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Learning to Manage CF Responsibilities When Going Away to College

By Alexandra Bannon - Fall 2019 LMK scholarship winner

Balancing work and school is never easy, but adding a chronic illness like cystic fibrosis and you have a whole new set of challenges. Transitioning from living at home to living in a campus dorm, two hours away from my family has had me reflecting on my time in high school and thinking ahead of the challenges to come.

As a junior in high school, I was accepted to an Early College program with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The specific program focused on Computer, Networking, and Electronic Technology (CNET) and gave me wonderful opportunities to experiment with computers and basic engineering. Through this program, I completed an associates degree in Information Technology simultaneously with my high school diploma. The CNET program in combination with my co-op job and internship gave me a variety of experiences that solidified my interest in Electrical Engineering.

One thing that I learned early on in my high school career was that I needed to use a strict daily routine to maintain my health. School days would start around five in the morning with my breathing treatments for airway clearance.

Then my day would continue as all other high school students with the addition of medications and extra calories to help maintain my weight. I would frequently complete homework on the bus traveling to athletic events, and complete more breathing treatments and airway clearance late in the evening. During my senior year, I also started to apply for scholarships and am honored to have been selected for the CF Roundtable LMK Scholarship. The regular routine and my ability to plan ahead for each day of treatment, has allowed me to balance all my activities and has repeatedly proved to be an asset that has helped me be successful in studying and completing homework for my advanced coursework. This is definitely a strategy that I plan to continue to implement in college.

This spring I first met with my adult CF team after transiting from pediatric care, and they provided documentation for one of my first meetings on campus with the Disability Resource Center. Meeting with someone from the university was invaluable and something that I would highly recommend for anyone moving away for school. This meeting really helped me think about the year ahead and what I would need to have ready at the start of the school year: medication delivery, a class schedule that would allow me to fit in all of my treatments, space to complete treatments in a dorm setting, a place to sterilize equipment, transportation to and from doctor appointments, and a strategy for talking with my professors about my needs. Self-advocacy is something that I continue to work on as I move forward in my education and career.

As I have gotten closer to the school year I have added a sterilizer (Wabi), nebulizer, Monarch Vest, and about a year's supply of nebulizer cups to the standard college shopping list. And I feel ready to start my future as a Spartan (Go Green) and ready to start a program that will lead me to a fulfilling professional career that will allow me to continue to complete my treatments and maintain my health. Throughout my life, I have embraced innovative medical treatments and clinical trials that have helped keep me healthy but I haven’t done it alone. I had support from my family, a great medical team at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the CF community. I will not let chronic illness and hours of daily medical treatments keep me from engaging in the world around me.


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About the Author: Ally Bannon is 19 and a student at Michigan State University. Ally grew up in rural northern Michigan, enjoying cold weather and winter sports. Her other pastimes include traveling, reading, writing, and spending time with family and friends. Any day spent on the beach or near an ocean is a good one!

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