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. 

The Year Ahead – Fall 2018 Scholarship Winner Guest Blog

By Roberto De La Noval

The next year is going to be a big one. I am writing against the clock to meet deadlines for my dissertation, sending out a book manuscript to a publisher, writing my first book review for an academic journal, presenting for the first time at a national conference…and all that on top of my first semester, in the Spring, of teaching undergraduates. Suffice it to say I’ll be busy. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Finally—at last—I feel like less of a perpetual student (I’ve been in higher education almost 12 years) and more like someone actually enjoying the first fruits of his career. That’s why I’m grateful to be one of the recipients of this year’s Lauren Melissa Kelley Scholarship; graduate school isn’t cheap, and so these funds will be of immediate help to me.

For example, I travel to one or two academic conferences a year, and often I cannot get the university to recompense me for all of the travel. That means that some of it comes out of pocket for me. The LMK scholarship will help me recoup these costs and make it more likely that I will pursue these opportunities to engage in the academic community and share my work. Another way the LMK scholarship will make a big difference is in allowing me to continue my language education. Now that I no longer am in coursework, the simplest way for me to continue improving my languages (German and ancient Greek are the ones I’m currently working on) is to have a private tutor who can work around my dissertation-writing schedule. These lessons are not cheap, but they significantly and rapidly help me improve my language skills, which in turn allows me to access more material for my scholarship and makes it possible for me to become a truly international academic who can engage with people from various parts of the world. It would be a welcome financial relief to know I have funds to continue my education now that I have finished formal coursework and am expected to be writing a book! In short, this is a critical period in my career of transition from student to scholar, and the LMK scholarship will facilitate this ctransition with greater ease.

In many ways the academic life is well tailored for someone negotiating the scheduled and regimented life cystic fibrosis demands. And I am happy to say that I’ve encountered nothing but support and encouragement from my faculty and colleagues when it comes to managing both my illness and my career. But it’s also a support in my work and life to know that so many others with CF are living their lives to the fullest, and that behind them there is a huge community of people who care about people with CF and work incredibly hard, often behind the scenes, to make a rich life possible for them. CFRoundtable and the LMK Scholarship are outposts of this amazing community of doctors, researchers, social workers, advocates, speakers, families, and friends. I relish the opportunity to be on the receiving end of their care, and I cannot wait to pay it forward in whatever way I can.

Past USACFA Scholarship Winner’s touching poem about CF

My name is Grace Knight and I am a college student with cystic fibrosis. I am 20 years old and go to the University of Pennsylvania. This past summer, I took a few summer school classes to make up for the medical leave I had taken the year before. In one of the classes, we had to write poems for our final project. One of the poems I wrote was this poem titled “Only Morning.” It is about how it feels to wake up with CF every day. The poetic form is based upon a classical piece I used to play called Chaconne in G minor by Vitali. I have actually previously compared to this piece of music to CF because the more into the piece you play the harder it gets. I found this similar to the progressive nature of the disease.

Continue reading Past USACFA Scholarship Winner’s touching poem about CF

Call for Articles Published in CF Roundtable! Due June 15th

When disaster strikes, what is important to you??

What are the things that you know you must have with you in the event of a disaster, either natural or manmade? Where do you keep these essential items? What plans have you made for surviving when basic services are interrupted? It could be even as small of a disaster as when your air conditioning goes out in the heat of summer? How do you manage?

Please consider contributing to CF Roundtable by sharing some of the experiences of your life. In addition to the focus topic, we welcome humorous stories, articles on basic life experiences, short stories, artwork, cartoons, and poetry. We require that all submissions be original and unpublished.

With your submission, please include a recent photo of yourself as well as your name, address, and telephone number. Photos will be returned. Or email a high-resolution JPEG along with your article. Type or hand-print your submission, using a plain font, not script, and please double-space your article.

Submissions due June 15, 2018.

Mail To: CF Roundtable, PO Box 1618, Gresham, OR 97030-0519

Email To: cfroundtable@usacfa.org

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.

Gabriella-Balasa-Traveling-Quote-Orginal

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.

Gabriella-Balasa-Traveling-Nebulizer-Featured-Rectangle
To continue reading this article, please visit the CF Foundation Blog.

A Letter To My Donor

Jerry Unplugged: A blog by Jerry Cahill

Six years ago, on April 18, 2012 I received the ultimate gift – a healthy set of lungs.  

This is my transplant story and finally, an open letter to my donor Chris who gave me a second chance at life. 

On April 17th I was called to Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in New York City. They had a perfect set of lungs on paper for me and simultaneously while I was on my way in, a team went to harvest and evaluate these lungs, which were located out of state.  It’s a bit of coordination for the doctors to determine the health of the lungs. Were they damaged? Were there contusions or other imperfections? Were these lungs meant for me? The team at CUMC would make the final decision on whether they were a match or not. It was the sixth time that I’d been called in for the transplant, so I wasn’t getting too excited, but I also didn’t let myself get too down. This time the news was good – the transplant was a go! Before I could blink, my team began to prep me. My worn out, diseased lungs were about to be replaced with clear, healthy lungs. My life was about to be forever changed.  

Before I went into surgery, my lung function was at a dismal 19% and I spent eighteen hours a day pumping myself with medications and intravenous antibiotics to stay alive.  This wasn’t me. I was a coach, an athlete and an advocate for living a healthy life with cystic fibrosis. This wasn’t healthy! My quality of life was non-existent, and quite frankly, I was embarrassed each time I struggled to walk up a flight of stairs.  

As I was wheeled into the operating room, I remember saying to my family, “Go into the waiting room and wait. I’ll see you later.” What was I thinking?   

When I woke up I truly was a changed man.  It was a foreign feeling  for me to have clear lungs and when I took my first breaths I told my surgeon, “these lungs are too big – I think you stuffed them in.” This wasn’t a joke, I was being serious.  I was grateful and knew this wouldn’t just be a second chance at life for me, but for my donor Chris.  We were in this together now. 

The last six years have been quite a journey – and that’s very much how I view life – as a journey.  I’ve written letters to my donor’s family each year, but they haven’t responded yet. I wholeheartedly respect their decision, but I felt strongly compelled to write an open letter to this amazing man Chris, who saved my life. 

Dear Chris……

To read Jerry’s letter to Chris, please click here

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.

Introducing our Newest Board Members!

Rachel Steinman

Hi! My name is Rachel Steinman, I’m 29 years old, and I’m super excited to be a member of the USACFA board.

I was diagnosed with CF at the age of 16 and have been very fortunate to have had fairly stable health throughout my life thus far. 

No matter one’s level of health, USACFA is an important outlet for our community. CF is a complicated disease and it affects every patient in a unique way. For me, having an online community has helped me both learn more about this disease, and feel less isolated in the process. 

I graduated from the University of Miami with degrees in Journalism and Sociology in 2009, and I spent a year volunteering with Americorps shortly after. A few years into my career I decided to quit my job and move to Tel Aviv, Israel for a change of lifestyle and a marketing position with a tech company. I moved back home to NY after a year to be close to my family.

I grew up on Long Island and currently reside in NYC with my boyfriend where I continue to work in digital marketing. I enjoy cooking, traveling with my boyfriend, and spending time with friends and family.

I believe I’ve been able to maintain good health with the help of a great team of doctors at Columbia Presbyterian in Manhattan, a positive attitude towards life with CF, lots of acupuncture and cupping therapy, and a very loving, supportive family.

As a new member of the board, I’m excited to be joining both the blog and social media committees, so please look out for future posts from me!

Amy Sylvis

Hello! My name is Amy Sylvis and I am so grateful to be a member of the USACFA board. I have been an avid reader of the CF Roundtable since the late 90s and I am forever grateful for how much I have learned over the past 2 decades from the publication. I fiercely believe that all people with cystic fibrosis should have access to the best care and latest knowledge – and I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to this prestigious organization. My specific passions include hemoptysis, aspergillus, CFRD and decreasing quality of treatment variation across CF centers in the United States.

I am 36 years old, diagnosed at 6 months old. I earned my Bachelors of Science in Business and Bachelors of Arts in International Relations from the University of Southern California as well as my Masters in Business Administration from USC. I have worked full time mostly in biotech and pharma, which continues to be my passion despite my health forcing me to leave work in 2017. In my spare time you can find me reading non-fiction, watching college football and traveling. My husband and I were married in August 2017, and we live in Los Angeles, CA with our little cocker spaniel/dachshund mix.

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