My Tenacity in Responding to CF Hardships Comes From One Place: New Jersey

Columnist William Ryan shares a love letter to an oft-misunderstood state

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by William Ryan |

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When I try to understand the complexities of cystic fibrosis (CF), it often feels like trying to get through Newark Liberty International Airport: What am I doing, how did I get here, and which way to the bathroom?

Like the thick mucus in a CF patient’s lungs, people in New Jersey stick together. You may get lost along the Jersey Turnpike in the same way that I’ve tried to understand my version of CF, but we’ll get through it together.

I was born in New York City, but raised in New Jersey. Specifically, I’m from North New Jersey, right next to New York City. My small hometown of a city sits right across from Staten Island, New York’s oft-forgotten fifth borough, and Newark, where a lot of people get the New Jersey stereotypes. Tony Soprano was from Newark.

I think one of the most important parts of understanding “nonsense” is understanding where you come from and how it shaped you. To understand New Jersey is to understand the strange intricacies of the Garden State. There is a lot of nonsense to New Jersey, which is why we have the magazine Weird N.J. We argue over whether it’s Taylor ham or a pork roll. (It’s Taylor ham. Go argue with a mirror.) We fight about whether Central New Jersey exists (it doesn’t), and who has the best pizza and bagels — New Jersey or New York? (It’s New Jersey.)

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We have the little brother mentality sometimes, because we’re always being compared to New York City. New York is a city of 8 million people banging heads every day, but showing love to one another and being compassionate. The same can be said about New Jersey, but a lot of people, including my own parents and aunts and uncles, had to travel into New York City. If New York is seen as more white collar, then New Jersey is true blue. Well, except for maybe Alpine.

growing up in new jersey | cystic fibrosis news today | A sign along the New Jersey Turnpike says "Welcome to New Jersey"

These welcome signs are everywhere in New Jersey. (Photo by William Ryan)

In New Jersey, you have to prove yourself and show that you can survive out here. It may seem harsh, but that’s the environment we come from. The reason Bruce Springsteen hasn’t stopped singing about blue-collar workers and people living on the edge, trying to survive, is because that’s who we are. New Jersey is as much of a home to punk rock as New York City is. The city might’ve had The Ramones and hardcore bands like Madball, but we’ve got The Bouncing Souls and Misfits. No single human will scare as many children as the 1988 version of Glenn Danzig. Also, New Jersey has My Chemical Romance and New York doesn’t, so that’s a point for us.

I’m not saying we’re all only tough people. One thing you will never be able to knock New Jersey about is whether we are a compassionate people. We’re like candy with a hard shell yet gooey on the inside. Jon Stewart, one of New Jersey’s proudest sons, has fought valiantly on behalf of firemen, police officers, and other 9/11 volunteers, and sick military vets, to make sure they have access to the proper healthcare they need and deserve.

When U.S. soldiers went to Europe during World War I, a common farewell phrase was, “Heaven, hell, or Hoboken,” as that’s the place where many soldiers would return to in the states. Hoboken is two towns over from where I live, and the next town over from where I went to high school, where I learned of the phrase in sophomore English class. History molds you. Despite how hard things get, I can’t give up. It’s not just the personal pride of my own ego, but the pride of any friend I’ve made or my own family. Like the catchphrase after Hurricane Sandy, I’m “Jersey Strong.”

If I let cystic fibrosis get to me, then I’d be weighing myself down and giving into feeling lesser than a so-called normal person. If I rise above and show life and others what I am capable of, I can make it through anything.

In my lifetime, New Jersey has made it through the loss of 750 victims on 9/11, a hurricane that ravaged the shore, and what feels like a few blizzards every year. If my beloved home state can make it through all of that, then I can push myself when I’m sick or not feeling like myself in the morning. Just like the chorus of “True Believers” by The Bouncing Souls goes, “We live our life in our own way/ Never really listened to what they say.” You and I can’t give into our negative thoughts. We must keep going.

Anytime I hear someone tell me about how much they dislike New Jersey, I just chuckle to myself. Sure, we might have an attitude. We might think we’re always right. (We are.) We might even throw in a few expletives, because what’s New Jersey without some language? I know they’ll be back, though. The pizza and bagels are too good.

Oh, fun fact: Bon Jovi came on the radio when I took that photo. Jersey!

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.




Good job Will. Love ya

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you Dad Palmiero! Love you too

Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Will, I love the way you correlate your wonderful sense of humor with the seriousness of CF. It's quite motivating. Keep up the good work!

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you, Mama Palmiero!

Terry Smith avatar

Terry Smith

Oh Will, this is a great one! And it has brought a big smile to my face thinking about all my memories from my home state. You are a Jersey Boy in the truest sense! Keep on doing what you're doing. Your parents should be so proud! Can't wait to get back to NJ again for pizza and bagels! As far as Taylor Ham (and/or pork roll), you can keep them!

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you Terry! I'll always be a proud son of New Jersey!

Gina M. Palmiero avatar

Gina M. Palmiero

A wonderfully written and thought-provoking column detailing what it feels like to live with a chronic illness in a fast-paced, modern, urban environment. A kickstarter to sparking the age-old debate around the concept of Nature vs. Nurture. I cannot wait to continue reading!

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you, Gina!


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