Starting College with CF

By Tabitha Caldwell

My name is Tabitha Caldwell, I am eighteen years old and live in Austin, Texas. This fall, I’ll be moving to Utah to start college at Brigham Young University. I’ll be making many changes and experiencing many things for the first time, just like most ingoing college students. Not living with my parents, buying and making all of my own food, adjusting to college classes, finding time to study for all of them, and of course being in an extremely cold climate (I’m used to the Texas heat). Figuring out how to live independently while simultaneously trying to keep up grades is a challenge that everyone in college experiences at one point or another. On top of that, I have some additional responsibilities to take on at this point in my life that most kids wouldn’t ever think about dealing with. I have cystic fibrosis, a life altering disease that will surely test me in these upcoming years.

I was diagnosed with CF at six months old and so my whole life, I have dealt with pills, PICC lines, hospital stays, nebulizers, and doctors visits. You might think that since I’ve been doing this for eighteen years now I should have no problem in following this routine in college. The problem, however, is that I’ll be doing it almost entirely on my own. I’ll be managing my health without my parents right there, who seem to always know what to do when I’m not feeling well or who to call about certain problems or what medicine to take. Sometimes, I need them for something even simpler – to remind me not to push myself too hard, because even I will ignore my body telling me to slow down and take a break for a minute. I think this might be one of the hardest things for me in college – finding a balance between working hard in school and not pushing myself so hard that my health is at jeopardy. It will be difficult because I put so much care and attention into my schoolwork, and now, I’ll need to divert some of that attention to watching my CF more closely instead.

Over the years, I’ve gradually taken on more responsibilities with my treatment. I get my nebulizers ready regularly, I sort out my pills for the week, and I have learned the hard way to always, always carry enzymes around. Overall, I feel well prepared and fully capable of handling all of my treatments and appointments. College will be the ultimate time to prove this, not just to my parents and doctors, but to myself as well.

As I make this transition in my life, I’m mostly worried about getting enough rest and trying to keep my stress levels to a minimum. Sleep is extremely important for my body and so I cringe a little every time I hear the horror stories of pulling all-nighters to finish a paper, study, etc. I hope that exhaustion is not entirely inevitable, and even so I plan on avoiding it as much as possible. I may often be the first one to bed, or might sacrifice my hair and makeup for a little extra sleep, or may even have to pass up some parties or events in lieu of taking a nap. It might be difficult giving up some of my social life, especially since I tend to get severe FOMO (fear of missing out), but I know it’s a sacrifice I have to make so that I can stay healthy.

Between classes, studying, cooking, exercising, treatment, appointments, sleep, and being social, there is a lot to handle. Unfortunately, that’s just part of growing up: learning to manage all these things on your own. It will definitely be a learning process, I just hope along the way that I don’t get sick. That’s another one of my fears – that I might get sick and not be able to keep up with the college lifestyle. I never give up a fight with CF though, and so I fully intend on entering college with my mind set on my goals and my responsibilities well prioritized. I think this will help me to stay focused so that I can do well in my classes, keep my health in check, and still manage to enjoy my college experience.

There are also some other worries I have about college that I’m sure everyone feels, in particular, finding new friends. I moved twice in middle school and high school, and so I’m familiar with being new and wanting to get to know people. Being the new kid is not all it cracks up to be. People do not notice you, and are not always welcoming or nice to you, but when you find the few that are, you know you’ve found some good friends. I know that it’s very rough making new friends, but at least this time, most people are also on the search for new friends. So, I may be nervous and anxious to meet new people, but I’m also confident that somewhere in BYU’s large student population, I can find some people who are just right for me.

College is a scary thing, but somehow many of us seem to make it out all right. I know that I’ll have extra challenges in handling my CF, but that’s just part of who I am. Although cystic fibrosis brings new hardships everyday, I know that having it has made me a better, stronger, and more responsible person.

I’m excited for this next chapter of my life and look forward to all the many things I will learn – from physics and biology to stain removal and quick meals. I would also like to give a huge thank you to the United States Adult Cystic Fibrosis Association for awarding me with the Lauren Melissa Kelly Scholarship. It means so much to me to know that my hard work pays off and that others really believe in me and my potential. I hope to do this scholarship honor, and am proud to represent the cystic fibrosis community. I want to keep defying the substantial odds against me and prove that CF cannot and will not hinder me in my efforts and hope for a brighter future.

2 thoughts on “Starting College with CF”

  1. I’m excited for you Tabitha and wish you all the best in this new phase of life. Your blog brought back memories. When I was in college I pulled two all-nighters total and that was too much. I quickly figured out that it would have been better if I had just slept because my mind was garbled for the test or my paper stunk only to find out I could’ve turned it in later. Also my poor lungs and sinuses the following day let me know that I should’ve slept.
    Thank you for an insightful blog. Please keep writing and let us know how it goes. Good luck at BYU!

  2. Thanks for sharing. Best of luck! Let us know how you adapt… sounds like you’re going to do just fine. Be well.

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