Speeding Past 50

The Saga of the Polka Dot Shoes

By Kathy Russell

The hurricanes seem to be easing and autumn is firmly ensconced. Here, the autumn crocuses are resplendent in their lovely, lavender color. They always cheer me. The tomatoes are canned and the sweet pickle relish and chili sauce are put up, so it is time to start thinking of cooler-weather activities. That means it is time for hot cocoa, hot tea, hot cider and good foods from the crock pot. I love it. I look forward to the warm treats of autumn and I hope you have a pleasant autumn, too.

Today, I looked out the window toward our barn and I saw a cat toying with a mouse. The cat would tease and torment the mouse then it would leave it alone, only to start the cycle again. The mouse never seemed to get very far. It seemed so unfair to me. I was so happy that I am not that poor mouse. I thought how awful that would be; to be tormented and not be able to get away.

All of a sudden, in a blaze of wonder, I realized that CF is the cat and I am the mouse. I go along doing fairly well for quite a while. Next, out of nowhere, CF looms its ugly head and I don’t do so well. That CF cat picks me up and slams me to the ground. It bats me back and forth, and holds me down with its powerful paw. After a while, it lets go and sits back and watches for a time. I feel so good and enjoy my time of comfort. Of course, that cat will pounce again.

How do we live with such uncertainty? Is there anything that we can do to make ours lives less unpredictable? Perhaps there is. Maybe we can find a way to take our minds off that darned cat. If we can forget about that cat, for even a little while, our lives may seem a little easier. More about this, later.

My back seems to be back to normal after the auto accident, so I can get back on the treadmill and try to get back into some kind of decent shape. (Is that enough use of the word ‘back’?) Have I ever told you how lazy I am and that I hate to exercise? I would love to be a slug-a-bed that spends most of my time in a comfortable recliner with a good book. Since that really is not the best way to take care of myself, I guess I have to do some exercise.
I like to spend about 20 minutes each day on the treadmill. That is enough to get my heart going and to burn some calories. (You know that, unlike most people who have CF, I am not underweight. In fact, I am an obese, older person.) Exercising really helps to keep my muscles in better shape, which helps me to breathe better, which in turn helps my overall health. That sounds like a “win – win” situation to me.

I always have had troubles with my feet. I was born with high arches and the shoes that are available to women today just don’t support those high insteps. My primary care doc referred me to a good Podiatrist, who prescribed custom orthotics for me. Let me tell you what a difference they make in my overall well-being.

The shoes I wear are not stylish, nor are they particularly attractive, but they do allow me to wear my orthotics and that allows me to walk much more comfortably. Since I can walk more comfortably, I can get better exercise. The exercises that I do with resistance bands help to strengthen my leg muscles and that helps with walking, too.

So, now that my feet feel better, I am more interested in what my shoes look like. Even I get tired of having to wear “sensible” shoes all the time. I want something with a little style and some pizzazz! Shoes that can hold orthotics will never be called stylish, and they definitely have no pizzazz. (Remember that the CF cat always is watching.) What to do, what to do?

I’ll tell you what to do…go out and get some shoes that you like and good sense be hanged. Could I really do that? I always am so compliant and feel such need to follow the doctors’ orders. Also, will my feet allow me to wear a shoe that looks good? Ah, what the heck…let’s give it a try. (Of course, I am not telling that to my doc!)

Three times recently, I had seen an ad for a pair of shoes that really intrigued me. I think they reminded me of a happier, more innocent time in my life. They were high heels, which I haven’t worn in many years. They had platform soles, which haven’t been popular since the days when I was wearing high heels. They had open toes and sling backs. They were covered in a brown satin material that had cream colored polka dots. All in all, they were totally frivolous shoes. I might have seen these shoes on a secretary on an old TV show, but I never would have seen them on an old woman. Oh, well, I am old and I can get them (and wear them) if I want to. So I did!

I decided that even if I never wear them, they bring me pleasure. I could put them in my office as decoration and be happy with them. Somehow, though, I do think I will wear them – at least once – at least for a short while. It will feel rather daring; a little like skipping a round of time on The Vest®. This can be a good thing.

It is so easy to get into the habit of doing all that we should do to maintain a certain level of health. We sometimes tend to forget that we have any control over this aspect of our lives. We begin to feel bogged down by CF. We no longer have a sense of being able to decide what we will do and when we will do it. We know that at a certain time we will inhale whatever meds we have to and then we will sit and use whatever form of airway clearance we find to be the most effective. We always remember that the CF cat always is watching.

I advocate doing all one’s treatments and all the CPT and exercise that we are supposed to. This we do for ourselves. If we skip our treatments, we are the only ones that have to “pay” for it. We must learn to do things because they will help us to live the best life possible. At the same time, I advocate doing something that helps to let us forget (for a little bit) about that darned cat. Doing something that is totally frivolous can be so liberating. For me, it was getting a pair of totally impractical shoes. For you, it will be something else, but there is something that can let you feel free…if only for a little while. Try it, then let me know what you did.

I mentioned that I am old. I will be 65-years-old in April. That is quite an accomplishment when one has CF. I owe a lot of the credit to my mother. She was my advocate and primary caregiver for the first 18 years of my life. She made sure that I lived to adulthood. She died 16 years ago.

For the past 43 years, my husband has filled the role of chief advocate and caregiver. He is the one who spends hours on the phone with insurance companies or other providers. He makes sure that all the ‘i’s are dotted and all the ‘t’s are crossed. He is amazing. I think he learned much of that from his mother.

My mother-in-law was a terrific woman. She raised five sons and never complained about having a house full of men. She always was very thoughtful and caring. On birthdays, she would send a check written in the amount of the person’s age and enclose it in a card for them. When children were young, this was just a few dollars, but when they grew up, the amounts got rather sizable. She died nearly 24 years ago. I miss both moms to this day.
In honor of my mother, my husband, my mother-in-law, and all the other wonderful people in my life; I have decided to carry on the tradition of writing a birthday check in the amount of a person’s age. But I am doing it differently. Instead of sending a check to others on their birthdays; I will write a check to USACFA on my birthday, in the amount of my age ($65, this next time). This will give me more pleasure than any gift that I could receive. It will help me remember those I love.

I know that not everyone can afford to send an amount of money that is equal to their age, but if you can – what a nice way for us to be able to thank our caregivers and loved ones. When your birthday rolls around, give it a thought. USACFA can use the help and it is an easy way to say thanks to those who mean so much to us.

So, as I think of that CF cat and the little mouse, I feel that I am a mouse that can “roar” at times. CF may try to bat me down, but I will lift my head and roar back at it, as long as I can. Of course, doing something totally frivolous, in the meantime, couldn’t hurt. I hope you can find your equivalent to polka dot shoes.

Stay healthy and happy,


Kathy is a former Director of USACFA. She and her husband Paul live in Gresham, OR. Her email is: krussell@usacfa.org.