PWC student Eileen Magill shares a personal reflection on her mother’s experience with Celiac disease.
I must have been 12 or 13 when I realized my mom wasn’t well. She was showing signs of illness before then, but I had been too consumed with teenage affairs to notice. She was Superwoman, and to a naïve 13 year old, Superwoman could defeat any and every type of adversity.
In her 20’s, she was nothing short of stunning. She had thick brown hair, a flawless tan the colour of beach sand, and the body of a supermodel. But most importantly, she was healthy.
When she was 35, she was finally diagnosed with Celiac disease, but was sick for a long time before then. For years, she experienced massive weight loss, chronic pain, constant fatigue, anemia, and confusion. I remember at one point she had become so thin and fragile that I could see the bones protruding from her skin. Her face had developed so many wrinkles and her hair had grown so gray that people were astonished when shown photos of her in her 20’s. She was hospitalized 18 times before doctors finally discovered what was wrong with her. But by then, it was already too late. The Celiac had already eaten away at her digestive tract and it can now never be repaired.
Celiac disease causes the immune system to mistake gluten as a toxin and therefore sends out immunities to attack it in the intestines, destroying them in the process. It causes both physical and mental breakdown – nausea, pain, weight loss, dental enamel, depression, anxiety, irritability, and more.
The day I learned how serious my mom’s illness was, we were baking a cake for my 13th birthday. We were laughing at something my little sister did when my mom sneezed and cake batter flew and showered her face – her mouth, her nose, her skin – with gluten. We knew she wasn’t allowed to consume it, but we were ignorant of the consequences if she did.
Later that day, my friends and I were playing video games on my Nintendo 64 when I heard a big bang from upstairs. I ran up to discover that my mom had fallen over in pain and was too confused to find her way to the bedroom. Terrified, I called an ambulance and they arrived right away. I felt just as confused as my mom when I finally realized the source of her pain– the cake batter she had accidentally inhaled earlier was quite literally destroying her. Gluten was her kryptonite.
Today, my mom is much more careful around gluten, but even a crumb the size of a grain of salt can trigger an episode of violent illness, confusion, weakness, suffering.
While I was home visiting her this past weekend, I tagged along to one of her doctor’s appointments. I learned that her Celiac had progressed so much that it created other health problems such as hypothyroidism and collagenous colitis.
She doesn’t tell anyone about her illnesses because she doesn’t want them to think any differently of her. “My having Celiac may limit me from doing the same things as other people” she says. “But it will never change the one thing I really care about – my ability to be a good mother.” And she is right. She doesn’t let her kryptonite disable her. She has and will continue to be my mom, the Superwoman.