if there was anything I should do leading up to the challenge. Specifically with antihistamines or other medications.

The day before¬†my almond challenge I was thinking how being able to eat almonds would mean I would finally have another easy source of protein. I was also thinking that there was a chance that I would react. For that matter, I didn’t want to get my hopes too high so I wouldn’t be so let down if I did not pass. Instead of being too fearful, I told myself that it was important for me to go into¬†the challenge well rested and not stressed.¬†As acupuncture really helps me relax and de-stress, I had acupuncture the day before my challenge. I went to bed early the night before, so I could get a good night’s sleep in.

The morning of my challenge¬†I headed to the grocery store an hour before my challenge to buy some almond butter and almond milk. I must say, it was really weird buying something I hadn’t eaten in years, especially something that had sent me to the ER a few years back! I knew my allergist had taken every precaution possible with numerous prick tests, blood tests and I knew I could not be at a safer place to do my challenge. I held my head up high and purchased my almond products with a smile on my face. My hope was that I would be back for more. For me, being mentally prepared is so critical. My backround in competitive sports has proven to¬†me how beneficial it is to be¬†prepared mentally; especially in reducing any anxiety one might have.

Challenge time.¬†I walked into my allergist’s office with a smile and ready for the challenge. I knew I had done everything I was supposed to leading up to the challenge and felt safe at my allergist’s office. If I was going to react, I knew I had my 2 epinepherine auto-injectors at the ready, and they had multiple doses on site as well. I was the most ready I could be mentally and physically. They did a prick test with the almond butter and almond milk. Neither reacted.

The first dose went down fine. As I had never had almond butter before, or any other nut butter, I had no idea what the consistency would be like. It was so foreign. I drank lots of water and sat down to wait and see if anything would happen. Nothing happened.

It was time for the second dose, so I grabbed my water bottle and went for more. Once more, the nurse checked my body for hives and confirmed with me that I was not feeling any different since the last dose. This time, I started to realize I really should have brought something else to take it with. I was not used to something so sticky and gummy.

While waiting to take my third dose of almond butter, a younger girl there for her challenge started to have symptoms of anaphylaxis. They treated her with epinepherine and kept her under very strict observation. Seeing this happen while I was also doing my own challenge as tough. As the reality was that it could have happened to me too. The little girl was so strong. She kept her smile and after treatment, she read a book and it was like nothing had happened. Through all of this. I reminded myself to stay calm and not worry. To focus on my own challenge and be fully in tune with my body so I could recognize if in fact I was reacting to the almond butter.

Two more doses of almond butter later I started to really wish that I had something else to help get this almond butter down. Let’s just say I had quite the protein filled morning!¬†Eating 1 whole tbsp of almond butter with only water to wash it down after never having eaten it before. Quite the challenge I tell you!

Everything seemed to be going ok, until all of a sudden I felt a weird feeling at the back of my throat. It was not the same feeling I have had when I have had anaphylactic reactions. I told the nurse and my allergist right away and we decided we would wait before¬†taking another dose. They immediately did a pulmonary function test and my airways looked great. They checked me for hives or other symptoms and nothing else was apparent. I decided that I wanted to have some fresh air to see if it would help, as I thought¬†I was actually reacting to the office environment. With all my environmental triggers, staying in one place with lots of foot traffic for over 3 hrs could easily trigger me. It doesn’t take much; deodorants, shampoos, lotions, any of these could have been the culprit. We didn’t know at the time. While outside, I focused¬†on my breathing to make sure I was not getting worked up and that I was staying calm, in case it was a reaction to the almonds. And so, after being outside for 20 min, my throat stopped hurting. The nurse brought me back in to see the allergist and we debriefed on the challenge. My¬†allergist was certain¬†it was environmental and told me I had passed the challenge. Just to be safe I stayed at the clinic a little longer. Better to be on the safe side. Sure enough, I was fine!

I thanked the doctors and nurses for being there for me for this first of a series of challenges. I have several challenges lined up between now and November as blood testing and prick tests seem to suggest that my allergies have gotten significantly better!

At 26 it is really exciting to think that things can change so much. After this first challenge I am really looking forward to the next challenges I have lined up with the great health care team I have. My allergist is supportive and knowledgeable and makes me feel confident that many of my allergies may in fact no longer be an issue. Next ones coming up are chickpeas, soy, pecans and walnuts! Stay tuned!

Looking back, I found it very helpful that I had a wellness plan going into this challenge. It may be my new favourite food! After a few days of feeling hesitant eating almond butter at home, I am comfortable and no longer worried about eating it. I am now eating almond butter daily and I love it. I must say it is extremely weird to get used to having this food I used to avoid with a 10 foot pole in my fridge!¬†It’s like my world has just opened right up! ūüôā

If you have any good recipes for me with almonds or almond butter, please share them! Unfortunately finding whole almonds that are free of all other tree nuts and peanuts is proving to be a little more difficult than finding safe almond butter.

Have you or your child had food challenges? How did it go? Are there any tips you would have for others going in for a food challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’d like to read a great article about preparing for an oral food allergy challenge, please read¬†Demystifying Oral Food Challenges¬†by Kids with Food Allergies.

 

 

Vote for the video I made about my research and help me win!

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As many of you may or may not know, aside from all my advocacy,¬†leadership programs and coaching, I am also a research assistant at the University of Alberta. I work in the¬†Social Support Research Program with Dr. Miriam Stewart¬†developing online peer support programs for families living with asthma and allergies. I started with Dr. Stewart’s team back in 2008 when I was a mentor in their very first online program and have remained extremely involved ever since. These programs are a very large part of my life and I stand behind them.

Through my involvement in research I joined the AllerGen Students & New Professionals Network (ASNPN), in 2010. As a trainee, I attend regular symposiums for career and professional development. This year they have their first annual Video Competition and I have entered a 3 minute animated video about my research.

I need all the votes I can get to win this competition, so please watch my video¬† and¬†vote for it¬†by “liking” the video!

** In order to vote you will need to sign in to your youtube account or create an account. It is quick to create an account.

Voting is open until May 15th!

Please share with your friends and family!

Thank you all for your support, it means the world to me!

Best,

Erika