Junky approved Celiac thriver and gluten free eater….LISA CANTKIER!
Why Lisa is Chi Junky Approved! Read her inspiring story….
Story from the North York Mirror
A banana saved Lisa Cantkier’s life. It was 1977, and one-and-a-half-year old Cantkier was admitted to The Hospital for Sick Children severely malnourished. Everything she ate was expelled in diarrhea and her stomach was protruding from a lack of being able to keep anything down. Her hair was falling out, she had stopped growing and smiling was rare. Essentially, she was dying without a cause, withering away before doctors and her anxious parents. With no tests coming back positive, doctors eventually diagnosed Cantkier with terminal cancer. “It was an emotional roller coaster for my parents,” she said. But after spending two months at the downtown hospital, a chance encounter with a banana turned everything – including the misdiagnosis – around. “One day my meal came with a banana,” she said. “For some reason I ate the banana and nothing else. And for the first time I ate something and didn’t have diarrhea. The doctors then reviewed their notes and thought maybe my problem was something food related.” After testing Cantkier for “everything under the sun,” a bowel biopsy concluded the little girl – her parents’ only child – had celiac disease. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, celiac disease is a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale and barley. This results in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.
Common symptoms are anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating and irritability.Symptoms may appear together or individually in children or adults. At present there is no cure, but celiac disease is treated by following a gluten-free diet. Although statistics are not readily available, it is estimated as many as one in 133 people in Canada are affected by celiac disease. “No one in my family had this,” Cantkier said of the autoimmune disease. “It was only discovered in the ’50s, so maybe my grandparents had it and didn’t know what it was.” After starting a gluten-free diet, her symptoms slowly disappeared and the former North York resident was essentially brought back to life, she said. “My mom was my biggest advocate growing up,” Cantkier said of her mother, Glenna, who was unavailable for comment for this story. “She took my gluten-free diet so seriously.” So seriously, in fact, Glenna was the one responsible for bringing the first gluten-free breads into Toronto grocery stores, with the former Food City near Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue the first location, Cantkier said. Glenna was also instrumental in helping establish a Toronto support group for the Canadian Celiac Association in the early 1980s, which up to that point only had chapters in Hamilton and Kitchener, Cantkier said. Rosie Wartecker is well aware of how common celiac misdiagnosis was decades ago. “We call it the big C–little c battle,” she said. “Because nobody knew back then.”Her husband, Sigi, lived with a terminal cancer diagnosis for five years until a hospital internist, whose mother had celiac disease, thought perhaps this was cause of Sigi’s discomfort. “He was saved by an internist,” Wartecker said, adding her husband was misdiagnosed in 1977. “We were told he had cancer, they just couldn’t find it.” Dubbed ‘Nosey Rosie’ by friends, Wartecker began searching for information on celiac disease and ways to revamp her cooking, which took her to a small space at The Hospital for Sick Children, where wheat starch and other gluten-free items were available. She had also heard of a group out of Kitchener – which would became a Canadian Celiac Association chapter – that met regularly and was trying to become a national organization. After attending a few meetings, it was suggested there must be people in Toronto needing a support group like this. So in May 1981, with 12 people in the front room of her house, Wartecker became president of the Toronto chapter.
“Glenna was part of the second swoop that came in,” she said, adding the chapter eventually rented meeting space at The Hospital for Sick Children, where the group continues to meet. Wartecker, who had to learn how to cook in a whole new way, learned to incorporate corn starch and toyed with the idea of making her entire household gluten free, to save time on making multiple meals, but cost quickly changed her mind. “My husband was not a happy camper,” she said of his diet change. “He’s from Europe and has a sweet tooth. He liked black forest cake. It took me five years to perfect a gluten-free black forest cake. We didn’t have the Internet back then and we exchanged recipes at our meetings. My husband came to a meeting and he chowed down on the baked goods because they were gluten-free.” Eating gluten-free inside Cantkier’s home wasn’t a big deal, but social situations proved to be a different story, she said. “I grasped the concept,” said Cantkier, who now resides in Thornhill. “I understood the food I ate was different. It was mostly hard in social situations, like parties. I didn’t go to camp because camps at that time didn’t cater to dietary needs. Kids would say my food didn’t look good. It made me feel different and I wanted to fit in.” Cantkier did break her gluten-free diet while pregnant, as she was told autoimmune diseases go into remission during this time. “I cheated with cookies and bread and felt fine,” said the mom of Elan, 6, and Jacob, 4, adding she accidentally ate a gluten product when not pregnant and felt sick.
Nowadays, life for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is vastly different from when Cantkier, 37, was younger. So rare was the diagnosis The Mirror did a story on her life with celiac disease in 1981 when she was five years old. Food allergies and dietary modifications are common. Gluten-free baking has improved with the introduction of new ingredients, including chickpea flower. Many restaurants offer gluten-free menu options. In fact, it was while at a restaurant with a friend where the idea of starting a website dedicated to gluten-free information was formed, Cantkier said. “A gluten-free menu came to the table,” she recalled. “I said I wish I knew what other restaurants had gluten-free options. My friend asked, ‘Do you think there is a directory? If not, you need to make one.’” From there, glutenfreefind.com was born. The site, which has been running for one year, is an online resource directory focusing on gluten-free living, including facts and information, associations, caterers and chefs, blogs, nut free, kosher, vegan and vegetarian options in parts of Canada and the United States. Along with running the site, Cantkier is writing a guide for adults diagnosed with celiac disease titled Gluten-Free Beginnings: Easy Starter Guide, which she hopes will help guide people to making the transition to gluten-free life a little easier. “It will teach people about cross contamination, why they need their own toaster,” she said. “Even a crumb with gluten can cause symptoms.” She’s also planning to launch an online store selling gluten-free products through her website within the month, she said. And following that, Cantkier said she plans to take her advocacy work to places like the airline industry, with hopes of introducing gluten-free products for flights. And in a nod to the fruit that gave Cantkier her life back, a bunch can always be found in her house. “If we run out we always immediately get more,” she said. “I have an emotional attachment to bananas.”
She has been published in Best Health Magazine, Food Solutions Magazine, Journal of Gluten
Sensitivity, Los Angeles Times, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, The Fitness Elite Magazine, Tonic Magazine, TVOParents.com, Viva Magazine and many other publications.