Every Celiac Awareness Month, I can’t help but think back to my diagnosis over 20 years ago and how I’ve come full circle. 20 years ago, I was weak, frail and convinced I had cancer, somewhere, and that the doctors wouldn’t find it in time. Today, I am stronger than I have ever been.
Life has changed in the celiac disease world over the past 20 years, too. We’ve come a long way from the days of special ordering gluten-free food from other countries and living with a “rare” disease. There’s still work to be done but, rest assured, I have a lot of energy left and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) has big plans to help shift the focus away from solely the gluten-free diet and back to celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity’).
This May, we’re celebrating Celiac Awareness Month through our Heroes Within Us campaign. Every one of us in the gluten-free community is a hero. Each time you talk to someone about celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you make a difference. Every time you share NFCA’s Celiac Disease Symptoms Checklist, you increase the chances of someone else finally finding the answer to their ailments. With every waitress, waiter, chef or foodservice professional you educate on the importance of gluten-free training and proper protocols, you bring our community one step closer to safety within a gluten-filled world.
Each week in May, NFCA will unveil a community member who’s making an impact in the lives of those around them. Each is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. Because, in reality, that’s what a true hero is. Heroes don’t always wear a cape, carry a sword or act as vigilantes in the dark of night. Real heroes are the people who are admired for their courage to take their own hardship and turn it into something positive for the greater good of others.
I hope that you will be just as inspired by our heroes as I am and I encourage you to follow in their footsteps. Individually, we can make small steps towards change for the celiac disease and gluten sensitive communities. Together, we can help push the gluten-free diet from the main topic of conversation and rise above the noise of the fad diet to emphasize the health issues behind it so that those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can eat without fear and live their lives to the fullest.
Alice Bast is CEO of Beyond Celiac, the national organization working on behalf of the celiac patient community. Visit BeyondCeliac.org to learn more.