I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when I was 8 days old. I grew up doing the usual CF things. I did treatments, took meds, occasionally went on IV therapy -- the whole nine yards. At a young age, I began to understand what CF is and the role it would play in my life. When I was 15, however, I learned the difference between just understanding life with CF and really living life with CF.
Early in 2016, I was growing nontuberculous mycobacteria in my lungs. To this day, it is still one of the worst infections I have had. I had to get a chest tube surgically placed and go on IV medication for nine months. This was one of the most challenging things I have been through, physically and mentally. It was during this time that I started actively trying to learn more about the disease. When I looked up the average lifespan of a person with CF in February 2016, it was around 47 years old.
I knew from a young age that my life was being shortened by this disease, but getting a specific number in my head shocked me; that number was constantly in the back of my mind even though I tried to forget about it.
In January 2017, I had just finished my IV therapy and was finally on the road to recovery. During this time, I was at a big three-day hunting convention in Reno, Nev. Each night there was a nice dinner in a large banquet room. One of those nights, a wounded warrior gave a speech about her injury and near-death experience. Listening to her story made me very emotional -- I sat at the table crying.
Later that night, my dad came up to me and we started talking about why I was crying. I told him it was because I didn't think I was going to live long enough to do some of the things I wanted to do in my life. He then asked me what it was I wanted to do. I knew that what I most wanted to do was to complete a very challenging hunting trip that would be physically demanding. I felt discouraged because I knew it would be impossible for me to do -- the location is very remote and the lack of electricity there would make it harder to do my treatments.
But to my surprise, my dad told me I can do anything I put my mind to if I work hard. And with that, I decided to commit to going after my dream. This goal posed many challenges. I had to get in good enough shape so I would be able to hike steep mountains for extended periods of time. I also needed to figure out how I would be able to do my treatments while staying in tents in the middle of nowhere.
I began training the day after I got home from the convention. I started by hiking the small mountain in my neighborhood with my dad. It was not very steep and the whole hike was less than a mile. My lung function had dropped to 52 percent because of my infection, so that made my first training hike an immense struggle. I had to stop about every 75 yards to cough and catch my breath. But from then on, every hike gradually became easier, and my lung function got better, as well. I continued to hike longer, steeper hikes with higher elevation. In July 2017, after six months of training, I was able to hike 10 miles with minimal coughing and my lung function had risen to 65 percent!
It was time for my first hunt. My mom and I had figured out how I would do my treatments on the mountain and I had trained with my dad. This was an experience that changed my life forever. I was rarely out of breath and didn't cough on the hike, and I was able to successfully complete my goal.
I learned many things about myself throughout this whole journey. I learned that I had assumed some goals were impossible before I had even tried to accomplish them. Once I decided to go after the impossible, I was able to work hard and make it possible.
I also learned that CF doesn't define me. This is the one that has changed my life. I grew up being the sick kid, the diseased kid. I thought I was defined by the disease that I was born with. However, that is not the case.
CF is and will forever be a part of me, but now I don't let it define me. I embrace my disease and use CF as a reason to challenge myself, a reason to live life to the fullest. CF makes me the person that I am today, but it no longer defines the person that I am.