After My Lung Transplant, Hiking Is Like a Breath of Fresh Air
Hiking has become one of my favorite activities since my double-lung transplant four years ago. Before the transplant, hiking would have never been in my vocabulary.
Having cystic fibrosis meant breathing was a struggle, and I would get a bellyache of anxiety when people would ask me to go hiking with them. Sometimes I would say yes and then bail at the last minute. Other times, I would tell the truth — that hiking was too hard for me.
I didn’t realize all the activities that I avoided, or how much shame I carried. Not being able to hike was just a reminder that there was always one more thing I couldn’t do because of cystic fibrosis, one more thing that separated me from my peers, one more thing to remind me that I was different.
Before my transplant, I constantly thought about my breathing, and was always calculating how many steps I took before I would have to recover my breath, which looked like bending over with my hands on my knees practicing pursed-lip breathing. It also looked like coughing and spitting copious amounts of mucus, because any kind of exercise was airway clearance.
I dreaded walking up stairs or any slight incline. Most of the time, I hurried to get it over with. I didn’t want people to see me struggling or coughing until I puked.
Breathing it in
My life with new lungs feels like I’m living life in reverse. I’m able to do all the things that able-bodied people can do. At the ripe old age of nearly 35, I now love hiking. Taking in the scenery, breathing fresh mountain air, and experiencing the rush of feeling alive is exhilarating. Being in the woods is therapeutic for me. Nature helps not only my physical health, but also my mental, emotional, and spiritual health come into alignment.
I’m definitely not the fastest hiker out there. Tons of people pass me as I’m touching the trees in admiration, stopping to smell the wildflowers, and smiling at the sunshine. There’s no more shame in my game, though. It’s not a competition to get to the top of a trail. I’m just grateful I have lungs that can handle hiking. I want to drink in the whole experience.
Being able to hike has taught me to have a little grace for myself. There are times still when my body can’t go as fast as I want it to go, and I’m learning how to listen to it and set a pace for myself that I know I’ll be able to handle.
I’ve found sweet hiking friends who are patient, kind, and caring. They don’t race to the top to get the hike over with, but rather they take their time and enjoy the journey like I do. They just want to hike with me.
National Hiking Day is next week, and I’m reminded about one of the most important lesson I’ve learned on the trails: It doesn’t matter what pace I’m going at. All that matters is that I get out there. Nature doesn’t judge. I’m learning not to judge myself, too.
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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.
such a great story, Lara! Just want to add: the slower one hikes, the more you see and hear of all the nature around you! Birders always go slowly and stop a lot, because there's so much going on that will be missed if only going for "speed". (besides, you could do that on a treadmill!)