Lessons Learned Through Parenting and CF

Guest Blog By Jeannine Ricci

Back in 2001, when I became a mother, resources on parenting
with CF were practically nonexistent. Thanks to all of the
research advancements, it’s so exciting to now see more and
more people with CF exploring the possibility of parenthood.
Because this topic is becoming more prevalent, I thought it might
be a good time to resurrect an article that I wrote 5 years ago. It
discusses my experience with talking with my children about CF
and the possibility of a shortened life expectancy. Hopefully it will
help other parents as they face this challenging subject.
At the end of the article, I give an update on my daughters
and how their experience with my CF continues to impact their
lives.

***Lessons Learned- Parenting with CF***

My CF has shaped my children’s lives for as long as they can
remember. As toddlers, they developed patience. After many
temper tantrums, they eventually learned that I had to finish my
treatments before we embarked on our day’s adventures. As
preschoolers they learned empathy. They would run to get me
tissues and water if I was having a coughing fit. Their teachers
would comment on the level of empathy they showed their
classmates and how unusual it was at such a young age. During
their school years, they are learning to become more
independent. Just last week, my older daughter surprised me by
making their lunches and helping her sister with her homework
because she knew I was not feeling well.

Since CF had been woven into their everyday lives, I took their
comfort level with my CF for granted. They knew that CF meant
coughing, treatments, and IVs. What they did not know was that
it is a life-threatening disease. I regret having not broached this
subject with them as soon as I felt they were mature enough to
handle this information. Last year my daughter’s teacher called
to tell me that he was concerned about her. She was not herself
at school. She was very distracted and seemed depressed. I
knew immediately what was bothering her. I was on IVs because
of an especially difficult exacerbation. The side effects of the
antibiotics left me on the couch most of the day. It was the
sickest she had ever seen me. We had a long discussion after the
phone call and she opened up to me and told me how she had
read something at the CF walk that stated that the life
expectancy of someone with CF was 37 years old. I was 40. It
truly broke my heart to know that I was not there to answer her
questions and ease her fears when she read this critical piece of
information. She deserved to hear this from me. As I spoke to
her, I tried to give her realistic but hopeful answers. I told her
that I wanted nothing more than to watch her and her sister
grow up and that I hoped to be there for her college graduation,
her wedding, and the birth of her children. I explained that there
are so many new medicines being discovered that would help to
make this a possibility, but I also told her that there are no
guarantees, and that is why I try so hard to keep myself as
healthy as possible.

Just as my children have always incorporated important life
lessons from my illness into their lives, I believe that this
discussion will only further strengthen their character. It will
teach them the value of treating every day as a gift. I hope my
experience encourages other parents with CF to be prepared to
have this pivotal discussion with their children. No matter how
difficult it may seem, it will be worth the peace of mind knowing
that you will be the one delivering this information, ready to help
them cope with their fears.

Here are some guidelines from Lisa C. Greene, a mom of two
children with CF and co-author with Foster Cline, M.D. of the book
Parenting Children with Health Issues (www.PCWHI.com)

• Pivotal parenting moments can take us by surprise, so be
prepared ahead of time. Our answers should be honest, calm,
matter-of-fact, and hopeful. We shouldn’t use terms like “fatal”
or “life-shortening” nor should we make empty promises. Use
terms like “healthier” rather than “healthy,” “more likely to live a
long time” rather than “will live a long time.”

• We need to try our best not to let our own fears and worries
show, both in our words and in our body language. Children pick
up on (and tend to mirror) their parents’ emotional cues,
especially when they are young. If you are having trouble
controlling your own emotions about these tough issues,
counseling might be helpful.

• At some point, we do need to address the issue of life
expectancy. Hopefully, this will be clarified by around the age of
eight (around 3rd grade) depending on the maturity of your
child. One way to address this issue is to ask your child questions
to open up dialogue. Some examples are:
“How much do you know about CF?”
“How are you handling it?”
“Is there anything about CF that worries you?”

With a little awareness and preparation, you can make talking
about these difficult issues a positive experience. Relationships
can grow closer when people go through tough times together.

Update: 5 Years Later
It’s no surprise that this disease has continued to shape my
daughters’ lives over the past 5 years. There’s no denying that my CF, anxiety, and depression have caused many hardships for my family. And it’s
difficult not get swallowed up in the guilt of knowing that there
are times that I’m not able to be the mom that I desire to be, the
mom that they deserve. During these times, I try my best to
focus on the positive ways CF has touched their lives.

The attributes of fortitude and courage were fostered as they
watched my battle with CF progression as it inched its way closer
and closer to the center of my life–our lives–demanding more
attention. And then, in November of 2014, they witnessed hope
being transformed into tangible reality as I swallowed my first
dose of Kalydeco. This new reality has allowed them to more
confidently envision me by their sides in the distant future. They
have embraced this gift with a deep sense of gratitude that can
only be felt when someone has experienced the threat of the
unbearable alternative.

They have watched as this same gratitude has fueled my desire
to help others who are still waiting for their miracle. At the young
ages of 15 and 17, they possess a keen understanding of the
intrinsic value in every life, and that the amount of money in
someone’s bank account or what type of insurance they have
should not be dictating access to these life-saving medications.

They have learned the importance of taking action and
advocating for others, even if your voice is seemingly
overpowered by others. They have both participated in the Cystic
Fibrosis Foundation’s Teen Advocacy Days in Washington D.C.
the last few years, meeting with members of Congress and
stressing the importance of ensuring adequate healthcare
coverage for all. They recognize the gifts both given and received when you touch a person’s life indelibly and both of my daughters have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the healthcare field. 

I’m so proud of them as I watch them develop into
compassionate, strong, young women, inspired to make their
mark on this world; a mark that undoubtedly would not be so
deep and impactful if it wasn’t for the valuable life lessons they
have gleaned from having someone they love with CF.

3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned Through Parenting and CF”

  1. I loved this! It mirrors closely to how I feel. My child is still very little (almost 3) and I suffer from a lot of “mom” guilt. When someone tells me I’m a good mom I am always taken back. Then I realize that I am a great mother, it just doesn’t look the way I envisioned it. My son already shows a lot of empathy. After reading this I will not wait too long to discuss the harder cf facts. This does give me hope that he will gain something out of all of this. You must be a proud mom. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks Amanda. It’s not always easy to open up and share my experiences, but it’s comments like yours that make me want to continue. I love to hear that my experience may help someone else along the way. Enjoy every minute with that little one of yours! They grow up too quickly.

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