Hello, world! My name is Julie Bourne, and I am currently a freshman in college in the (luckily) relatively gluten-free friendly city of Denver, Colorado. I grew up in Seattle, Washington, living a relatively happy childhood. But there was always some wrong with me. I never thought much of it; I always just thought I was unique in that I had a really poor immune system, and there was not much I could do about it. Whether it was stomach ache, a cold, or pink eye, there was literally constantly something the matter with me (ask any of my childhood friends, and they will agree.) Most birthday parties, school lunches, and family dinner ended with me having to lie down with awful stomach pains. This is how I lived for about 14 years of my life.
In the last couple weeks of my senior year in high school, I developed a small lump underneath my armpit (the doctors referred to it very technically as a “swollen left axilla”). Little did I know, this was the beginning of a summer full of intense emotional and physical trials for both myself and my family. As the lump got bigger and bigger and the testing done by doctors got more and more uncertain, I feared the worst: Lymphoma (cancer of the immune system). After more tests and being poked with more needles than I could count with my fingers, the doctors finally discovered that the lump was benign (thank God!!), but they still wanted to remove it surgically to test the inflamed lymph nodes more thoroughly. By June, I was lying in my hospital gown being tranquilized and put to sleep for my surgery. All went well with the surgery, but the reason for the inflammation of the node was still a confusion to the doctors.
Days after my surgery, I had plans to road trip down to San Francisco for a senior trip with some friends. I flew down on an airplane, having just finished surgery, while my friends drove down. About the second day into the trip, my stitches in my armpit fell apart, and I had to hold everything together with some medical tape and gauze (not very easy considering this part of your body is moving constantly, with constant friction.) In the end, I made it through San Francisco; a little worn for wear, but I made it and had had a really good time.
Next up on the travel itinerary was a huge family trip to Europe. We would be going to Ireland, England, France, and Spain in three weeks. I figured that I was not as healthy as I would like, but I was going to have to suck it up: it’s Europe for Pete’s sake! Ireland and England went fairly well (minus a quick trip to the hospital in London because of my armpit growing an infection). Paris is when things really went downhill. It was just me and my sister staying there in a hostel, while my parents went on to Madrid. I was starting to feel extremely run down, I was having some issues with my stomach, and I just felt like such an awful travel mate for my sister. I had absolutely no interest in doing all the touristy things that we were there for, and I felt like I was wasting the trip. But I just couldn’t make myself do it, for reasons unknown to me (little did I know all those delicious French baguettes and pastries were killing me slowly). For the most part, I enjoyed Paris, but my memories are clouded with me feeling absolutely dreadful. I was relieved to go to Spain, where we would be reunited with our parents, and we had rented an apartment complete with a washer, and stove, and my own room. Granada, Spain was my favorite location on our entire trip, but it was when my body had just about hit its’ limit. (My doctor said it is a miracle I was even able to stand, let alone climb those Granada hills that rival those in San Francisco). About the third day in Granada, I was brought some tomato gazpacho at a restaurant. After one spoonful, the beautiful garden scenery around us started to spin as a gypsy woman and an obnoxious guitar player were trying to persuade us for money. I just wanted to scream at them to go away, but seeing as that was not about to happen, I decided I had to go back to the room or I was going to faint and all these obnoxious people around us were not going to make that situation any better. My mom decided to escort me back to the room which was a treacherous path of extremely narrow and downhill roads (one wrong step and you are likely to get hit by a car coming down the road). I had walked about 20 steps when I collapsed on a bench where I started shaking like a leaf and nearly hyperventilating. I pulled myself together, and told myself I had to make it to the room. If I was going to collapse, it was not going to be in public. My mom helped me walk very slowly, being sure that I wasn’t going to fall into the path of a car or motorcycle. All I remember is that I kept asking “are we even going the right way?” and “will we be there soon?” because frankly, I was minutes away from passing out or throwing up. There was one moment when we were walking down the road and I actually started gagging- the Spaniards walking by must have been thinking that I was some silly American girl who had had a little too much to drink. We made it back to the room after what felt like 2 hours (it was only about 15 minutes). I’ll spare you too many details, but after throwing up, I felt quite a bit better, but still weak.The woman who was renting out out apartment came to my room (bless her heart!) and gave me some wheat crackers to ease my stomach.In the words of Homer Simpson, D’oh! I spent the next couple of days in bed resting, just waiting for the 12 hour or so leg back home
. Right when we got home from Europe, we scheduled a doctors appointment. Turns out I had lost a dangerous amount of weight, going from about 125 to about 110 lbs in three weeks (5 lbs a week– this is a diet I DO NOT recommend…). On top of that, I was extremely dehydrated so I had to be given liquid through an IV (they had to stab me with a needle about four different times to even get in the IV because my veins were so thin). I literally thought I was dying, and I could see the fear in my parents’ faces. It was about a week before I was going to leave for college when my mom told me that if I didn’t improve soon, I wasn’t going to be leaving for college any time soon. This crushed me, but also motivated me to do nothing but work on my health. I was on a diet of bananas, toast, and rice for several days, until we got the call from my doctor. He had tested my blood for several diseases, and on a whim he had tested me for Celiacs disease. As it turns out, I tested positive, meaning I would have to swear off anything gluten for the rest of my life (if I wanted to live).
Gluten is what makes baked goods light and fluffy, it holds and thickens sauce, and it lurks in everything from soy sauce to root beer to candy. I was upset for approximately 2 minutes but as I started to research it more, I got excited. I could eat again! I would be healthy! No more constant coughing and colds! No more stomach aches after every single meal! I wouldn’t have to fake being healthy anymore: I would be healthy for real (something I had never truly experienced). That night, we ordered an extra large gluten free pizza with all my favorite toppings from Garlic Jims (shout out to my favorite pizza place for having gf crust!), and that was the happiest I had felt the whole summer. I knew I was eating something delicious that wasn’t hurting my body. When people ask me today if I miss donuts and cupcakes and pizza, I tell them two things: 1. There are replacements for nearly everything. Kinninkinnick glazed donuts taste like the real deal, Udi’s bread is amazing with pb&j , and there are so many good gluten free cake and brownie mixes out there. Bob’s Red Mill, anyone? 2. Nothing could ever taste good enough to be worth days of pain. I don’t get tempted to eat foods with gluten because I just lost all interest in them. Seeing what it did to my body makes me cringe at it: it’s like eating poison. Anyways, now that you have read my life story (it feels good to get that all out), I made this blog because I felt like there isn’t nearly enough information online about eating gluten free when you are in college, in a new place, with a dining hall full of glutenous foods, and only access to a small microwave and mini fridge. Basically, if I can be gluten free here, I can be gluten free anywhere. I have completed one quarter of school already, and I am currently on winter break, so I will begin documenting what I eat including reviews and tips along the way. Let’s do this thing.