“Having a companion who understands you, protects you and advocates for you is necessary when facing life's obstacles as a food-allergic child.”
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Lexi Rosenbloom
I have always thought that having a sibling is like having a built-in best friend. Whether they are older or younger, having someone to lean on for constant support and guidance creates a bond like no other. What happens when sibling dynamics shift because one child has been diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies and the other child is told that they have to be responsible and aware that their sibling's life could be at risk at all times? Food allergies have an impact on the entire family. How can siblings make the significant adjustment that comes with a food allergy diagnosis manageable?
When I was one year old, I was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies to milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, fish and red meat. At the time, my older sister Gabby was four years old. My family knew that while my life was going to change drastically, theirs would as well. In the months after my first anaphylactic reaction, my family quickly decided, with no hesitation, that we would have a zero-risk policy. As they were figuring out the ins and outs of life with an allergic child, all of the foods that I was allergic to were strictly prohibited in our home. My parents realized that this was taking a toll on my sister when they caught her hollering, "Cheese! Cheese!" in her sleep. It is just a silly example but an accurate representation of the struggle that a sibling of someone with food allergies faces.
Any sibling will always feel the need to protect their sister or brother, but those feelings are only amplified when that sibling has food allergies. Truthfully, I am lucky because this transition felt so easy. There was never a negative connotation that came with allergies, a feeling like I was an imposition, or a time where I felt unsafe. In fact, I have not had an anaphylactic reaction since I was diagnosed.
Because I had to learn how to take care of myself at such a young age, I felt like a full-fledged adult by the time I was six! With this new-found maturity also came the recognition that not everyone has the luxury of a smooth transition into life with allergies. I owe a lot of my experience to my sister. If I thought I had to become more responsible and mature at a young age because of my allergies, my sister did the growing up right alongside me. Having a companion who understands you, protects you and advocates for you is necessary when facing life's obstacles as a food-allergic child. On my first day of school, my sister told my friends to wipe their hands after eating. When it was pizza day at summer camp, Gabby sat with me at a picnic table outside when I was too shy to stand up for myself. Having Gabby is truly like having a second version of myself who just gets it.
Together we learned that there are ways to make food allergies easy and understandable for siblings! My family found a way to make it fun. We played trivia at night so we both could learn what was safe for me to be around, we celebrated when Gabby got her EpiPen certification, and we spent hours and hours testing and coming up with food allergy-friendly recipes. These are just a few of the ways to make life with an allergic sibling better.
The lifestyle we live as food-allergic families is different and sometimes scary, but that doesn’t mean it’s a burden. I am now 18 years old and Gabby is 22; we can confidently say that we have always felt like equals. It’s amazing to have a built-in best friend under any circumstances. As a person with life-threatening food allergies, sharing that sibling bond is all the better.