It’s hard not to dwell on all of the future plans I might have had if cystic fibrosis (CF) hadn’t entered my life.
Things seemed limitless as a child. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have confidently rattled off a list of potential careers. Even when attending college, I had no real sense of my body’s capabilities. I had been a good student in high school, despite a fairly substantial health setback my sophomore year that knocked my GPA for a loop.
However, I managed to recover. I had a Type A personality that demanded perfection. I was going to be a veterinarian, and not just an ordinary vet — I was set on becoming a wildlife conservation specialist, working out in the field or in zoos saving endangered species. I wanted to be like Steve Irwin or Jeff Corwin, with my own television show. No women were doing that kind of work on TV then, so I thought I could be the first. Then the reality of life with CF reared its ugly head.
Like many other young adults with CF, I struggled to balance taking care of myself and my medical needs, a rigorous class load, and the newfound freedom that college offered. By my sophomore year, I had a nasty infection, with both methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and pseudomonas working their hardest to bring me down.
I barely had the energy to get to class from my dorm room. I fell behind in my assignments and didn’t feel well enough to concentrate on studying. It was clear that something needed to change. Stress has always triggered infections, and to say that I was stressed is an understatement.
It also became clear that I had other impassable roadblocks on my path to becoming a vet. I couldn’t work in the field because I need access to electricity and fresh, clean water, as well as the most hygienic conditions possible. I realized that in the parts of the world where I would be working, some people have no indoor plumbing, which is a luxury. I also struggled with the strong scents of the chemistry lab.
Reluctantly, I switched majors from zoology to creative writing. It felt like cystic fibrosis had won. I gave up on my dream, and to this day, I haven’t returned to it. One thing we don’t mention enough is that sometimes CF can make things impossible. It was so ingrained in my head that my disability wouldn’t stand in my way, but that belief didn’t reflect the reality of my situation. Instead, I plowed through in my typical bullheaded fashion.
It’s only as an adult that I’ve realized a compromise was possible. I was so determined not to let CF define my life, to deny that it could block my future so completely, that I was unable to see alternative paths in front of me. It’s only with maturity and acceptance of my limits that I learned to work with my body.
I now have some freelance work writing about nature and wildlife, something I love and that scratches the itch that my failure to become a veterinarian left. And who knows? Maybe I’ll still end up with that nature show one day.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.
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