This is Part 2 of my interview with Kathryn Chastain Treat, the author of Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope. Part 1 appeared yesterday at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.
Kathryn, since reading your story about how toxic mold caused your severe allergies, I am much more aware of the chemicals in our lives, such as hairspray, dry cleaner bags, candles. Yesterday, when riding my bike, I passed a lady who must have bathed in perfume. I thought about you, how that perfume could send you to the hospital. Your book opened my eyes to multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). How common is MCS?
MCS is far more common than we realize. There are many who will complain about what happens when they use bleach or when they walk down the cleaning aisle at the grocery store. The thing is that many aren’t listening to the signals their bodies are giving them that these chemically laden cleaners aren’t safe for them. Those with severe drug allergies are in a way part of the MCS community because drugs are made with chemicals. Doctors and many in the medical community are still reluctant to accept that there is such a thing as MCS, so when patients come in complaining of chest pain, asthma, brain fogginess, or muscle fatigue when around chemicals they are labeled as hypochondriac or as having somatoform disorders (mental disorders causing physical symptoms). The numbers will surely climb when, and if, the medical community becomes more learned in this area.
So what can we as a society do to make a difference in the lives of those with MCS?
As a society we can become better educated about how chemicals affect those with MCS, asthma, and the public in general. We can lobby for testing of chemicals that are put in cleaners and cosmetics. Unfortunately, as long as the government and manufacturers can say less than 50 percent of the population experience problems, the chemicals will most likely continue to be used.
We can talk with our own doctors and stress the importance of keeping offices and waiting rooms fragrance free–no air fresheners, candles, and no cologne or perfume. There is nothing worse than going to a medical facility with illness and then being bombarded with unnecessary chemicals. Finally, we need to be accepting and accommodating of those who suffer with chemical sensitivity.
While you had some wonderful doctors, you also encountered some that weren’t, and you had to fight to get workers’ compensation. What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with a chronic illness such as yours?
My advice to someone newly diagnosed is to seek out doctors and those in the medical profession that understand or are willing to research and think out of the box. I would also recommend that they research their illness and learn as much as they can about it and find online support groups. The hardest part about chronic illness is learning to accept our new limitations and to ask for help. It took me a long time to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to do what I had done before. Giving up a lot of my independence and having to have others do things that I used to do was–and still is–extremely difficult. My advice is to be accepting and to love yourself despite your limitations. Treat yourself with the same love and compassion you would treat someone else in your shoes.
Anyone coping with chronic illness can benefit from reading your story, Katherine. Thank you for sharing, and I hope your health continues to improve.
Register to win a copy of Kathryn’s memoir at Rafflecopter
For a signed copy (US only), go to Kathryn’s website
For helpful resources, visit www.kathryntreat.com
This post originally appeared at Adventures of An Allergic Foodie