1 MY JOURNEY OF HOPE Margaret Evans R.N., B.S.N., C.P.C.C. It is actually with some hesitation that I offer this story of the issues of my own health and the journey of my family. The hesitation comes because of the longevity of the story although there are hopeful pieces everywhere. I have spent years searching for answers and sometimes had to wait longer that I would have liked to find them. As I pondered where to begin this story, I decided the issues really go all the way back to my own childhood. There were those small warning signs and niggling symptoms that no one could explain that seemed to grow over time. As I write this story today, July 1, 2008, most of these issues have been resolved. My life was complicated 20 years ago when I had an overwhelming Ecoli bowel infection that escalated the issues of food sensitivity in my life. The truth is, however, that I am a thousand percent better that I might have been if God hadn t offered me His wisdom 25 years ago. My healing and my story are intimately intertwined with the stories of our children. They, too, faced challenges with their health and as I gathered the wisdom I needed to find answers to their symptoms, I also found many of the answers to my own. So, it is a privilege to share my story in the hope it will inspire others to consider altering their diet to regain their health. As I have had the pleasure of offering this wisdom to hundreds of other people, it has been inspiring and motivating to watch them regain their health and their ability to choose how their lives unfolded. I hope as you read this story, you will ponder the idea, as well, whether it is for yourself or for someone you love. I suspect that the story of my health began long before my parents were aware of the potential for trouble. I was adopted from birth and the history that was available from my birth mother was sketchy, at best. Very little information about the health of either of my parents was available and this made it difficult for my parents to anticipate what might be ahead. I was
2 bottled fed as an infant and, although I definitely thrived, this likely was the beginning of the bowel inflammation that would cause my symptoms years later. The characteristics that we inherit at birth play a significant role in determining our future health. A very large percentage of children are intolerant to cow s milk and this is the primary cause of colic, repeated ear infections, tummy aches, asthma, and bronchitis. With the patients that I see, there is usually a long history of these ailments throughout the family. Unfortunately, the removal of dairy products from the diet of both babies and nursing mothers continues to be missed as a cause for many of the illnesses faced by babies and young children as well as adults. My story from the point where I remember it began when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Until that age I was a healthy, happy baby, toddler, and early school age little girl who was active, bright, and full of a zest for life. I did have my tonsils out at the age of 4 which, I know now, is often one of the beginning signs of food sensitivities. In about grade 3 or 4 I began to have stomach aches. They woke me up at night and appeared primarily in times when I was nervous, excited, or anxious. The doctor decided that it was likely a nervous stomach and no treatment was offered. I shudder now as I think of this because no one actually asked me if I was nervous about anything in particular. Had they actually taken the time to speak to me alone, I would have shared with them that yes, I was nervous and anxious, because my dad had a drinking problem, another common story I hear from my clients. It was one of those hidden secrets that few people knew and I learned early on not to share the story. This is the pattern I hear often in the clients I work with some type of stress tips them over the edge from reasonably good health to recurrent bouts of illness. How I wish someone had seen past my bright and sunny exterior and actually spent time with me alone to ask how I really was. My symptoms continued to worsen as life at home became more difficult and I eventually was sent to a gastroenterologist a gastro intestinal specialist to search for some answers. Despite suffering the indignity of scopes up my bottom and drinking chocolate flavoured barium for x-rays, no answer was found then either. They did prescribe a tranquilizer can you believe that at
3 the age of 10 which I actually never took because I recognized that it was the same one my father had. I was not going there! Despite my stomach aches that occurred here and there, my life was otherwise amazing. You might find that hard to believe because of what I have shared about my dad but it is true. My mom was amazing! She was a source of constant support and encouragement and I participated in music, sports, and life. We had a pool and my parents welcomed my friends almost every day and I simply pushed the issue of my dad into the background. I lived in a neighbourhood full of kids and we played kick the can and swam in our pool every summer evening. My life was full of people who loved me and who supported my entire family. During the years between 10 and my graduation from high school my health was pretty stable. My dad stopped drinking and again became the wonderful man I knew. He spent loads of time supporting both me and my brother in the many activities that we did and was always there to offer some homework help. How grateful I was that all the stress and fighting I had witnessed all but disappeared. Despite my mom s commitment to feeding us only healthy food, I still was bothered by stomach aches. They would appear unannounced in unwelcome places and times like first dates or during exams. It is only now that I understand the reason. Food sensitivities are connected to life. Unlike true allergies where a reaction occurs immediately, food sensitivities appear in a variety of ways and at different frequencies based on the life experience of each of us. If you imagine a barrel of water, there is that last drop that sends the water flooding over the edge. My food sensitivities (still undiscovered!) resulted in me living with the level of water in my barrel close to the very top. Any small food challenge or difficult life circumstance sent me over the top and my symptoms increased. Perhaps I got yet another stomach ache, perhaps I developed a cough that wouldn t go away or perhaps my complexion would sprout a few zits just to make life difficult. I was totally frustrated as were my parents and none of the multitude of doctors that I visited could offer any answers. As I began university, my health seemed to stabilize. I lived at home for the first 2 years and then had an apartment with my friend, Margaret, for the final 3.
4 I ate pretty well considering I was often cooking for myself much of the time (actually, Marg did lots of the cooking and making of my lunches!) and my symptoms didn t get any worse. I did discover, however, that beer made my stomach aches return in full force so drinking it was something I rarely did. I now know that the reason for this was that beer is a gluten containing food and years later I would discover that I was intolerant to it. My life was fun and interesting despite the hard work of nursing school and I thrived in the environment. In 1975 I married my husband and we ventured off into life together. My husband s very favourite food in the beginning of our marriage was white bread with cheese so we often had this as a late night snack. It was actually all he often felt like eating when he came home after several days on call and was so exhausted he could barely keep his eyes open. I now know that this was also a symptom of food sensitivity. An inherited predisposition for gluten and dairy sensitivities plus a run- away life set us both up for trouble tolerating these foods. Dairy and gluten foods produce by- products related to the narcotic family (like morphine) when they are not completely digested. This explains the craving I saw in my husband and that I see in my clients all the time for these particular foods. When the bowel becomes irritated from repeated ingestion of poorly tolerated foods, the walls become leaky and foods are absorbed into the blood stream before they are completely digested. This is the cause of the many symptoms that result. Sadly, however, I still did not have the wisdom to understand what was going on. The extra bread and cheese in my diet created a resurgence of my stomach aches and I found that I was more tired than I ever remembered being. I put it down to being newly married. As married life continued and my husband and I worked opposite shifts and schedules, we then began to think about having children. I became pregnant with our first son who was born in He was a beautiful robust little guy who screamed from the minute he arrived. No amount of nursing would quiet him and I was beyond exhausted. Was I not a pediatric nurse? Shouldn t I be able to care for my own healthy (the doctor assured me of that!) baby? I still remember going to the pediatrician when our son was 3
5 months old and, in between sobs, telling him I was going to die caring for this baby. He screamed day and night and slept for no more than about 20 minutes at a time. I walked, drove, rocked, paced, cuddled, and everything else I could do but nothing seemed to help. I felt powerless, hopeless and completely inadequate as a mother. The pediatrician s answer to my struggle was the beginning of my journey of healing. He casually commented on an article he had read that encouraged nursing mothers to stop eating dairy products if they had colicky babies. YES something to try that might help. I immediately stopped all the dairy products I was eating and Voila, peace at last. Our son stopped crying and began to laugh. He slept and now I could sleep. My own stomach aches also seemed to disappear although it was a few more years before I made the true connection for myself. I was back in the game and feeling alive again. I did, however, have to face all the doubts and criticisms that came my way. Many people felt free to offer their thoughts on the idea (obviously none of them ever had a colicky baby) and were sure our son would grow up with crumbling bones and poor nutrition. When our daughter was born 18 months after our son she did not seem to have any of his food issues. She was quiet, calm, full of smiles and a joy to nurse. She was to have her own food sensitivity issues, however, as she began to slide down the hill at the age of 2 when she had her first dose of antibiotics for a sore throat. Her behaviour all of a sudden became difficult and she had tantrums over the smallest request. She was often too tired to walk even a block and suffered from tummy aches and bladder pains much of the time. Where did my sunny little girl go? Why had all the things I had learned with our first son not made a difference for her? It would be another year and a half before I figured it out. In the midst of caring for these two young children I also had a gall bladder attack which resulted in surgery. Because I had a gall bladder full of stones, the doctors reassured me that was the reason for my years of stomach aches. Finally, an answer! Unfortunately, about 6 months after my surgery my symptoms reappeared and I was again subjected to a multitude of unpleasant tests. Yet again, no answers were found. I was put on a medication that was supposed to help (it actually didn t do a thing) and told that I could not have
6 any more children because this medication could cause birth defects. I don t think so!!! I stopped the medication and continued on with my life. This doctor also had the nerve to make the comment to my husband in the hallway of the hospital that he thought it was related to the stress I was under with his hours of work and my busy life at home. Again, someone decided I was stressed but didn t do me the courtesy of asking my opinion. This goes against everything I believe to be right as well as good medical care. Patients need to be treated as whole people and asked about all aspects of their life. It is one of the many reasons I am now a life coach and it is something I am now very careful to offer all my clients. Our next son was born 3 years later and I was on the lookout for food issues with him because he hiccupped in utero just like his brother. I was often awakened in the middle of the night by his violent hiccups that made my entire abdomen bounce. I nursed him at birth and again removed dairy products from my diet. I was sure I knew what to do. Despite my best efforts this little guy developed repeated ear infections and ended up with tubes in his ears at 6 months of age. We discovered his hearing had been compromised when we brought him home after the surgery and he was captivated by all the new sounds he was hearing. This lack of hearing sounds at the correct stage of development created additional reading challenges for him in future years which, thankfully, he overcame. What did I miss? Why did removing dairy products from my diet and his not have the same impact it had on his brother. Despite switching him to soya formula, his health continued to deteriorate and soon gastro intestinal symptoms appeared. The answer to his challenges did not appear until a few months later when we moved to Toronto. Once I weaned him and returned to drinking milk and eating cheese myself Voila again all my digestive symptoms returned. I went to an allergist convinced I had finally found my answer. He looked me in the eye and told me I was pretty slow at figuring things out!! How insulting and not very helpful! Had he ever been a busy mom with three very small children and a husband training to be doctor? Did he not know how hard I had tried to find the answer? Could he not just offer a little support and help rather than
7 criticism? I left his office deflated by his comments but inspired that perhaps I had found an answer to my years and years of stomach aches. At this stage of our life we moved to Toronto for my husband to complete his final year of surgery training. I left with much sadness as I was leaving behind all my friends and family whose support I counted on. We drove all across the country with 3 very small children and decided to do what we could to enjoy the trip. The kids were amazing and loved the sense of adventure. They explored each new campground as we went and still look back on the trip with fond memories. Our second son, however, began to have more gastro intestinal symptoms and suffered with severe diarrhea by the time we reached Toronto. Yet again, he was investigated by the pediatrician and subjected to multiple unpleasant tests but no answer was found. Coincidentally our other kids began to have more symptoms and I was more than overwhelmed. I had one son struggling with recurrent ear infections ( I kept my own amoxicillin in the fridge!), a daughter now suffering from tummy aches, fatigue, confusion, and irritability, and another son with profuse diarrhea and hyperactivity that kept him up every night from 2 and until 5 am. My father thought he we relapse into using alcohol to manage his problems and was admitted to a detox centre just before Christmas. I can still remember sitting on the beds of our sleeping children and asking God what on earth he was doing. I always longed to be a mom but this was not how I imagined it would be. Was he really there and did he care that I was sinking? As result of the lack of sleep, stress, and lack of support, surprise! I got sick as well. All of a sudden my eyes became swollen and I had stomach aches. The allergist I saw had the answer. He phoned me and told me I had a potentially fatal but possibly treatable illness but said he didn t know much about this rare disease and I would have to find someone else to help. HELP!! That s right, I did need help on lots of fronts but none was being offered and I had no clue where to find it. Luckily for me, God was paying attention and He offered me the answer just in time.
8 Because we had very little money and no family support, I was only able to create a window of 2 hours a week for a break. The babysitter arrived and I was free for two glorious hours. I went to a bookstore and treated myself to a book and then sat and read it over a peaceful lunch. Just when I was at the end of my rope, I walked into a bookstore and God was watching. As I scoured the shelves for just the right book, I noticed one glowing on the shelf high in one corner of the store. Was I hallucinating? Perhaps all the stress had finally got to me? I hesitantly reached for the book and was immediately captivated by the title, Changing Your Child s Behaviour Chemistry. That was for me!! I bought it and read my way through the entire book in my short lunch break. Someone had written a book about my children!!!! I raced home, made an appointment with the pediatrician and insisted on a referral to an allergist. I took our daughter first as her symptoms were the most complicated and was horrified by what took place. She was poked with over 50 needles while she screamed at me, What are you letting them do this to me? She was 3 and a half years old. Tears were running down my cheeks as I did what I thought was required in order to help our daughter get well. At the end of the testing the doctor announced that this was less than 50% accurate and that he wanted to place her on an elimination diet. It was all I could do not to choke the man! Did he not have children? Could he not have told me this before I subjected my precious daughter to this torture? I now know better. Scratch tests certainly have their place to determine environmental allergens but only a very few ever need to be done. True food allergies are very rare and most are food sensitivities. The distinction is important because sensitivities are the result of inflamed bowel walls and can t be diagnosed by traditional allergy testing. If only I had known then what I know now! I returned home from the allergist committed to finding the answer to the struggles and challenges of our children. I went to the library and got several books and read voraciously as soon as the kids went to bed. I found the answers in those pages and changed their diets the following morning. I removed milk from everyone s diet and also removed eggs from our daughter and wheat from our youngest son. Within 2 weeks the changes were nothing
9 short of miraculous. No more diarrhea. No more tummy aches. No more ear infections. Our daughter became an inquisitive sponge and learned more in two weeks than I would ever have believed was possible. Our children were now healthy, happy, bright and without all those old symptoms and challenges. Finally, our children were well!!! Our children are all successful university students and graduates in careers that honour the amazing natural gifts they have. The three children that were so unwell are now healthy and thriving adults. They all continue to be dairy free, our daughter is egg free and our son is gluten free. They continue as adults to eat healthy foods and trust the messages their bodies offer them. And, as you will hear later on in my story, we have the gift of another healthy and amazing daughter. As is so often the case with motherhood, however, I focused more on the kids and didn t spend much time wondering about the impact on myself. I removed dairy products from the house completely and it did make a big different in how I felt. My own stomach aches all but disappeared and I felt better than I had in years. My father again got a grip on his life and we returned to Vancouver excited to be home. My husband began medical practice and we bought our first house. I took the risk of getting pregnant again convinced that I now knew exactly how to care for myself and our baby to avoid all the pitfalls I had experienced before. I turned out to be right. Our gorgeous little girl arrived in this world having had no hiccups in utero as I avoided milk and wheat during the entire pregnancy. I monitored what I ate as I nursed her and she never got sick. No ear or throat infections. No screaming. No tummy aches. She was a delightful, happy baby who continues to have this disposition to this day. She was the bonus for all that I have learned and a gift to show me how much is possible if food sensitivity issues are addressed early in life. She is currently in university studying to be a nurse and hopes to work with children she will be amazing at the job! She, like our other kids, eats a healthy diet with no dairy products and rarely eats gluten containing foods, as well. She is an exceptional athlete and an all round wonderful young woman.
10 As our children s health improved I was ecstatic. Finally life got easier and I loved it all. Some days I was run off my feet with the busy pace of all of their activities but at least they were well. I was totally unprepared for the next part of my adventure. Without warning I began to experience profuse rectal bleeding and I was terrified. I had a 4 month old, a 4 year old, a 7 year old and an 8 year old what if I had bowel cancer? What if I had Crohn s Disease? I was nursing my baby what if she got sick? I went to hospital afraid of what might be ahead. I had an overwhelming Ecoli infection and remained in hospital on isolation for about 2 weeks. I was bleeding, in extreme pain, engorged with milk as I couldn t feed my baby and totally miserable. I finally went home drinking dilute pineapple juice and desperate to see my family. I was afraid to eat for fear of what might happen. I had huge trouble getting better because of the busy pace of my life and 10 months later I took a much needed vacation to stay with my friend in Toronto. I needed some sleep and a break. As the months went on, I learned very quickly that certain foods created symptoms and my diet became more and more restricted. I developed red spots on my thighs that corresponded with pains in my joints and no medical professional could find the answer. My story was minimized and dismissed, and no one could offer any solutions. Even my observation that altering my diet had an impact was not believed by most physicians. I was frustrated and discouraged this time it was my health that was the problem and again I had no solutions. The infection that created my challenge occurred 20 years ago. The baby I was nursing is now 21. Our children are bright, athletic, and amazingly healthy. The change in their diet that I made 25 years ago has been worth every minute of extra baking and creative meal planning. I know without a doubt that their health challenges would have continued to worsen and many of the amazing opportunities they have had would not have been possible. I am grateful every day for God s intervention and caring as he placed that glowing book on the bookshelf that afternoon in Toronto. It is has been my pleasure and privilege for 25 years to share the story of our children and to encourage other parents to love their children enough to take the risk and try it. The gifts that are possible for their children might just be beyond their wildest expectations.
11 As for me, my story is far from over. I finally, after years and years of medical appointments and testing, have a diagnosis for my problem. I now have an autoimmune disorder that is the result of that overwhelming infection I had 20 years ago. My joints are impacted and some days going to the gym is more than I feel I can do. However, I go anyway. I have personal trainers who care and who adapt my workout to what I can do. I have had a few ambulance rides and a few hospital visits because of the overwhelming abdominal pain that is part of my problem but most days I am well. I am well, to some degree, because I am choosing to be well. Focusing on my limitations is difficult so some days I still push it into my background and press on. I am, however, now blessed with people who care and safe places to share the frustration of my story. I have learned a lot because of my experience with my kids and have adapted my diet to maximize my health. If it were not for the wisdom I acquired in my effort to help them, I know I would not have the health I have today. God s support that day in the book store has impacted both my life and the life of my family for over 25 years. I will be forever grateful. In an effort to continue improving my own health, I have been involved in training for and running events as part of the Team in Training program (www.teamintraining.org) with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Western Canada. Exercise is one of the things that makes a big difference in my health and how I feel day to day. I ran and cycled with two friends who are courageous Hodgkin s disease survivors in an effort to raise money for young adults facing the challenge of blood cancers One of the most significant highlights of my life was crossing the finish line with these two wonderful women when we ran the Nike Women s half marathon in San Francisco in October, 2007! As I write this story today and put it down on a page, I have a purpose in doing so. I have had the pleasure for most of the last 25 years of sharing my story in support of others facing similar challenges. The issue of food sensitivities is a common one and there are thousands of children and adults whose health is being impacted all the time. I am now a nurse (again!) after regaining my license and am a certified professional life coach. I now offer
12 my support and encouragement to others as they attempt to overcome the hurdles I once faced. Whether their adversity is related to diet or whether it is occurs because of other challenges in their life, it is my privilege to help them reconnect to their own resilience and strength. It is my privilege to support them to find their dreams and to believe they are possible. My business card says, HOPE IS THE ANCHOR OF THE SOUL and I believe this to be true. One of the best ways to heal a long and difficult story is to find meaning in it. I have found meaning in my struggles by offering my experiences to others with the goal that they will find hope for their story. It is clear to me that God has been walking along beside me through this entire journey. He has offered me books, amazing people, opportunities, and more just when I needed it. Some days I wish I had found it sooner and some days I certainly wish I had more healing for my own health in this moment but, most days at least, I am grateful for where I am. As I watch our son and daughter in law use what I have learned to maximize the health of our grandson I know it has all been worth it. He is a bright, fun loving and healthy little boy who thrives on a gluten free, dairy free, soya free diet! I admire his mom s courage and perseverance in carefully adjusting her diet during pregnancy and nursing to offer her son the very best chance at a healthy start in life. Our grandson eats only carefully made homemade baby food, eats like a horse and is the picture of perfect health. Who would have guessed how much I would have learned in 25 years and what a difference it would make to my own family. I would be remiss if I didn t pay tribute to all the amazing people who have contributed to this part of my life. It has been a long and sometimes arduous process and I have been more than grateful for the support of others on my journey. -To my husband who has been patient and supportive as I have adjusted, readjusted and then readjusted again the diet of our family. You have supported us all through more challenges and issues than I could ever have anticipated and have also embraced the diet for yourself. You, too, have found improved health because of it. We have experienced many ups and downs in our 32 years of marriage but have always worked together as a team. We are now reaping the wonderful blessings of our effort! I definitely married the right man!!
13 -To our children who have been patient most of the time, as well, as I cooked different foods and readjusted their diets. You managed peer pressure, made healthy choices despite it and enjoyed life to the fullest in the midst of the many annoying limitations your diet offered. You have embraced the changes and sometimes annoying restrictions all the way into adulthood a courageous thing to do and a story I use often in my work to inspire others who say it can t be done. You are all amazing gifts in my life and I am enjoying more than you probably know watching you all thrive as adults. As you marry and have children of your own, it will be a gift to watch as you use the wisdom you have gained to maximize the health of your own families the best way to find meaning in my struggle that I can possibly imagine! -To Marg, my friend of over 40 years who has listened to my struggles, offered support, cooked the right foods for my kids, and travelled every leg of this journey with me. I cherish our friendship and know we ll grow old still talking about the old days. You, too, have embraced a diet that eliminates dairy and wheat products and found health for yourself and your family, as well. How great that now we can share stories in this part of our life, as well. -To Fran, my saviour in Toronto. When the entire world was collapsing around me and I felt completely hopeless, God placed you as my neighbour. Without your encouragement and support I m not sure I would have made it. You cared for my kids and for me, fed us the right foods, listened to my insights, ideas, and frustrations and even bought me the cookbook that began my journey. I will be forever grateful both for your help then and for the lifetime friendship we now have. -And, finally, to Laura. You are another of God s gifts to me. You arrived in my life at a place of despair and lifted me out of the hopeless place where I was stuck. Your willingness to listen to my story and your lovely way of asking pushy and difficult questions has been the biggest piece of me being where I am today. You encouraged me to create more balance in my life and then held my hand as I tried to find it. I am deeply grateful for your love and caring and your push to put this story on paper. I am also enjoying the experience of watching your health and the health of your family be transformed by what I have learned. Margaret Evans