I grew up in a small town in northern Ontario. I had a wonderful childhood with a loving family. My older brother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of two. My parents were very conscious of what we were eating as a family in order to keep my brother’s blood sugars stable. We rarely had treats, and when we did, they were low sugar or sugar free. We also ate homemade meals the majority of the time. This focus on diet, I was accustomed to growing up, is what sparked my passion for healthy eating.
Although my family ate what was considered a heathy and balanced diet, I still had health issues. Rashes, eczema, headaches, belly aches, and very painful bms had become a part of my normal. It was never even a question that my health issues were from something I was eating.
By the time I went to university, I had also developed a consistent urge to clear my throat. I always felt like I had mucous in my lungs that needed to come out, but no matter what I did, nothing ever came out. I saw an eyes, ears and throat doctor, who determined it would be best to remove my tonsels as they were enlarged and swollen. I was hopeful this would help my urge to clear my throat, but discouragingly, it did not.
I started a work term placement at the university, where I met Sylvie. We clicked instantly since we both had a passion for healthy eating. We would discuss our health issues with one another daily. Our friendship was a type of support I had never felt before. She got me, she understood!
I moved on to another work placement, away from the university and away from Sylvie. I was working downtown with other students, which made it all too easy to eat out at restaurants more frequently. I also started grabbing a coffee and muffin in the mornings out of convenience.
My belly aches and painful bms had gotten even worse by this time. I went to see a GI specialist who told me I needed more fiber, and suggested I ate more bran. At the time, whole wheat was all the rage. You know when pizza places started offering whole wheat crusts and whole wheat pasta had hit the stores? I started replacing foods with the whole wheat versions and adding in bran muffins as my breakfast muffin. My health took a turn for the worse. I would wake in the middle of the night bent over with excruciating belly aches. Indigestion and bloating were occurring even more frequently and fainting spells would catch me off guard.
I returned back to the university for the rest of my work terms. This meant working alongside Sylvie again!
Sylvie had started seeing a naturopath who suggested she had a wheat allergy. Knowing my health issues, Sylvie encouraged me to try going gluten free. I committed to a week of eating completely gluten free. By the end of the week, it was like a light beam shone down from the sky, because HALLELUJAH, I felt normal for the first time! The painful bms, the bloating, the indigestion were gone. I was shocked and amazed that my health drastically improved simply by removing gluten from my diet! It just blew my mind!
Sylvie and I began experimenting with gluten free baking and we’d often bring treats to work for each other. Looking back now, we laugh at some of the things we made AND ate! Back then gluten free was not what it is today. Most people had never even heard of gluten. Tasty recipes were not easily found so we made sure to stay positive with what we made!
My new gluten free life was suiting my digestion quite well. I was on the road to recovery, or what I thought was recovery. But damage had already been done. Shortly after discovering my gluten sensitivity, I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosis.
It started out as a small tear. I noticed it was taking a long time to heal and it was quite itchy. I went to my MD who referred me to a gynaecologist. The gynaecologist took one look and instantly diagnosed lichen sclerosis. I am grateful for finding out so soon as most women with lichen sclerosis are misdiagnosed over and over. Although I was diagnosed quickly, I was misinformed and under informed about the disease. I was prescribed steroid ointment and was told to use it whenever I felt needed and the LS would go away. No follow-up appointment, no talk about this being a lifelong autoimmune condition, only a prescription for steroid ointment and I was sent on my way. I went home and did a bit of research on it. It scared the heck out of me! Since the doctor told me the ointment would work and acted like it was no big deal, I convinced myself not to worry. In hindsight, this was a good thing at the time, since stress, as all of us with autoimmune conditions know, is usually a major trigger. I used the ointment whenever I felt I needed to, like I was told, and it did help…for awhile.
I continued on eating gluten free but decided it would be a good idea to get some tests done. I was tested for celiac disease, but by this time, I had been eating gluten free for a year. For this reason, the test was inaccurate. The doctor suggested I eat gluten for at least eight months, which I wasn’t willing to do. I knew the affect gluten had on me, and at the time, I felt like I didn’t need a test to confirm this! I was also tested for lactose intolerance, and was diagnosed as severely lactose intolerant. This was another clue that celiac disease was a big possibility, since lactose intolerance often occurs alongside celiac disease. Although I avoided gluten and dairy for years, I gave myself permission to indulge in wheat and dairy occasionally.
Time passed and so did most of my LS symptoms. I got rid of the steroid ointment and even forgot that I had LS!
Year 2008 was a big year for me. I graduated from university, got married, and a few months later found out I was pregnant! I adored being pregnant. I loved having a baby bump and feeling baby kick and move around, it was such a happy time.
I remember having some LS symptoms while pregnant but they were so minor that I didn’t even relate it to LS at the time. Then I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy! I was overjoyed! I had a wonderful natural birth – no epidural, or any other kind of pain meds. However, what I DID get was a strong antibiotic. I had tested group B positive prior to the birth. When a mother tests positive for group B, the common protocol is to administer penicillin, BUT I am allergic to penicillin. On top of the penicillin allergy, the nurses discovered late in the birth that I was group B positive. So in turn, they chose a very strong antibiotic that would work the fastest. I now know that this majorly screwed up my gut flora and was a huge trigger for my LS. My immune system was compromised from the strong antibiotic, the lack of sleep, and the stress that naturally comes from becoming a new Mother. The time after my son was born was a very joyful time in my life, but I was having trouble healing, and I was experiencing LS symptoms like never before…
To be continued…