Realizing CF Didn’t Make My Goals Impossible

After fighting an awful infection, I had written off my dreams as 'impossible.' But after encouragement from my family and plenty of training, I made it my mission to not let CF stand in my way.

Dec. 18, 2019 | 5 min read
Jennifer Griego

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.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Jennifer was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 8 days old. She plays tennis and is an avid hunter and hiker. She loves spending time in the outdoors especially with her family. Jennifer became the first person with CF and the second youngest female to harvest all four North American Wild Sheep. She started a podcast called “Journeys with Jennifer Griego” to share her story and talk to all types of people about their life's journey. Jennifer lives with her parents, two brothers, and their dog in Phoenix. You can find Jennifer on Instagram at @jen_griego.

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