Finding my purpose in this empty nest after my lung transplant

Who am I now if I’m no longer a nurse, active mom, or needy CF patient?

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by Jennifer Bleecher |

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines identity as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” Having a genetic, progressive, and life-shortening disease such as cystic fibrosis (CF) can consume a large part of a person’s physical, mental, and emotional state. It can feel that the disease becomes your identity.

CF was a fatal disease in 1971, when I was born. The average life expectancy at the time was 12. My symptoms were mild when I was young, so my mom decided not to share that prognosis with me. Back then, pancreatic enzymes and antibiotics were the only medications available to treat CF. The internet wasn’t born yet, so I had limited access to information about my disease.

Without the knowledge, or the fear, of CF, I was allowed to dream and follow my passions in life, just like my peers. Those passions took me to a career in nursing. I love helping others, and the financial stability was attractive. My career choice wasn’t connected to me living with CF, though it ended up serving me well as my disease progressed as I got older.

When I became a mother, I felt that was my purpose in life. All my efforts went toward providing for my daughter, and it made me happy. When she went off to college, I found I had time on my hands to wonder where I’d left off as a person before she was born.

Before I could figure that out, CF began demanding more and more attention and time from me, leading eventually to my need for a double lung transplant. Now, three years after that massive surgery, I’m beyond grateful to be alive and doing well, but again I’m facing the question: What do I do now?

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Finding myself at 52

I love dogs, music, and drawing. I love reading and photography. I love exercising and making crafts. I feel I have many interests, though I don’t feel I’m a master at any of them. While my interests are enjoyable to me, throughout my life I’ve envied people who seemed to have found their sole passion in life and excel at it.

Who am I now if I’m no longer a nurse, a mom, or a CF patient? Of course, I’m still a mom, though my daughter is grown and no longer needs the level of care and assistance she did when she was younger. And of course, I still have CF, but with new lungs I have hours back in my day without treatments, as well as the physical ability to breathe easier.

I find myself starting and stopping activities. Nothing is specifically calling me. After a lifetime of being overly busy with life and CF, this quiet time post-transplant leaves me confused. I’m back to those earlier years of my life when CF didn’t demand so much of my attention. Where and what am I to do now?

I take inspiration from many in the CF community who have been in this position before me. I also take inspiration from my healthy peers and the choices they make about how they spend their time. As always, I feel somewhere between these two spaces, feeling I have a foot on both sides of the fence.

At age 52, I’m back to finding myself. What do I want to do? Where do my passions lie? What kind of commitments can I make at this point of health in my life? I’m thankful to face these questions.

Though I feel slow in figuring it all out, I’m also relishing being in this moment. Listening to my inner voice. Giving myself permission to be OK during this seeming pause. Having the opportunity for a next chapter. I’m sure that in time, my new purpose and passion — after my lung transplant and continuing my time as an empty nester — will reveal itself. It’s a good problem to have.

I’d love to hear how you’ve found your passion and purpose during a transition in your life and in your CF journey. Please share in the comments below.

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.


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