The big question...
There may be a celiac vaccine in our future.
That's the word from Down Under this month. An Australian biotechnology company called ImmusanT, Inc. is developing an immunotherapeutic vaccine for celiac disease. And guess what? The Phase 1 clinical trial went swimmingly. Read about their positive results here at the NFCA's Celiac Central.
It's a very odd feeling to imagine eating gluten again, after almost ten years of banishment. A decade of shunning gluten is no small feat. In a food culture that worships wheat, and elevates the gentle science of baking to both a high art (think crusty, fresh baked baguette) and a low art (say, pizza pockets), living gluten-free is akin to attempting to mambo in a minefield.
Gluten lurks everywhere.
Not only where you’d anticipate it (pizza, bagels, beer) but in sly, coy disguises, hiding in plain sight (soy sauce, broth, herbal tea). And even the most modest of amounts (a few stray crouton crumbs, perhaps) can trigger one’s hyper-vigilant immune system and ignite a fiery swath of digestive destruction, albeit mostly invisible to the naked eye (unless, like me, you are doubly blessed with symptoms and sport the eruptive skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis).
Feelings akin to those sticky, fluttery uncertainties (if not subtle panic) one feels dodging the unbidden proposal of matrimony (or tip-toeing backwards on a Sunday morning walk of shame) begin to trickle in.
Is this something I really want?
And would I, if I could?
Would I take the shot and blissfully chow down a warm chocolate croissant (my most missed food)? Or would I bolster myself with the conviction that gluten remains universally toxic- and I, for one, am not interested in a toxic relationship?
Would I decide that living gluten-free is the way I would choose to live, even if I didn’t have to?
I yawned awake the other day, shaking off a heated, dreamless torpor, thinking about celiac disease and gluten-free blogging. I’ve been sharing my recipes for almost six years now. My intention was to help others wrestling with the same demons I was. Somehow, knowing I was connecting with other cilia-impaired folks kept me from navel gazing and obsessing on my own dietary restrictions, and inspired me to immerse myself in the life I was given- a gluten-free wheat-free life by necessity (and design, if one factors in genetics).
I started pondering the multifaceted topic of identity and whether or not I identified myself as a celiac.
Does celiac disease define me?
I wrote to my family and friends on Facebook-
Woke with a gnawing realization. I don't desire to be the poster child for celiac disease. I share my recipes because it helps others. But I don't identify with my disease. It is not who I am, or where my heart is.
Having a gene that predisposes me to an autoimmune disease is only one small aspect of who I am. Just like eye color (hazel green), or my inability to whistle, the piece of me that is celiac does not define me as a person.
When I pause a moment to self reflect, I feel as a woman, first. I think as a mother, a wife and partner. I see as an artist, a lover of music and words and paint.
I never glance in the mirror and think, I am a celiac.
I gain no insight by framing myself in this way- by my disease.
I do not define myself by my limitations.
If I did, I would have to include my lifelong nearsightedness, and my proclivity to navigate space poorly, and lose my high center of gravity balance. I would share with you that I am a woman with a tricky uterus who was unable to give birth without surgical intervention. I would list my dizzying fear of heights (and dark, confined spaces). I would sketch you an image of an asymmetrical jaw and arthritic hands.
But I am not the sum of my cranky, imperfect parts.
The I of who I am rests somewhere in the space created each time I breathe, in and out. Who I am is how I feel, and I feel with my heart. I am all the choices I have ever made, from my very first cry. A million choices, tiny and forgotten, and big, deep, life changing decisions. I am my mistakes, and my failures. Those remain in me longer than any success.
The scars I have earned have knitted me with strength.
I listen. I watch. I dream.
Who I am changes. And who I am remains the same.
Does gluten have a say in this? I vote no.
Will I get the celiac vaccine and eat gluten in the future?
More will be revealed.
And what about you- will you?