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.

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.

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

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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

Lessons From the Road: Avoid the ER

By: Sydna Marshall

A few weeks ago I found myself in the ER at midnight in a new city.  Let me backup the story a bit. I had planned a road trip to Dallas with my bestie (we’ll call her “A” for now) for a beauty conference. Two days before the trip I ran a 102.6 fever for the better part of the day. The morning of, as I was doing my treatments and finishing my packing, I felt the familiar band of pain around my chest. I mentally ruled it out as merely remnants of pain from my blockage earlier in the week and carried on with my morning. I drove the hour north to pick up A and start our trek up to Dallas. We stopped for tacos and queso along the way. I took some pain meds for that persistent and annoying band of pain. A few hours later, we checked into our hotel, picked up our beauty boxes for the conference, and had a happy hour cocktail in the bar followed by sushi in the rotating tower.

Fast forward to 9p: CF changes on a dime. Suddenly, that pesky band of pain that I’ve absently noticed and ignored for the day is front and center. I can barely take a breath, much less a full breath, post-treatment. By 11p, I’ve laid in bed silently crying as the pain spikes up to an 8 and then back to a 6. It dawns on me that the band of pain is pleuritic pain. After texting multiple Cysters and weighing the pain with the inability to breathe, my recent 20% drop in lung functions and the fever I ran earlier, I finally make the decision to wake up A (who is for once sleeping peacefully, without interruptions, in the absence of her four kiddos) and have her drive me to the ER.

We arrive at the ER with this naïve idea that my CF clinic, albeit on-call at this late hour, will communicate with the CF clinic in Dallas. I’d already given A all of the information, phone numbers, and instructions for getting everyone, including my husband Adam, on the same page. Over the course of the evening and early morning hours, hundreds of texts and calls between A, Adam, and the on-call care team at home transpire in an effort to expedite the process.  Since it’s not my first rodeo with pleuritic pain, I’ve already determined before we even got settled in the ER that I desperately need instant-relief pain meds and a chest X-ray. Am I the only one who self-diagnoses? When you’re in and out of the doctor for the litany of health problems in addition to CF, you become the expert on your own body. I digress.

Over the course of the 12 hours in the ER, my port is accessed a total of four times, with one of them being a needle repositioning, before we get anywhere. To administer IV medication and run blood tests, two different nurses start dueling peripheral lines, one in my left hand and the other in my right elbow.  Meanwhile, other nurses attempt to get my port working, which won’t flush or draw back blood. My vein blows on one of the lines, and the other is dangerously close. I have a chest X-ray taken, a CT scan with contrast of my lungs, every blood test imaginable, an EKG, several rounds of morphine, two doses of vancomycin and two albuterol treatments.  I’m told I have a potential pulmonary embolism, a virus causing pleurisy, a mucus plug, or sepsis. Twelve hours in, and about 10 minutes after Adam arrives at the Dallas ER, my repeated requests to be moved to my home clinic, care team, and hospital are heard and I’m care-flighted from Dallas back home (Adam has to drive back home). Once admitted to my home hospital, they have me repeat nearly every test the Dallas ER did less than 24 hours prior as none of my medical records transferred with me from the ER. Five days later the medical records from the ER finally make their way to my home hospital and care team.  In the end, it was determined that I had a virus, which accounted for the difficulty in breathing, pleuritic pain, and fever. It was a very long, traumatic, stressful, and a trying 12 hours away from home. And, I missed my conference entirely, but that’s another story.

I’ve since had some time to reflect on this jaunt to the ER. The biggest takeaway for me – CF clinics do communicate but getting the ER to communicate with the CF care team is nearly impossible.  Having a port is a blessing, but it requires orders from your doctor, not just any doctor, to access and use heparin or cath flow in the event that it’s not working properly (or, in my case, repeatedly accessed incorrectly).  I learned that complaining of chest pain at a new hospital where none of my medical records are accessible means a round of tests to rule out heart problems, despite knowing that it’s my lungs. I learned that transferring medical records from one hospital to another is a royal pain in the you-know-what.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but I know I could have avoided the entire debacle if only I had heeded my inner voice the morning I left for Dallas when I first felt the band of pain around my lungs.  For me, it’s often hard to gauge when it’s important to say no and upend plans, especially when it impacts friends and family around me. If a trip to Walgreens completes a vacation in my house, am I an overachiever for my trip to the ER?

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.

A Dutch Company on the Quest Against Cystic Fibrosis

An interview by:  Clara Rodríguez Fernández

Daniel de Boer founded ProQR in 2012 following a strong determination to improve the lives of people with cystic fibrosis. We started ProQR Therapeutics for a very personal reason,” he told me. “Eight years ago, my son was born, and diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. At that time, I was a serial entrepreneur in IT. I decided to make a career switch and start a company to develop drugs for cystic fibrosis, but then also for other genetic diseases.”

One would think that a person without a background in biotech might have it difficult to succeed, but de Boer is not the only to have so far successfully undertaken this endeavor. Over in France Karen Aiach built Lysogene to treat her daughter’s rare genetic disorder, while in the US the story of John Crawley and his company Amicus Therapeutics, founded to help his two children’s diagnosis, went so far as to inspire a movie. The determination and motivation of these parents seem to overdrive any challenges they might have faced because of their limited experience.

De Boer set out to create a business plan for his new company and found out that there was already quite a lot of activity, especially in approaches using small molecules or gene therapy.“We decided that we really wanted to add something new to the space, and take a completely novel approach.”

So he started looking for a new technology, and he found it. “Around that time, I met for the first time with some people in biotech, including the CEO at Alnylam, John Maraganore, and we talked about how they used RNA approaches for genetic diseases,” says de Boer.

Technologies targeting RNA are quite new compared to those that target DNA such as gene therapy. But RNA-based treatments have started to gain traction in the last few years. There are multiple ways that RNA can be used as a therapeutic, but its distinctive advantage over gene therapies and the likes is that it does not permanently change our genetic makeup, making it possible to reverse its effects.

Today, RNA technology is being tested in multiple rare diseases caused by genetic mutations, such as hemophilia, porphyria, or iron overload disorders. I thought, ‘if you can do that for all these other genetic diseases, why not for cystic fibrosis?’” says the Boer. “With that in mind, we started ProQR.”

For the rest of this article, please click here.

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**

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.