For my 30th birthday, I’m silencing C-3PO’s cynical calculations

When it comes to my life with CF and my transplant, 'never tell me the odds'

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by Brad Dell |

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For all the love I have for “Star Wars,” I could never get around to liking C-3PO.

“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!” the golden droid complained in “The Empire Strikes Back” as Han Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon, weaved past colliding space rocks with imperial fighters hot on his tail.

“Never tell me the odds!” Solo barks.

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Growing up, some said I probably wouldn’t live past my teens. Others said I shouldn’t bother with going to college or dreaming of a career.

When I fought Mycobacterium abscessus, which is associated with the worst impact on lung function, all but one lung transplant center said they wouldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole because the superbacterium disqualifies most transplant candidates.

Plus, I had a slew of other complications. The director of my eventual lung transplant center said he’d never seen a medical history as thick as mine. Well, he typed that because I was completely deaf at the time.

Anyway, it’s been six and a half years since my smooth lung transplant. I got a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history, I work two satisfying jobs, as a director of community content in publishing and as a pastor, and thanks to cochlear implants, I’m listening to the “Star Wars” soundtrack as I write this. Tomorrow I hit 30 years old.

You won’t be surprised that the gambler Han Solo is my favorite character.

Until my transplant, I never cared to care for myself. I didn’t have a scrap of self-love, so I didn’t see myself worth saving. And yet a contradictory pride resided within me because the moment someone challenged me, a relentless drive to prove them wrong would blaze within. Each time a doctor said I wouldn’t be able to do this or that, or make it to this or that, that fire roared.

Two young boys play "Star Wars"; one holds a gun and wears a smile, while the other, wearing round sunglasses, holds a green light saber.

An angry little Jedi and his friend about to go full Sith on his disease. (Courtesy of Brad Dell)

Redirecting stubbornness to salvation

Mom often says she feels sorry for anyone who argues with me because I simply won’t let go. My stubborn attitude was a bane to her parenting. But recently, she said that all she wanted was for me to live a little longer, then a little more, even if it meant she got hurt in the process. So if she could see the fire lit in me in response to a health challenge, she knew with relief that nothing would stop me.

But that stubbornness was not always to anyone’s benefit and would need redirection. In a season long ago, my stubbornness was killing me. I refused to do treatments because I believed the medication side effects outweighed the pain of my disease’s natural symptoms, even if it would lead to an earlier death.

My pulmonologist, hitting a breaking point of frustration, sat me down and pulled out graph after graph showing calculations of how my current trajectory would bring about death sooner than I’d thought, and she detailed the new symptoms that would crush me. She told me that by giving up on my health, I wouldn’t be able to graduate high school or go to college, or achieve the career dreams I awkwardly held in tension — and in denial.

I’m not painting the portrait of a cruel doctor, but one who wisely hacked my psyche so that my mom could see me live a little longer. For hours I burned with rage. “Who does she think she is? She has no idea what I’m capable of.” If I were in a better place, I might’ve humorously quipped, “Never tell me the odds!” You can guess what happened next.

That pulmonologist’s team would later call me Wolverine because I bounced back in my health so rapidly. Today, she’s one of my most admired doctors. And here I am, alive and taking care of myself.

Raising the bets

You know, gamblers go harder and harder, taller and taller, in their bets. This excites me also.

What if I told you I plan to get married soon, start a family, and rot at an old age of some unexpected disease unrelated to cystic fibrosis or transplant? Maybe you’d say the odds of this are 3,720 to 1. Maybe you’d remind me that doctors have been saying since we were born that cystic fibrosis would have a cure “any day now,” and I should give up on these fantasies. Maybe I’d shout back that you should never tell me the odds. Haven’t I always proven them wrong?

Later in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Han Solo is up to his usual gambles, this time hiding his ship in plain sight by latching it onto the back of an imperial capital ship. C-3PO ignores it when Solo succeeds at defying the odds, crying out, “Captain Solo, this time you have gone too far!” Han’s furry copilot, Chewbacca, roars in irritation at C-3PO, who then whines, “No, I will not be quiet, Chewbacca! Why doesn’t anyone listen to me? … Surrender is a perfectly acceptable alternative in extreme circumstances.” Princess Leia then shuts off C-3PO’s power, and the droid goes quiet.

Princess Leia … so dreamy.


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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