For me, one of the hardest things about having CF is experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation. I know that I'm not like other people. I wake up every day feeling sick and fatigued. Like others with CF, I deal with treatments and pills on a daily basis. But I'm not like many people with CF either. I was diagnosed when I was 22 and I'm still trying to figure out what it means to have this disease. Sometimes I feel like there is really no one else like me and that leaves me feeling scared and lonely.
Beginning at a young age, I always felt different from everyone else. I remember in 6th grade the gym teacher asked us to run a mile around the track with a goal to complete it in 10 minutes or less. As the other kids bolted off, I struggled. I didn't make it half way around the track before I passed out and the teacher had to carry me to the nurse's office. As she carried me away, the other kids were cheering because I had gotten them out of gym class for the day. I told myself I’m not meant to be a runner or an athlete, so who cares if I couldn’t run a mile?
My Eventual Diagnosis
When I was diagnosed with CF after not knowing what was wrong with me for so long, I felt a huge sense of relief. I was able to start treatments and my energy level drastically improved. However, my vision of being a “normal” person was slipping away. Now I was someone with this label: the girl with a terminal, chronic illness who can't do a lot of things because of CF.
After the initial relief of being diagnosed, I started facing issues of denial and confusion.
I dealt with these feelings by hiding them and pretending CF didn't exist. But I also decided I would exercise more -- starting off by doing walk/run intervals around the track. Maybe I could finally complete that mile that I dreaded in gym class. Then last year, I somehow became spontaneous enough to walk into a running store and join a running group.
The Three-Mile Run
The first run I went on was intimidating. About 30 of us gathered while the run leader said, “Today's route is an easy three-mile run.” My first thought was, “Easy?! You are crazy.” I don't know how long it took me to finish, but I finished it. As I reached the end of the route, the group was waiting for me and cheering me on. I knew in that moment that I had just found an incredible group of supportive friends.
I kept going back to the run group and I turned those 3 miles into 4 miles, and 4 into 6 and kept going until I ran my first half marathon. I don't know why I tortured myself this way -- all I wanted to do was run a mile around the track! Because of running, my health has improved. I’ve become more disciplined about eating right and doing treatments. If I can get myself through each painful step of a half marathon, I can get through each breath of a treatment. If I stopped running, it would be like I stopped taking a crucial medicine for my CF.
Conquering the Isolation
Running has made me feel less isolated from everyone else. Everyone has challenges that have shaped them, and CF is one of mine. Even though I’m not “normal,” I’ve learned to embrace it and appreciate the strong person that CF has made me. Running showed me that my fear of being labeled as someone who can’t do anything is false. CF is not a negative label or an inhibitor; it’s just a part of me.
I am now signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon, with a new goal of completing a full marathon. And who knows -- running the race may only be the beginning of many attempts to complete a full marathon. One thing I’ve learned from this process is: don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Especially yourself.