Rossanne Kagaoan
Rossanne Kagaoan, an administrative coordinator for UHN FM-PRO, threw herself into learning about her newly-diagnosed celiac disease, including virtual meetings with specialists and dietitians, finding gluten-free recipes and reorganizing her kitchen. (Photo: Courtesy Rossanne Kagaoan)

With the Omicron Wave receding and March 11 marking the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, UHN News is asking TeamUHN members how they're doing, what they've learned, how they're coping and what the future looks like.

For Rossanne Kagaoan, 2020 was difficult from Day One.

She was already struggling with the recent death of her mother when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating gluten.

"I was dealing with all that grief and then the pandemic and my celiac diagnosis," the administrative coordinator for UHN Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operation (FM-PRO) recalls. "It felt overwhelming.

"I was pretty angry."

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Early on in the pandemic, a trip to the grocery store was stressful and shelves were often empty, so it was even more difficult for Rossanne to adjust to her new life of no wheat, rye or barley.

"It was a lot," she says. "I was kind of wallowing in my misery for a while."

With extra time suddenly on her hands, she threw herself into learning about the condition. She had virtual meetings with specialists and dietitians, searched for online recipes and leaned into cookbooks, such as the Celiac Disease Cookbook for the Newly Diagnosed, which is where she found one of her favourite creations – oatmeal cakes with cinnamon and fruit.

She continued to pore over ingredient lists and reorganized her kitchen and cupboards – with her partner able to have gluten, their food can't touch or even be cooked in the same pot.

"It's a whole different way of approaching food," she says. "It's a very high maintenance condition."

While it took about a year to master her celiac disease, by the fall of 2020 she was ready for the next "distraction," so she signed up for virtual art classes through the Toronto District School Board.

Although she had no experience in art – aside from high school classes – she's been devotedly attending weekly classes ever since. She loves to draw landscapes and tap into her creativity.

"The first year there was a lot of anger, a lot of confusion, a lot of feeling helpless," says Rossanne. "And now, there's been a definite shift.

"I've pretty much accepted things (the pandemic, celiac, my mother's passing) and just found ways to keep myself entertained and connected."

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