I can't believe that Mia's seven years old already! I vividly remember the day I brought her home, marveling at how tiny she was and praying my allergies wouldn't force me to give her up. Not only did I get to keep her, but I've added nine more to the family since then, not to mention all of the fosters in between!
Why am I reflecting on this now, you ask? Because I'm in a WebMD article that discusses how people have over come their allergies to "thrive"!
Staying Active and in Control Despite Their Allergies
Meet four people with allergies who combine medication, alternative therapies, and the right attitude to maintain control over their lives.
By Don Fernandez
For people who have allergies, the challenges of remaining physically active can easily outweigh the benefits to their health and mental well-being. Running, swimming, and even gardening -- how enjoyable can these activities be when just taking a breath is so exhausting?
But having seasonal allergies doesn't mean you have to become a shut-in. Nor does it mean, even in environments where pollen and other irritants are plentiful, that you have to give up exercise. "Allergies are not a disability,” says Clifford Bassett, MD. Bassett, an allergist/immunologist, is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. “With the wonderful ways we have for diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma,” he says, “people can do quite well.” Bassett tells WebMD he sees many people who participate in sports at all levels. “It's a disease you can conquer and control," he says.
Liz Erk: Runner, Rower, Skater
Liz Erk never believed she was strong enough, fast enough, or tough enough. A runner in her youth, she would quickly run out of breath, wheezing and panting for air. The same thing happened when she joined the rowing team at Northwestern University.
"I used to beat myself up," says Erk, 31, of Boston. "I just thought I was out of shape."
Fitness wasn't the problem. The same allergies that caused Erk to feel as if she was suffocating when she was near a cat also affected her athletic performance. Her whole family, in fact, is challenged by a bevy of allergens: cats, trees -- particularly pine -- dust, and pollution. "I have memories of visiting relatives with cats and we'd have to time the visits," she says. "As I got to be 10 years old, I couldn't breathe around cats. It was not a lot of fun."
As she grew into adulthood, her passion for activity was often curtailed by unpleasant allergy symptoms that made athletics and even socializing a challenge. Instead of retreating indoors, though, she decided to tackle the problem head on.
First came the allergy medication, which helped ease her difficulty with breathing and relieve her asthma symptoms. Next, she turned to acupuncture, which provided more relief. Soon she noticed a marked improvement. The only exception was when the foliage changed each fall and spring.
She still had a problem with cats, but then ironically fell in love with a kitten named Mia. A doctor told her to get rid of the furry feline, but she refused. Then a friend gave her some encouraging advice: Making a kitten part of your home, her friend said, might allow your system to develop immunity to the allergens as the cat matures.
So she did it, and it worked -- perhaps too well, she chuckles. Erk now owns 10 cats and volunteers at a cat shelter in her spare time. She even upgraded to a three-bedroom home specifically so her cats would have room to roam. An activity that she once considered "virtual suicide" has now become an integral part of her life and lifestyle. No more wheezing. Her eyes no longer swell shut when she hears a "meow" and the cat nuzzles her. She even credits fighting against her cat allergy with improving her social life. She no longer shies away from visiting friends who have pets.
Meanwhile, Erk's found a new athletic passion. Two years ago, she learned how to skate and started to play ice hockey. That’s brought back her inner competitor. "For my level, I'm pretty fast," Erk says. "And it's all because I have the stamina for it."
Fighting back against the irritants that caused her such grief has altered Erk's life both mentally and physically. "My life is completely different," she says. "Tackling my allergens head on made a total difference for me. I'm in the best shape of my life."
I thought it was a fun little piece! The only inaccuracy is that I went to Northeastern University, not Northwestern. But that's okay!
So happy 2009 and here's to another year of breathin' easy! (Or at least trying... I definitely have my tough days, but hey... I'm happy to have gotten as far as I have after all these years.