Balance. Balance is the best way to describe the aspirations of a cystic fibrosis patient.
If you have CF, you understand how time can simply slip away. The never-ending breathing treatments, therapies, medications, doctor appointments, and -- every now and then -- hospitalizations, are always there. I am 23 years old, beginning my second year of law school, and would like to share how I have managed my health with a pretty hectic schedule.
When I enrolled as an undergrad at the University of Memphis, I was extremely nervous. I had never lived on my own and didn't realize how big a responsibility it was to lay out my medication daily, clean my breathing treatment nebulizers, and schedule my treatment for morning and at night. I didn't know what to do if I needed to be rushed to the hospital, or if I missed classes from being sick and whether I would be penalized. What if my roommate was bothered by my treatments?
All these thoughts relentlessly rushed through my head. Then, I remembered to calm down, take it day by day, and get organized and prepared. I have never been one to let CF hold me back, so as I always do, I set my nerves aside and jumped in headfirst.
I don't want others with CF to feel the anxiety I did, so I have listed my top 10 tips to help students with CF throughout their college career:
- Contact the disability services office at your university. This was an extremely important step for me. An advisor, who was aware of my condition, provided information for my professors on the possibility of hospitalizations, the medications I might be on, etc. I met with my advisor at the beginning of each semester, although you don't have to meet that often.
- Email your professors to give them a heads-up. I would email my professors a week before school started, describing my condition and letting them know I would have the paperwork from my disability advisor on the first day of school. (It is your right whether to disclose your illness to your professors. It will not affect your request for accommodations.) I would include on the paperwork anything extra -- such as needing to have a water bottle for coughing fits -- so when I turned the document in, there were no questions asked and no embarrassing explanations to be made in front of other students.
Throughout college, I was hospitalized a few times, but I always emailed my professors to let them know why I would be missing class. I also made sure to ask my friends to let me know of any work I missed, so I would not fall behind.
- Tell your roommate and dorm monitor. I was nervous my roommate would be bothered by my treatments, so I simply had a conversation with her to calm my fear. I shared my treatment schedule, so when I was doing my therapies, she (thankfully) would not have guests over. (Schedules are wonderful!) I also told her where I planned on keeping my medications in the room, so when we did have guests over, she would keep them away from the meds. I was very lucky with a great roommate, but I made sure to let my dorm monitor know about my CF as well, in case there were any issues, or I needed immediate assistance.
- Stick to a treatment schedule. As school began and my fears were slowly eliminated, I joined a sorority, served on multiple executive boards, and worked close to full-time some semesters (while taking 19 credit hours during one of them). As I continuously increased my activities, I was able to manage my treatments with a simple schedule I stuck to no matter what. To me, organization is key to a healthy and successful life.
- Exercise! I still struggle with this one myself. It is often difficult when I am exhausted from my day to go for a walk or run, but I am learning to schedule my runs when I know I will be free. For me, exercise is a requirement to stay healthy with CF. Believe it or not, when you are feeling super stressed, sometimes a 30-minute run can help clear your head (all while helping your lungs stay strong!). I try running 3 to 5 miles a week. I always feel so much better and more confident after my runs. Only do what you can, though. Never push yourself to the point of exhaustion, like I have many times before. And, don't forget to get your CF care team's input on your exercise routine.
- Buy a two-week pill organizer. Instead of laying out my medication every morning and evening, I only have to do it once every two weeks. This has saved a lot of time and was very helpful if I came in late and exhausted one night. I never wanted to risk taking the wrong medication because I was too tired. Another plus of laying out your meds in two-week increments is knowing ahead of time which medications you are running low on, so you can easily have your doctor call them in before you run out.
- Take advantage of the reminders on your phone. I set alerts to take certain medications and to go to doctor appointments, semesterly meetings with my disability advisor, and much, much more.
- Make the most of your time doing therapy. While I do my therapy and breathing treatments, I am always reading, typing a paper, sending emails for school or work, or anything else I can. As a matter of fact, I am doing my morning therapy session as I type this blog!
- Never take on too much. I believe this is the best advice I have for you, although it has been difficult for me throughout college and law school. I always want to do everything, but when I think about balance, I must remember that my health comes first. Feeling overwhelmed, especially in the beginning of your college career, is extremely common (and not only for us CF patients). It is a whole new world going away to college and living on your own, but it is one in which you will make the most memories.
- Take your challenges as learning experiences.
I truly believe without balance and organization, I would not have been able to graduate college with the resumé I wanted or be able to attend law school. As soon as you have a set schedule and adjust to your new life, you too can dive in headfirst.
Good luck to all of you incoming freshman! Buckle up, because it may be a bumpy ride. But, remember, anything is possible with the right balance and organization.