Pushing Through the Fear – Guest Blog By Andrea Eisenman

By Andrea Eisenman

So many fears, where do I begin. Let’s start with my impending trip to Seattle from NYC. I like to travel but it gets complicated. How much room in my suitcase do I have to pack my myriad of machines and meds? And how much will I forget, despite my thorough list? I learned I had to put obvious things on my list like a hairbrush after I forgot that a few times. But when it is easily purchased at a drug store, no biggy. When it is my immune suppressants or a nebulizer, that is harder to replace.

I now have a lot more machinery to tote around when I leave home. I have my CPAP, my percussor and my inhalation machine and a facial steamer for my sinuses, plus my Neti pot for nasal lavage. These things become cumbersome and traveling light is not an option, I have to check my bag. So, planning is key for several days prior to take off. I am in that phase now. Packing it all. I bring enough meds for twice my travel time. My last trip to Seattle happened during 9/11. I could not fly home for a week. Luckily, I had an extra 10 days of medications to cover me.

My dad asked if I was up to the flight, it is a longer one than I have taken in many years. My answer is, I don’t know. I am fearful as I know I have lymphedema and even though I wear compression tights when I fly, it is less than comfy and I will swell in my upper body. I do have a compression machine for upper body swelling but it is way too big to bring. Will I be ok not using it for a few days? I am hoping the answer is yes. But because I do not know these things for certain, I have anxiety. And I worry I might get sick either from the flight or anytime during my trip. I do wear a mask in flight and try to stay as hydrated as possible in order to keep well. And of course, I will wipe down the area near my seat with cleaning wipes.

But in order to live a life, I have to take some risks. I had wanted to go to Seattle for a few years. It is therapeutic to get away once in a while and I had not traveled too far from home while my mom was alive. I wanted to be near enough if she needed me. I no longer have that worry. And maybe I used that as an excuse so I am now pushing myself to go on this trip. I know I can be resourceful and my doctors are only a phone call away if I get sick. There is a great CF center there and my friend is sensitive to my CF needs. When we were in college together she gave my CPT when I let her.

I find that when I push myself beyond my fears, I feel triumphant and am happy that I conquered them. Sometimes one has to get out of their comfort zone, even if it means wearing horribly tight pantyhose for six hours on a flight! I know it will be worth it and I can bond with my friend. I will feel like I accomplished something worthwhile. Maybe my next trip will be to Europe.

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. 

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.

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 …

Gabriella-Balasa-Beach-Featured-Rectangle

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…

TEDx talk: The Case for Realistic Optimism

The Case for Realistic Optimism

Have you ever struggled to stay positive when dealing with a sick loved one? When Ray’s wife Rebecca went into respiratory failure from end stage cystic fibrosis he was faced with this challenge. What he learned was that choosing to be realistically optimistic helped him to remain strong for Rebecca during Continue reading TEDx talk: The Case for Realistic Optimism

Introducing Jerry Unplugged!

We are thrilled to announce that Jerry Cahill has launched, Jerry Unplugged, a new blog segment on his site.  Jerry is a Delta F508 and R117H #CF patient who is post double-lung transplant by 6 years this April! Not only is Jerry an advocate for #CFAwareness, but he is a coach, athlete, and friend! Join him on his journey as he shares his insights, experiences, and explains why he cannot fail❗
Stay tuned for much more of #JerryUnplugged!

Read the first blog here: http://www.jerrycahill.com/who-am-i/

Continue reading Introducing Jerry Unplugged!

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