When Tia Mowry’s son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy, it was life-changing for her entire family. The actress, of ‘Sister, Sister’ fame, is opening up about how she manages her son’s allergy – and encourages others to do the same.
By Allie Bahn
Tia Mowry grew up not knowing anyone with food allergies. Her first encounter with the condition happened when she was a mother – her son Cree was diagnosed at age 3 with peanut allergy, a development she found both surprising and worrisome.
“I wasn’t really looking for it because I never grew up with anybody who had a food allergy – not my brothers, or my sister, or my mom or my dad,” Mowry says. “You know, it wasn’t a topic of conversation.”
It is now.
Mowry, an actress, TV host and author who shot to fame with her twin Tamara in the 1990s sitcom “Sister, Sister,” is talking publicly about Cree, now 7, and his peanut allergy. Together with the biopharmaceutical company DBV Technologies, she is spearheading the campaign “Talking Peanut Allergy” to raise awareness of the seriousness of peanut allergy. Visit the campaign website at TalkingPeanutAllergy.com to learn more.
Allergy & Asthma Today recently talked with Mowry about her experiences raising her son while also managing his peanut allergy.
Q: Can you recount what happened when you first realized Cree was allergic to peanut?
A: I was putting him to bed at the end of the day. I started to see that he had some hives on his skin. I thought, ‘That’s interesting.’ I had never seen anything like it before. I examined the rest of his body and found hives all over his chest and back. My motherly instincts kicked in and I took him to the emergency room. When I was there, the doctors said the hives were an allergic reaction; they recommended I go see an allergist. So that’s what we did. Cree underwent some tests and he was diagnosed with a peanut allergy.
Q: Had you or your husband ever experienced food allergies before?
A: No. I knew sometimes certain foods can trigger eczema, but not like what I saw with Cree.
There’s a lot of anxiety that comes along with food allergies. You worry about accidental exposure every second of the day. When Cree is around food, my husband and I make sure he’s not exposed to peanut. But he is not around me all the time. He goes to school, he visits his grandparents, he hangs out with his friends. It’s a constant worry.
Q: How has life changed since the diagnosis?
A: We have faced many challenges. One thing is, I don’t want Cree to ever feel different or left out because of his food allergy, so I’m always on the lookout for allergy-safe food alternatives.
For example, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are staples for kids. It’s nice to know there are alternatives to peanut butter so that kids with peanut allergy don’t feel left out. There are great allergy-safe foods that Cree can have and enjoy. We try to come up with fun snacks like ants on a log, using sunflower butter instead of peanut butter.
Another thing we have done is educate Cree about his peanut allergy and what to do if he has an allergic reaction. It’s also important to educate people who I call “co-protectors” – family members and caretakers who may not have children with food allergies but need to be aware of the challenges that come along with the condition.
Q: How does Cree advocate for himself?
A: I’m a very proud mom because I love when he advocates for himself and takes control. When he goes to a restaurant, the waiter doesn’t even have to ask, ‘Are there any allergies?’ Cree will say up front ‘I’m allergic to peanut’ so the waiter understands and can take his order. Cree is very vocal about his peanut allergy, and there’s power in that.
Some kids with food allergies may feel they’re different and they may withdraw or not want to talk about it – but one of the best things you as a parent can do is encourage children to advocate for themselves, be vocal, and share their story.
Q: How long did you feel like it took to get a handle on Cree’s food allergy?
A: It took a while – I would say a good, solid two years. What helped a lot was research and educating myself, learning about food allergies and how to protect Cree during everyday activities and everyday life.
Sometimes you learn the hard way. One time we had a new caretaker and I told the caretaker that Cree has a peanut allergy. We went to a movie premiere and Cree was given a lunchbox for a gift. I was unaware inside the lunchbox was a snack that contained peanuts. The caretaker did not remove the snack from the lunchbox and it was later brought to his peanut-free school.
I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I done!’ It is an example of the challenges a lot of families face. Many parents are doing the best they can, but then something happens where there is a possibility of an accidental exposure. It took some time to learn to look out for things like that.
Q: As someone in the entertainment industry, what responsibility do you think TV and movies have when portraying food allergies?
A: I think the responsibility is what we’re doing now. We’re using our talents to educate people about challenges that families and children with food allergies face every day.
A lot of entertainers have a platform and most of the time, people listen. For parents who have a child with food allergies, whether it’s dairy, peanut, shellfish or any other allergy, I encourage them to share their stories.
The more vocal you are, the more awareness you bring. It becomes another step forward.
Reviewed by Erin Malawer, founder of AllergyStrong