During the 2014 FARE teen conference a few months back, I was following their twitter feed and discovered a new resource for teens entering into college: Food Allergy Survival Guide College Edition. Written by a teen Lily Roth, and her mom, Nancy Popkin, it offers excellent, first-person, real world advice about the whole college process, from choosing the right program for you through that first scary year on your own.
*As with everything health and lifestyle related, please check with your medical health provider about your specific needs.*
I had a chance to ask Lily some questions about her excellent site. Read on!
Allergic Girl: What are your food allergies?
Lily Roth: I have anaphylactic allergies to milk, eggs, seafood, tree nuts, nightshade vegetables (potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper) and spices like cayenne and paprika, plus a few fruits and I don't eat wheat and soy because of another autoimmune condition. I also have asthma.
AG: What was your motivation to create your Food Allergy Survival Guide College Edition website?
LR: I decided to make my Food Allergy Survival Guide College Edition website because I felt like teens with food allergies were kind of ignored. There is a lot of support for food allergy parents and young food allergic children, but after elementary school the support kind of ends.
For me, the whole college process was frustrating. During my sophomore and junior year of high school, my parents and I went and looked at six different schools within three hours of home. Some of the schools I did not like and the ones I liked, didn't seem to have the right program, were very competitive or were not in a desired location. The last school we visited was the University of Pittsburgh. I fell in love with it from the moment I toured; they had the academic program I wanted and they were in the perfect location. The only problem was that it was six hours from my house, and at the time my parents were a little nervous about me going far away.
At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I applied and accepted to the University of Pittsburgh before the end of September. I knew that I wanted to go to Pitt and my stubbornness was not going to let my food allergies stop me from going to my dream school.
After the frustration of getting accommodations for my food allergies and spending months trying to learn how to manage my food allergies and other medical conditions on my own, I realized I would have loved to have met someone who had done it before. I would have loved to have had a mentor who could tell me how they did it, and I know that my mom would have loved to have talked to a mom who had sent their child with food allergies off to college. And because of that Food Allergy Survival Guide College Edition (http://foodallergysurvivalguide.weebly.com) was born.
It covers college application to college graduation and everything in-between. It is also ever evolving and we are continuously adding to it so that we can keep it as up to date and as comprehensive as possible.
AG: Who is the Food Allergy Survival Guide College Edition website for?
LR: While it is mostly geared toward food allergic high school and college students, there is also a parents only section and a section for college guidance counselors.
We also have a chapter of the guide that is geared towards newly diagnosed teens, and teens also managing other autoimmune conditions in addition to food allergies.
AG: What tools and resources did you find most helpful in creating the Food Allergy Survival Guide College Edition website?
LR: I found my mom to be a very useful resource. She is an award-winning writer and she was very good at catching my spelling mistakes and writing content for the guide.
As I was writing this guide, I was simultaneously Co-Chairing a FARE committee of college students and parents that was writing a guide for FARE to put out for teens going to college with food allergies and their parents (the guide should be released soon).
The committee was helpful in coming up with tips for students going to college with food allergies, which I found useful. Most of the content though, has come from my own personal experience and things my family has found to be beneficial.
AG: What would you do differently now that you have been in college since the fall of 2014?
LR: I would worry less about what people thought about my allergies. I graduated from Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, PA. It is a small private Quaker school where everyone knows everyone and everyone is accepted for who they are. All the teachers and staff along with the students knew about my allergies, and it was just part of who I was--no one really cared ore judged me for them, but I was still the food allergy kid.
I went into college with the mindset that I didn't want to be the food allergy kid because I didn't want people to think I was weird or weak. I spent a lot of time the summer before my first semester worrying that I wouldn't find friends as amazing as my Abington Friends School Friends and that people were going to think that my food allergies made me weak and that they wouldn't want to be my friend because of them.
In the first hour of college, I learned that I was highly mistaken. No one really cares about my allergies, and I have found amazing friends who I love and trust to take care of me if I have anaphylactic reaction.
AG: What are your three top tips for college-bound high schoolers?
1. Don't be worried about living in a single. When we went to the disabilities services for my apartment accommodation (because my allergies are too hard to accommodate in the dining hall) they told me they could only give me a single because they didn't think it would be safe to be using in mixed-use. For a while I was disappointed I couldn't have a roommate, but honestly I love having a quiet place to study when I need it, and the authority to invite over friends whenever I want without having to worry about bothering my roommate.
2. Don't choose your college because of your allergies. If you don't go to the school that you love, you are not going to want to be there and college isn't going to be a fun experience. Choose a college and then figure out what accommodations you need to live there and study there safely. At one point, my parents wanted me to go to Temple, which is close to home and while it is a good school, I know I would have spend my entire time wishing I was at Pitt instead.
3. Carry your epinephrine autoinjector. Sure Epi-Pens or Auvi-Qs don't always fit discretely in your little black dress or in your jean pocket, but they can be life saving and the reason that food allergies are often fatal is because epinephrine isn't used fast enough. Even if you haven't had an anaphylactic reaction before, you can never be too safe. A really quick way to loose your parent's trust in your ability to go to college and be independent is to not have your epinephrine on you.
AG: Where can we find you?
LR: You can find me volunteering as an EMT, doing community service, playing tennis or studying (you have to do a lot of that in college.) As far as social media goes, you can find our guide, Food Allergy Survival Guide-College Edition on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/foodallergysurvivalguide) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/fasurvivalguide). You can also find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lily.roth.37) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/lilzforthrilz)
Thank you, Lily!
|Lily Roth, used with permission.|