Why I Love FARE Teen Summit
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Nicholas Cannistraci
People often recount stories about times in which they felt such intense fear of death that they “see their lives flash before their eyes.” On August 16, 2013, that person was me. I had an anaphylactic reaction after eating food from a restaurant that had assured me their food was peanut and tree nut free. As my throat tightened, my breath shortened, my chest constricted, and my stomach clenched, I felt I would never be able to trust a restaurant or anyone else that offered me food again. Although I had experienced allergic reactions prior to this event, this was the first reaction when, at eleven years old, I was old enough to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.
The events of that night haunted me for the months to come. I couldn’t go to sleep without the feeling creeping back into my throat or back into my stomach. I experienced that same sensation every day in the school cafeteria. It was all psychological, but how could I have understood that at the time? My mother furiously researched things that she believed would help me live my life in peace. We stumbled upon the FARE Teen Summit. We were already familiar with FARE, as we had participated in their fundraising walks in our town. My first Teen Summit was 3 months after this anaphylactic reaction, and although I was physically recovered at that time, it was the teen summit that helped me recover mentally.
My first Teen Summit was in Washington D.C. I was extremely nervous when I arrived, but made friends very quickly and easily because all of these tweens and teens shared something with me that my other friends had never fully understood: food allergies. These were kids who had experienced eating at a separate table in the school cafeteria; going to birthday parties and foregoing cake and treats; having to read the label and make phone calls about every single piece of food they put into their mouths; going to restaurants and having to ask the manager and waiter questions about allergies to ensure your safety; leaving restaurants because they couldn’t accommodate your allergy; bringing your own food to relatives and friends homes; living in fear, and the list goes on…
The Teen Summit, which I have attended every year since 2013, has always been a fun, learning experience. During the seminars I attended, I learned more about the scientific aspects of food allergies. I also learned better ways to stay safe and how to handle social situations. I was basically given the tools to navigate my teenage life more safely and enjoyably. The summit was also interactive and I learned as much from my food allergy peers as I did from the speakers. I met people who had even more allergies than I do. I learned what was difficult for them and how they handled themselves in different scenarios which were similar to my own. The Teen Summit also provided plenty of opportunities to roleplay, brainstorm, ask questions and share stories. The trivia games, Saturday night social/party and dining out with other families is always lots of fun too! By the way – it’s an amazing feeling to not be the only person who has to ask the waiter a million question!
The FARE Teen Summit was and has been a great influence on my life. I gained a plethora of information from both the seminar leaders and from the relationships I made with other teens attending the summit. Meeting other people with allergies similar to my own and learning about their successes and failures and how they manage their allergies was a great way for me to become more comfortable managing my own allergies at home. For the first time, I did not feel so alone in my food allergy experience.
As a result of the personal growth I experienced from these summits, I gradually became more and more comfortable handling my allergies, and the stress that I had had going into my first Teen Summit weekend gradually began to dissipate. I also developed a friend and support group with the other teens who attended. We stay in touch through social media, and there is great comfort in being able to reach out to someone who knows exactly what you are going through with the click of the finger. The summit is something that has made my life easier and attending it is one of the best decisions that my parents and I have ever made.
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