26 Years and Counting with CF

By Ella Balasa

The day I was born, the median life expectancy of someone living with cystic fibrosis was 31. Although I haven’t reached that median yet, I feel like I’ve beaten the odds.

During past birthdays, my parents, brother, and I celebrated with cakes filled with raspberry layers and chocolate frosting. The cake always had my name written across the top in big, pink, block letters, and the number of candles matched the number of years lived. I remember my dad’s voice quivering just slightly by the time he sang the last “Happy Birthday” lyric. I think that he sheds an extra tear of joy, metaphorically, for each year I get older. He’s happier than the year before, that I’m one year closer to living the long life he hopes and prays his little girl would have.

I know my parents have always had a seed of heartache that they’ve kept hidden far in the back of their thoughts, watered by the knowledge that they may outlive their youngest daughter. It’s a feeling unknown to me; I can only imagine the fear.

I realize that my disease continues to progress with each passing year, causing a gradual decline in the intensity of accomplishable physical activities. My birthday is somewhat of a grim reminder of what I’ve lost over time. It’s marked by at least one less thing I can do.

Toward the end of my high school years, my brother was my exercise coach. He was always encouraging (sometimes nagging) me to do frog hops down the driveway and sprints from the mailbox to the stop sign on the corner. I also was running about 1 mile, or half of one, in my neighborhood on the days I felt extra motivated. One early summer day, at the end of my loop, about half a block before I reached the stop sign on my corner, I felt the urge to cough. When I got to the corner, I started coughing globs of pure blood while bracing myself against the sign. It was one of the last times I ran. That was the year I turned 18.

When I turned 21, I stopped working out at a gym and instead got a treadmill and weights at home because I had started to require supplemental oxygen while exercising. Without the extra oxygen, my blood oxygenation levels would dip into a range that could cause damage to my heart. My lungs began failing at the job they are required to do: supply oxygen from the air into my blood vessels and to the rest of my organs.

I was using a nasal cannula and carrying around a machine that puffed loudly with every breath, but I couldn’t allow people to see me as abnormal. I still have a hard time being in public with the supplemental oxygen, and although I don’t yet require using it constantly, it’s caused my illness to become visible rather than invisible, as it typically was — and I struggle with that.

Last year, when I was 25, I learned what it feels like to do a 500-pound deadlift. Except I wasn’t in a competition. I was bringing just two bags of groceries into my house from my car less than 50 feet away. During infection exacerbations in my lungs, I am unable to walk at a normal pace, much less carry anything, due to my airways feeling like they are the diameter of a toothpick, and the lack of oxygen my body is receiving. During these times, I feel my body needing the extra oxygen that I sometimes deprive it of because of my unwillingness to show the signs of my disease.

Based on this column thus far, it might seem as though I lament on the difficulties. Honestly, I don’t notice much when my breathing becomes less limited. It’s easier to notice when my breath is restricted and I feel my body producing less, functioning less.

Despite these reflections on my inabilities, I don’t remember my birthdays for all the things I couldn’t do in that year. I do remember everything I could and did do, both on that day and the 364 days in between. For my 10th birthday, I remember having a picnic in the park and running around the playgrounds playing hide-and-seek. For my 21st, I remember going to a local bar, Baja Bean, and getting the coveted sombrero so everyone would know I was celebrating my big day. For my most recent, the 26th, I rode in a small seaplane over the city, then landed into the river.

Birthdays have always been, and always will be, a celebration of my life. It’s the progression over time, despite my best efforts to stay as healthy as I possibly can, that I’ve found to be somewhat discouraging at times.

When I blow out my 27 candles next year, there will certainly be a diminishment in my physical abilities. But I won’t be dwelling on it. I’ll be thinking about all of the new things I did, the places I went, and the people I met.

To read the original article, please click here.

I’m on the transplant list, now what?

In Jerry Cahill’s latest edition of The Path Forward with Cystic Fibrosis, Dr. Selim Arcasoy from Columbia University Medical Center discusses what happens once a patient is on the transplant list.
The first three major steps are:
  1. Create a strict exercise program with the hospital rehab center and integrate it into the patient’s schedule.
  2. Meet with a nutritionist in order to maintain proper weight.
  3. Educate! Meet with the care team in order to understand the entire process – both pre and post transplant.
The transplant process is a long one – and thoroughly detailed – in order to increase the chances of success. Tune in to learn more from Dr. Arcasoy.

This video podcast was made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from Columbia University Medial Center and the Lung Transplant Project.

Freedom!

Guest post by: Kathy Russell

Today was a terrific day! We have just experienced a three-day series of high temperatures in the 80s. In the middle of summer that would be quite normal, but getting that kind of weather in April is extremely rare in my part of Oregon. I made the most of those days.

In our front yard, we have a very old and very large black walnut tree. There is a brick planter built around the base of the tree and there are various plants, including several sword ferns, growing in it. The sword ferns are beautiful if they are properly groomed. Each year, when the weather permits, I get out and cut away all of the old fronds to make room for new growth.

I didn’t get to do that last year because of my health. I just didn’t have the energy to do the bending and twisting that the task entails. Also, since I am on continuous oxygen, it makes getting out to the tree a bit problematic. Dragging my portable oxygen concentrator (POC) while I am pruning the ferns is a bit of a pain. I bend over and cut some old fronds, then I have to stand up and drag the POC to my next position. It makes it more of a chore and a lot less fun than it used to be before I was on oxygen.

Yesterday I worked on a couple of ferns that I could reach with the length of hose that is on my big concentrator. That was fairly workable, but I couldn’t go beyond the range of my hose. Also, I couldn’t reach two of the ferns. After about an hour I was getting too hot and decided to stop working on a large fern that was at the end of my tether.

Today, my husband took my large concentrator outside and plugged it into an outdoor outlet. With the 75 feet of hose that I have on it, I had a lot of freedom to move around. I was able to finish the fern that I left yesterday and finish the final two. I didn’t have to worry about running out of hose length and I felt so unencumbered. It was so great to be able to move around like a normal person. I absolutely loved that feeling of freedom. It was almost like not even being on oxygen.

My oxygen saturation stayed in a very good range and I got a couple of hours of fresh air. I was mostly in shade so I didn’t have to worry about being in the sun too long. Having the ability to move around and not have to drag a POC was a real gift as far as I am concerned.

Stream “Up for Air” Documentary this Month for Free!

Jerry Cahill‘s documentary, “Up for Air”, provides viewers with an inside look at his personal fight for survival while living with #CF. During national #DonateLifeMonth (4/1 – 4/30) use the code: BEANORGANDONOR to watch the documentary for FREE! Tap the link to watch: https://vimeo.com/137872395

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup and text

Jerry Unplugged: Bouncin’ Back

Well, here I sit, staring at four walls, unable to ride my bike, work out, coach, or run. I’m stuck here in my apartment for the next two weeks as I recover from a partial knee replacement. This lifestyle is not me at all. I’m frustrated, and it would be easy to get discouraged, but I can’t afford to.
I’ve just listed some of the many things I can’t do, but I’m focusing on what I can and must do in order to live the way I want to live. I must stay focused on the positive and on my recovery. It’s the only way to bounce back to my version of normal.

Continue reading Jerry Unplugged: Bouncin’ Back

Thanks to The Boomer Esiason Foundation, CF Roundtable’s new Pearl Sustaining Partner

We would like to thank The Boomer Esiason Foundation for its continued support at the Pearl Sustaining Partner level. A special thank you goes out to BEF volunteer Jerry Cahill for helping make this grant possible. Because of this support, we can provide all of our CF Roundtable programs such as:

The Boomer Esiason Foundation helps support the CF community via its programs including:

  • Scholarships – BEF has numerous scholarship opportunities available
  • Lung Transplant Grant Program – covers transportation, housing and other expenses not covered by insurance that are related to transplant
  • You Cannot Fail – A motivation program that empowers people with CF
  • CF Podcasts – podcasts covering a wide variety of CF-related topics produced by Jerry Cahill
  • CF Wind Sprints – short videos by BEF Volunteer Jerry Cahill with tips for living with CF
  • Gunnar’s Blog – a personal blog of Gunnar Esiason, Boomer’s son, who has CF
  • Hospital Bags – goodie bags provided to CF patients of all ages during hospital stays
  • Team Boomer – encourages people with CF to be active by participating in events and helping to fundraise
  • Bike 2 Breathe – An annual 500-bike tour to raise awareness for the importance of exercise with CF
  • CF Century Rides – A personal goal of Jerry Cahill’s. Jerry is determined to do a century ride (100 miles bike ride) in all 50 states for CF!
  • CF: Live By Example – A pilot program where people with CF who are living, breathing, and succeeding will ensure parents of newly diagnosed children that CF is only a bump in the road, not a death sentence.
  • Club CF – an online forum where people with CF can share their stories

For more information on The Boomer Esiason Foundation please visit: https://www.esiason.org/

Exercise for Life Scholarship

When it comes to #CF, exercise saves lives — and now it can help you earn money towards your education. BEF’s Exercise For Life Scholarship will be awarding $10,000 scholarships!
All applicants are required to complete a daily run log from March 12th – June 1st and should be training for the 1.5-mile qualifying run. Candidates will be judged on the basis of time. Get ready to put those miles to use!
Deadline: June 1, 2018
Amount: $10,000
**IN ORDER TO QUALIFY, YOU MUST START YOUR TRAINING LOG ON MARCH 12TH**

Bustle for muscle

by Brennen Reeves

A mom who played college basketball. A dad who entered the army at eighteen. A brother who received a football scholarship after high school. That’s my family.
Me, I like theatre and acting.

I like to workout. I can do most anything, though I tire when I run. Running, not a daunting task for anyone else in my family- nor was the ability to put on weight or the ability to gain muscles. Both were and still remain a struggle of mine today. I understand the weight section- I have CF, my heart beats faster than other hearts, my digestive tract is not on track and diabetes is well, diabetes. Sadly, I cannot understand why I cannot gain muscle. Or turn the muscle that now exists to a lean quality.
I exercise just as much as the next person.

My parents and brother, they’re athletes. Sure, being athletic doesn’t necessarily mean you possess muscle, but my family did. I retained some of those genes. I played baseball, I owned a lacrosse stick, I love to golf. I count that as a sport (so what if I ride in the cart?).
I have coordination.

I received a bilateral lung transplant over 7 years ago. Within that gap, and day by day I become more flexible, stronger, newly energized, with no luck of further muscle growth. The weight is there. Up about thirty-five pounds. But how come there is no significant muscle gain, or the leanness to which I work for? Could it be a diet issue? Because the thirty, sixty, ninety day routine after these 7 years has been ineffective. I still come up short and this lets me down, my physical appearance.

I’m 5’6” and weigh around 120lbs. My body is symmetrically balanced. I have new lungs. There’s the determination- so why this outcome or lack of?
This is not a lecturer post but more a collaborative question- what is your secret? Do you have a secret? Is it a secret?

Sure, I still have CF, yes, my heart still beats faster than other hearts, yes, my digestive tract needs aligning, and well, diabetes still remains diabetes. Just about every other facet since my surgery has changed, emotionally, physically, etc., and my body is still present just with a little more weight with nowhere to go.

I challenge this. Could it be the severed nerves under my breast plate have yet to heal or reconnect, making it harder to attract muscle in this area? The numbness from my shoulders on down through the wrists lose feelings during most points of the day, is that a sign indicating powerless limbs?

“7years. Brennen your body needs more time to heal”
Ok.
—–
Wait,
or could it just be my body?

Check out Jerry Cahill’s new blog: Jerry Unplugged!

Jerry recently launched Jerry Unplugged, a new blog segment on his website where he will share insights, experiences, and more!

Who Am I?

I’m Delta F508. I’m R117H. I’m a cystic fibrosis patient. I’m post double-lung transplant by 5 years and 10 months.
I am all that and so much more. I am Jerry Cahill: athlete, coach, and friend. I have an unrivaled joie de vivre. I am positive, relentless, kind and generous. I am a man, who just happens to have cystic fibrosis. I don’t accept mediocrity. I never give up and always believe You Cannot Fail.
I was born one of six kids and, although I had CF, my parents treated me just like the others. After I was diagnosed, my mother wanted to shelter me, but my dad said, “If his life is going to be shorter, I want him to spend it with his brothers, having fun and being normal.” My dad believed that “you cannot fail as long as you try,” and I made it my life’s mantra.
I attended college and went to nationals in pole vaulting. It isn’t that I didn’t have issues because of CF, it’s just that I chose not to let them get in the way and be roadblocks. They were just detours on the way to my dreams. I went on to have a successful career while juggling the demands of CF. I never have and never will let the disease define me. The more it progressed, the more I pushed back.
Finally, nearly six years ago, at age 56, I needed a lung transplant and received one thanks to the unconditional love and generosity of a grieving family. I am grateful to my donor every day.  Continue reading…

Why I Do What I Do?

Because I can…
I believe in giving back & passing it on. I’ve been given a platform, so I use it to share what I’ve learned and experienced to benefit others. I really like the quote from the movie, The History Boys: “Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it, and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day.” I don’t do all this for myself; I do it to give hope to others, to inspire them to do more, fight harder, and be the best they can be. Everyone has limitations, but I want to inspire every person to go out and be the “hero of your own story.” Continue reading…

Doctor, Doctor!

I walked into the office the other day while Boomer was there and we began to make small talk. He asked how I was doing and I told him I had to see the doctor for my knee, because I’m having knee-replacement surgery in March. Boomer started to laugh and asked, “Just how many doctors do you have? You’re always seeing some doctor, and you act like it’s no big deal. You know, not everybody sees as many doctors as you do.”
“Boomer, I have CF! I’ve had a transplant. I have doctors but not that many, really,” I replied. Continue reading…

6 ways to get back into shape after a CF-setback

For people with cystic fibrosis, getting “back” into shape is a common occurrence. Because of the nature of the disease, patients often experience setbacks in both their health and fitness routines. But, exercise is an important and essential part of remaining compliant with treatments and medications in order to live a longer, healthier life with CF.

Continue reading 6 ways to get back into shape after a CF-setback