How Dropping Out of High School Led Me to College

Cystic fibrosis forced me to drop out of high school. After earning my GED, I'm in college and more determined -- than ever -- to finish.

| 5 min read
Abigail Hansen

I woke up every morning dreading having to go to school. This dread was probably 70 percent not feeling well, 20 percent fearing that some kid in my math class would sneeze and I'd end up in the hospital on antibiotics a week later, and 10 percent the everyday teenager's attitude toward school. But, this constant cycle began to take its toll and I ended up trying online school through the school I was attending.

I worked with a school social worker and the guidance counselors to come up with a plan on how to stay a full-time high-school student while also balancing my health. This plan worked -- but only for a few months. I can't quite recall all the things that happened that led to it, but, after a few months of online school, I technically “dropped out.” I don't like to use that term, though. I like to call it “taking an extra-long break.” And, it was an extra-long break; it lasted from 2013 to 2016.

I had reasons. It wasn't like I just said “Eh, school's for losers. I don't need an education.” I wasn't healthy. I was trying to balance cystic fibrosis and doing well in school and both were making my health decline in every aspect. Truth be told, I was scared that if I didn't focus just on my health, my life expectancy was going to drop significantly.

I remember thinking, "If I continue to push myself too hard to graduate from high school so I can go to college like everyone wants me to, I'm not going to even make it to college."

My brother, Stewart, graduated college in May of 2016. I spent graduation weekend with him and his friends; that's when the switch in my brain flipped. I realized that I needed to prove to myself that I could do it and that CF wasn't going to hold me back. I decided to pursue a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). After spending months studying -- and waiting a bit too long due to fear -- I took the exam.

I passed on my first attempt with a high enough score on the science portion to count as a college credit. (I thank my extensive medical knowledge due to CF and “Grey's Anatomy” marathons.) I felt so accomplished. It was the first time in a very long while that I was proud of myself. I was a point above my disease now. But, I wasn't done yet.

I decided I would dip my toe into the college pool. I want to learn more. I want to continue to have the upper hand against CF, in my mind anyway. I was finally healthy and happy and I thought now was as great a time as any.


It was just my luck that hours after I was officially enrolled in college classes, my doctor called to tell me I had cultured positive for Mycobacterium, something that, after reading about it, left me very frustrated and scared. I had to make light of the situation somehow, so naturally, I renamed the mycobacterium “Voldemort."

I had come so close, I wasn't going to let this set me back again. Just two months later, I moved to Raleigh and started college. Now, I'm not going to lie to you; the past few months CF-wise, have hit me hard. I haven't felt well, I've been admitted to the hospital twice in four months, I've been diagnosed with CF-related diabetes -- along with other things -- and the recovery time of my last admission, which ended just four days before I wrote this, took me five times as long to reach a number that is even close to my baseline lung function.

The thought that maybe it's not worth it to be in college has definitely crossed my mind a few times. And, I know that it will cross my mind a few hundred times more before I reach the end of my college journey.

But, I'm pushing through it. I'm finally finding the perfect place on the scale to balance my life with CF and everything else. Every few days the scale begins to lean one way and I figure out where to move to balance it evenly so that I can continue to be a full-time college student and a full-time CFer.

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Abigail was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at almost 3 months old. She has lived in Charlotte, N.C. most of her life and recently moved to Raleigh, N.C. to attend school. When she isn't hooked up to her vest or nebulizers, she enjoys knitting, sewing, baking, and watching movies with a big bowl of buttery and extra salty popcorn. Abigail has a CF mini series on Odyssey, in which she chronicles daily life with CF and things she has learned or would like to share with others about the disease. You can also follow her on Twitter @abbychansen.

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