I am very pleased to present an interview I did with Kathryn Treat of Allergic to Life, the blog and now the book also! She’s one of my favorite bloggers and I’ve ready many excerpts from her newly published book on her blog. I’ll be buying the book soon if I don’t win it in her rafflecopter giveaway!
When Kathryn says she’s allergic to life, she doesn’t mean it the way a teenager might if they were trying to weasel out of going to school one day. After exposure to mold in her workplace, Kathryn was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or MCS. In modern times, unfortunately, chemicals are life. Most of us don’t go five minutes without exposing ourselves to multiple kinds of chemicals. Imagine being suddenly allergic to every self care product you used – deodorant, toothpaste, soap. Then you realized they had contaminated every item of clothing you own. And your bed. And every inch of carpet in your home. That is the tip of the iceberg of Kathryn’s experience.
Here’s the thing that got me subscribing to her blog (and many other MCS blogs) – most of us are “sensitive” to chemicals. Most of us get a headache when someone wears too much perfume. Most of us take special care not to come in to direct contact with cleaning products and bug poisons. I go in to coughing fits if I inhale a breath of secondhand cigarette smoke. And you might think oh pooh, those are obviously bad chemicals! But the same chemicals that are in cigarettes and poison are in deoderant, toothpaste, soap… And again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You may have heard a bit about the carcinogens in plastic and tin, or the very evil GMOs taking over your local grocery store. And the more you think about it, the more overwhelming it is – well geeze, EVERYTHING is poisoned! So most of us keep buying deoderant and lysol and fabreeze because we’ve been ok so far, right? But nobody knows how much of these chemicals it takes to threaten your life. So, like a canary in a coal mine, we never know until it’s almost too late. Then people like Kathryn are left to change every aspect of their lifestyle while recovering from a near-death experience.
I know I blathered on WAY too long on a post that’s supposed to be all about Kathryn, but I’m VERY passionate about this cause!!! With my two cents in, here’s a bit about Kathryn, her story, and her book:
First, tell us a little about your story with illness.
Three months after returning to work following a seventeen-year stint as a stay at home mom I began getting ill. My illness at first presented itself with severe sinus pain and constant sinus infections that would not clear up despite medications and more than one sinus surgery. I then began developing severe allergies and sensitivities. We discovered a fungal infection in my sinuses and mold in my workplace.
Next, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the elder of two daughters. I was born in Missouri and raised in California’s Central Valley. Before my illness, I was an active woman and mother of two when I became ill. I helped build our home including my nailing off 2500 square feet of subfloor during the day while my husband was at work. I was a room mother for my daughters’ classrooms, a PTA president, 4-H leader, athletic booster club member, and served two terms as a school board member. I sewed the clothes my daughters wore and made crafts that I sold yearly at a Christmas Boutique held in my home with other women. I was socially active with friends and family as well.
How did illness affect your job?
My illness affected my job tremendously. In the short time that I was able to work, I took more than one leave of absence to either recover from surgery or IV antibiotic therapy that was similar to taking chemo drugs. I was hired as the school secretary which relieved the school secretary of many duties. Every time I had to take time off from work, she had to once again do my job as well as hers. I worked despite stomach cramps and nausea from medications and an IV line in my arm. I worked through fevers that lasted nonstop for over six months. Eventually I had to take a leave of absence for most of the school year and discovered that it would be impossible to return to work with all my chemical sensitivities and allergies.
What are your plans for the future?
I have learned not to make too many plans for the future because something always comes along and changes those plans. Continuing my treatments and therapies that help me stay well and that I hope will push my healing furthers is foremost in what I need to do. I want to continue to use my voice to raise awareness of not only chemical sensitivity, food allergies, and the effects of mold but of chronic illness. In the back of my mind are ideas for a possible second book.
Do you have any advice for newly diagnosed patients?
First let me say that I empathize with those newly diagnosed patients whether it is what I deal with on a daily basis or some other chronic or invisible illness. I know how hard it is to get diagnosed and then to have others understand. I would tell these patients to be prepared to do research and to keep track of their symptoms and reactions and what they had done, eaten, or been around in the hours or days before. If a doctor does not believe them or negates their symptoms, find another doctor. Only they know how they truly feel. My ENT in the beginning would look at my sinuses and not see any signs of infection when I just knew there was one based on how my body was feeling. Within a day or two, the signs of infection would be very obvious confirming what I knew in my gut. Thankfully, my doctor soon realized that I knew better than anything what was going on in my body and we became a team in my treatment.
Tell us a little about your book.
Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope is exactly what the title implies. This is my story of my battle through mold exposure, chronic infections, chemical sensitivities, food allergies, and isolation. It is my story of battling to survive, finding the courage to keep going forward when I just wanted to disappear, and battling for hope that someday my life could be normal or at least better. I also discovered along the way that this is just not my story but the story of many who suffer from chronic illness no matter the cause or name associated with it. It became evident once I started writing this ten years ago that need was twofold. My original reason was to educate others on what it is like to suffer from chronic illness and to be so isolated and afraid. I learned that it also became a healing journey as I dealt with the illness head on as I not only wrote the story but read my journals for the first time since writing them in the early hours on many sleepless nights.
How did you get your book published?
After many years of working on my story and deciding it was time to send it on its way out into the world. I thought long and hard about how I would publish. For me the answer was to self-publish. I wanted to maintain control of my content and my cover and I didn’t want to wait for a publisher to decide whether or not they thought my story was worthy of publishing.
Do you have any advice for writers in general?
I don’t feel I know enough to give advice to other writers. What I can say is if you feel you story is important enough, keep writing it. Above all, have it edited before submitting it to publishers or before self-publishing.
How has illness affected your family life?
My illness has affected my family life in so many ways. Family now have to wear a tyvek suit (prevents the fragrances and chemicals from their clothing contaminating my airspace). It has affected shopping trips with my daughters and it has drastically affected how we celebrate holidays. Holidays were always spent at the home of my parents. I can no longer go into my parents’ home and holidays are now spent here. Again, this requires everyone to either wear a tyvek suit or put on clothes that I have purchased for them that they slip into in my garage before coming in. My granddaughters will never know what it is like to sit in the great grandparents’ home and experience what their mother, aunt and grandparents have experienced. It is our new normal.
Tell us about your academic life.
I graduated from high school and began attending our local community college. I graduated from the community college with an AS degree in secretarial science and immediately began my secretarial career.
How did you balance illness, school, work, family, etc.?
When I began working and started becoming sick, my daughters were finishing high school and starting their college years. It was difficult balancing illness, work, and family life. I was always too sick or too tired to participate in many activities. I wasn’t as present at that point in my daughters’ lives as I would have liked to have been. All my energy was focused on finding therapies and treatments to make me well and ease my pain.
What did a bad day look like for you?
Oh my, where do I begin? I have had so many versions of a bad day. I would say one of my worst bad days was having an anaphylactic reaction to an IV antibiotic that I had just started. It was an antibiotic that I had taken before without any problems. I had a PICC line in my arm for the IV medication and the tubing ran from my arm to a pump that I wore around my waist during the treatment. I had just started the treatment and was heading into the living room to put the IV bag into the fanny pack. As I fumbled to put the IV bag in the fanny pack, I started having vision problems. I walked back into the kitchen carrying the IV bag to look at the possible side effects and by the time I reached the kitchen table I was losing my vision and couldn’t read the paper. Immediately I headed for the living room and the telephone. I dropped the IV bag, the IV line broke, I fell onto the coffee table, and I landed between it and the sofa. I tried to call 911 but I couldn’t lift my arm. I went in and out of consciousness as I tried desperately to get the phone. Finally I got it and had to feel my way up the key pad for the numbers because my vision still had not yet returned. As I lay there alone on the floor waiting for the emergency services, I prayed that my husband would not come home and find me dead.
That’s terrifying! What is your favorite comfort when you’re sick or just feeling down?
My favorite comfort is curling up in bed or on my love seat with a throw, a cup of hot green tea, and an old movie classic.
What sort of hobbies do you have?
I love to embroider and it is something I did in my younger days. I picked it back up as a way to keep myself busy and my mind occupied on something other than my illness. I also love to read and feel very blessed that out of all the chemicals I became sensitive to, ink wasn’t one of them. After years of not being able to sew because of visual overstimulation with patterns and color, I have been able to sew again as well.
How do you feel your faith affected your view/experience of being sick?
In the beginning I questioned why I was allowed to become so sick. Why me? I began praying not to just get well but for understanding and acceptance of my life and my newfound sensitivities. I believe my faith has grown stronger through my battles. There is a reason I became ill and I believe it is to provide a voice and to share my experiences.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?
That is a difficult question to answer. Obviously I believe raising two daughters who are both kind and caring is number 1 along with still being married to the same wonderful man after 37 years. Another accomplishment has been my ability to keep going despite the many obstacles thrown in front of me and to manage to write a book about them.
Obviously you don’t LOOK sick, how do you look?
When I am not wearing my charcoal mask to avoid fragrances and chemicals, I look like your average 59-year-old woman who has chosen to stop coloring her hair and does not feel the need to wear make-up. There has been a time when I truly did look sick even without the mask (pictures have been included in the book).
Talk about a hook! I think Kathryn’s story is so compelling. Heck, I was on the edge of my seat during this interview! I can’t wait to read the whole thing, and I hope you guys will check it out as well.