By Tabby Caldwell
I’ve been thinking about my future lately and realizing how soon its actually coming. I’m planning on going to graduate school next year, and deciding on which schools to apply to has been on my mind. This past week I thought to myself “I’ll be at this school for at least four years, so I should probably find a school with a good CF center nearby”. I realized that this thought never even occurred to me when I was choosing an undergraduate school three years ago. In hindsight, coming to Utah was not the wisest choice. The air is always polluted, the cold winters and the elevation make breathing even harder, and the CF center is not super close.
So, maybe I didn’t think things through super well my first go around at choosing where to live. But here’s the thing; it still worked out! I’m sure there are other places around the country that would make living with CF an absolute dream (no, but maybe close), but I’ve realized you can really make it work anywhere. Despite the setbacks, I’ve kept my health up and haven’t had to go on IV antibiotics the entire time I’ve been in college, which is better than I’ve done my entire life.
I’ve learned that the key to success in any environment is making sacrifices and being adaptable. I will admit, I’m not perfect at this. I definitely should be sleeping more, and my eating schedule and diet can be unpredictable, and I sometimes just push myself to do way too much. But, I do always put a priority on my treatments and try to sleep at least a decent amount. This does mean putting on my makeup while I’m doing my nebulizer (which I do most mornings) or learning to sleep through the loudest of nights in my apartment living room. College is just a segue into real life, so it can be challenging and it puts you in new and strange situations, but it teaches you how to actually live with CF.
In deciding where to go to college, I believe you can make it work at any school in any part of the world. There are sacrifices, and I have discovered first hand that as a college kid with CF, you can’t really afford to have FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s not that you can’t have it, and you would actually probably be more prone to have it, but you can’t live if you’re always worried about what you’re missing. It can sometimes feel so unfair when your body is stopping you, but you have to accept that your body works so hard every day so that you can accomplish all that you do, despite setbacks. Be grateful for your resilient body and take care of it, even when your mind tells you to ignore it.
For anyone beginning to handle their CF more independently or anyone struggling with CF at any phase in their life, this is important to remember. Your body is working so hard, so try not to be so hard on yourself. If you forget to take your enzymes, or miss a treatment, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up too much. For me, this has been the most difficult part of learning to take care of myself. The responsibility of cystic fibrosis can be overwhelming, especially when everyone around you seems to be so careless about their health. So try your best and put in the effort that your body deserves, but if you slip up, learn from your downfalls and try not to blame yourself.
Transitioning to college is a challenge for most people, and with CF there are just a few extra challenges included. However, these setbacks don’t have to control your life or your future. It’s so easy to think of how hard it can be to live and breathe, especially here in Utah, but I try to remind myself that I’m still going strong and I will keep waking up, exhausted and short of breath, and keep walking to campus every day because I am strong and I owe it to myself to give myself a fighting chance. So, never let your CF stop you from pursuing what you really care about. With patience, hard work, and sacrifices, I believe you can find a happy and healthy life in any circumstances.