I Have Cystic Fibrosis, and CF Has Me

This Lung Life By Ella Balasa

I hear others say “I have CF. CF doesn’t have me.” This may be an accurate statement for some, the small percentage of patients who are not limited by this disease. Those who climb mountain peaks, work 60 hours a week, and raise three children. They could say this statement is true. They conquer everything, despite CF.

I am not one of these patients. I am optimistic, though. I’m optimistic that one day I will sprint faster than you (with transplanted lungs). I’m optimistic that I will leave this world having made some kind of impact on those around me, and maybe others that I am unaware of. But with this DNA in the cells of my lungs, I can’t do it all.

I’ve had significant events and minute moments in my life that have been affected by CF, although it’s not always apparent to the world around me. However, I don’t claim that CF has altered my life for the worst. Instead, I show the reality.

CF had me most recently when I was planning to go to the Cystic Fibrosis Research Inc.’s Family Education Conference. Being a director for the U.S. Adult Cystic Fibrosis Association, I wanted to connect with fellow CF directors and hear about the amazing new research the CF community is eager to benefit from. Unfortunately, due to CF infection guidelines and the bacteria I harbor in my lungs, I posed a risk to other CF patients, so I was restricted from attending.

Recently, as my form of exercise, I have been playing tennis. CF has me when it grasps my airways after just a few serves. I feel my lungs expanding but not getting enough air, exhausted from a previous sprint of just a few feet. I watch as the ball spins toward the far corner of the court. In my mind, my legs are in the air moving toward it, but in reality, they have just elevated the sole of my foot for the first step. The muscles are depleted of oxygen, waiting for the next burst for them to spring into action, but it never comes. Instead, they continue straining with what little reserve they have, for one-quarter of their potential. The quarter that comes from the lungs that function at one-quarter of what they should.

CF dictated the direction my life would take when upon graduation I was offered my dream job, but I didn’t take that career path. Spending four hours a day on breathing treatments, attending frequent doctor’s appointments, having occasional hospital stays and health insurance factors, as well as maintaining a social life and community involvement weren’t conducive to a full-time working schedule. Choosing not to advance in my career as my peers did made me feel left behind. Instead, keeping my health as the focus, I chose part-time employment.

CF has me when I have an exacerbation and lots of congestion in my lungs. On occasion during these times, I’ve taken the flight of stairs from the basement out into the sunshine after work. After a few steps outside, I feel the absence of air in my lungs. I gasp and then panic. Continue the article here. 

Traveling With CF: Plan Ahead, Be Flexible, and Accept Help

By Ella Balasa

Looking up at the rising wall of stone, sweat droplets beading on my forehead, I think about the hundreds of steps between me and the top of the walls of the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. I want to see the view from the top, but I feel the discomfort of what-ifs welling inside me … what if I hold up the line going up the stairs because I need breaks? What if I pass out from shortness of breath? What if my lung collapses again from taking such heavy breaths with only 25 percent FEV1?

Those were my thoughts last August during my European adventure.

The first six months of 2017 had been difficult. I had three surgeries — each two months apart — on my lung because of a reoccurring lung collapse. I spent weeks in the hospital and then weeks recovering at home. I went from barely walking around my house to building up the strength to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes a day, only to restart the process each time after the next two surgeries. There were moments I never thought I would get stronger, that I’d be confined to my house with 24/7 supplemental oxygen, chained to an oxygen concentrator that allowed me to breathe.

Slowly I got stronger and — after the third surgery — the lung held. I had been planning this trip since before my medical issues began, and I wanted to make it a reality. I already had to cancel a trip to Vegas for my 25th birthday and a Fourth of July get-together with my best friends. I would be heartbroken if I had to add this trip to that list.

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In the days leading up to my trip, the fear of another lung collapse (pneumothorax) still terrified me. A pneumothorax occurs when air is trapped between your chest wall and your lung. This trapped air pushes on the lung, allowing less room for the lung itself in the chest cavity, thereby collapsing it.

When there is a decrease in air pressure at higher altitudes, air molecules expand, occupying more space. Because of my history of lung collapses, there was a chance that I might have a slight air pocket between my lung and chest wall. If so, the altitude change in an airplane could have expanded this air pocket, making the collapse much larger and dangerous.

Some might think it’s too risky to travel outside the country if you have a chronic illness, where the possibility of needing medical attention is high, and the constant awareness of symptoms and management of medications and treatments are a necessity.

There certainly are times when the risks outweigh the benefits. In my situation, there will always be a risk, but the level of potential pleasure to be gained makes an attempt worthwhile.

Planning for the Trip

Being prepared was important and eliminated some of the anxiety associated with travel. It was also necessary to relax about the parts that were not in my control.

I made sure I had my flight insured and bought travel insurance, and I carried the documents with me. I counted and packed the amount of medications I would need, plus extra.

I did not worry about packing light. I require the amount of luggage of a family of four. In the past, this has embarrassed me. We all stereotype women and their extra bags, but I need: A rolling luggage bag for my vest, a roller for my oxygen concentrator, my suitcase of clothes and personal products, and a carry-on backpack of medications. I do not check any of my nebulizing medications and machine, inhalers, enzymes, and antibiotics in case my suitcase gets lost. These are the items I have to have, and it would be a nightmare tracking them down in a foreign country.

I opted for special services through the airline for assistance with getting from one gate to the next between flights and to help carry heavy bags. Having 25 percent lung function, it’s tiresome to walk distances, and it’s not possible for me to carry anything remotely heavy. This was the first time I had used this service. I’ve never liked being seen as different or needing special accommodations. However, I have realized, as my disease progresses, that doing everything everyone else does is not always possible, and it’s OK.

And, it turned out to be a wise decision. As I got off one of my flights, I was met by an airline employee with a wheelchair and a sign with my name. I had 20 minutes before my next flight was to depart JFK airport in New York, and my gate was at the other end of the terminal. With only 10 minutes to go, this gentleman started running as he wheeled me through the airport. By the time we got to the gate, he was profusely sweating. I was the last one to board! I would have missed my flight without this assistance.

What I Learned

First, I learned to be comfortable with strangers seeing me doing CF-related stuff, like wearing a mask and using an oxygen concentrator on an airplane, and doing a breathing treatment on a park bench, while coughing and spitting into tissues. Here is a picture of me doing exactly that in Split, Croatia.

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To continue reading this article, please visit the CF Foundation Blog.

Ground-Breaking Procedure. A major step for science, medicine, the human condition

by Mary Bulman; Independent UK

“Woman spends record six days without lungs thanks to ground-breaking procedure”

Yes you’ve read that correctly.
Yes, it reads six days.

A true miracle! Definitely an understatement.

Though it’s been over a year since this procedure was carried out, it’s one that I believe cannot be shared enough. A huge step for medicine and science- but perhaps a larger one for the human condition and the willingness to live and fight.

“I still don’t believe it happened. It seems very surreal.” says patient Melissa Benoit.
And that’s because it is, Ms. Benoit.

After coming down with the flu the last year 2016, Ms. Benoit was taken from her home in Burlington, Canada to the ICU in a nearby hospital located right outside of Toronto, Canada.  Doctor’s made the spilt decision to go through with a first time procedure in order to save her life. After becoming resistant to most antibiotics, bacteria began to move throughout her body, eventually causing her to lapse into septic shock. One by one her organs started shutting down, due to the decline of her blood pressure.

“Although it had never been carried out before, doctors decided to remove her lungs entirely.”

“What helped us is the fact that we knew it was a matter of hours before she would die,” said Dr Shaf Keshavjee, one of three surgeons who operated on her. “That gave us the courage to say — if we’re ever going to save this woman, we’re going to do it now.”

To learn more about Ms. Benoit and the new breed of surgery that was carried out please continue onto the article below:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/woman-six-days-without-lungs-waiting-list-donor-organ-burlington-ontario-melissa-benoit-world-first-a7547936.html

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

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How One Conversation Led Me to Being More Intentional About My Life

By: Ella Balasa

Would I ever live long enough to fall in love? Would I be able to graduate college? Would I be remembered for making some kind of impact on the world before I was gone? Would I get to travel to destinations where the breaking waves crashed against a rocky shore and the sea mist sprayed as I breathed deeply, and beside me stood …

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I’m startled back to reality. I sit in a hospital bed, surrounded by my parents in chairs on either side of me. I’m on the lumpy foam mattress, where I sit cross legged and my butt sinks at least 4 inches straining my back and adding to the pain the past few weeks — and this conversation — have caused me. My dad sits, lips pursed as normal when he listens intently. We are all listening to my doctor talk about my declining health, about my recent episode of pneumonia, and what my future may hold.

“No one knows the future,” I think, as the doctor speaks. My mind jumps again to that ocean scene, only it isn’t me standing on the shore, I’m now observing the scene from above, as if in spirit. Observing a couple embrace and I feel a strange sense of sadness, anger, and jealousy.

“It’s time to consider a lung transplant.” Those words, uttered from my pediatric CF doctor 6 years ago, made me, in an instant, think about all the joys of life I hadn’t gotten to experience yet.

Why me? That’s the first thought many people have when they can’t accept the reality of what’s happening. We try to answer unanswerable questions.

Later that summer, my parents and I followed doctors’ advice and scheduled a week-long transplant evaluation. A week of what I still consider to be grueling medical tests, even compared to other lung complications I have developed since. In the end, the transplant evaluators concluded I was not quite in the transplant window at the time. That fall, my health started to stabilize. I started my second year of college and I felt myself withdraw from the world.

To continue reading, visit CFF community blog.

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/

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…

CF Roundtable invites you to write for the upcoming issue!

CF Roundtable invites adults with CF to write for our Spring 2018 issue. All submissions are due on March 15th.

The Focus Topic is “Maintaining Mental Health With CF”. Some questions to ponder as you write are:  Does your CF affect your mental state? What do you do to deal with it? Do you have any information to share with our readers on how to deal with depression or other mental conditions that are caused by having CF? Continue reading CF Roundtable invites you to write for the upcoming issue!

Introducing ‘This Lung Life,’ a Column by Ella Balasa

Below is the first post of an original column that will be published once monthly. Enjoy!

Fulfillment to me means achieving a dream, pursuing a passion, striving to be happy every day, and finding joy in what I do. To say I did my best and made every moment count. I believe having those dreams and feelings of fulfillment comes from motivation. Motivation to do and be better in whatever parameters I set for myself. My motivation for life comes in the most innate form — the will to live. To live the fullest life I can, in the time I am given to live it.

Having cystic fibrosis has shaped me to want to live in this way. My motivation to Introducing ‘This Lung Life,’ a Column by Ella Balasahave this attitude has grown with each passing year, though it’s taken time to gain the maturity, experiences, and confidence to find my identity and purpose.
Continue reading Introducing ‘This Lung Life,’ a Column by Ella Balasa

CYSTIC FIBROSIS WIND SPRINT 67: CIRCUIT TRAINING 2

For people with cystic fibrosis, getting “back” into shape is a common occurrence. Because of the nature of the disease, patients often experience set backs 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 CYSTIC FIBROSIS WIND SPRINT 67: CIRCUIT TRAINING 2