How a Staircase Taught Me to Take Better Care of My CF

A few years ago, it took one small staircase for me to realize that my health was on the decline. I look back now on that moment fondly, though, because it helped me learn to listen to my body.

| 4 min read
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Jessica Stahlman
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Most people have some inanimate object that is sentimental to them -- something that they hold dear to their hearts. A person will place high value on an object that has played an important role in their story or that, perhaps, reminds them of a significant time in their life. Of all the items to be found in the world that I could be sentimental about, I never thought that I would have an emotional tie to an old, narrow, wooden staircase.

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Jessica, her mother, and her sister Jenna who also lives with CF.

Every human being living with a chronic condition like cystic fibrosis can recognize that life has its challenges, and that one's health can change dramatically. I was not feeling my best during the summer of 2018. I had been working more than I should have, which -- in turn -- was causing me to neglect taking care of myself. I wasn't doing my breathing treatments consistently, nor was I taking my medsexercising, or getting enough food and sleep regularly.

I was driving myself into the ground and feeling awful. But it wasn't until I was walking up my neighbors' staircase (which I had done countless times before) that I realized just how miserable I was feeling. This wasn't my “normal” that I was used to. It was clear to me that my health was obviously going downhill when I was physically struggling to climb up those stairs. There were 14 steep, wooden stairs but it seemed as if there were 100. I felt like I could barely breathe, and it was terrifying.

At that moment, it occurred to me how I could gauge the decline in my health with even the simplest activities, such as climbing stairs or trying to draw in enough air to sing.

Needless to say, my clinic appointment two weeks later proved that my struggle up the staircase was indeed a good indication of my declining health. I found out that I had a drastic change in my pulmonary function test numbers, dropping to 37% FEV1. Immediately, I was placed on two oral antibiotics, as well as my first consistent course of TOB in months (because work was always in the way). I also had to take a month off from work.

Almost miraculously, after three weeks of more rest, medicine, treatments, and doing simple yet challenging tasks (like eating more), my numbers rose. I recognize that this improvement is something to never take for granted and to always be grateful for. I had a lot of time to think while I was not feeling well, and I came to the wise conclusion that I can monitor myself even through the simplest of tasks.

I clearly saw that I should heed the advice my body gives -- whether my body is screaming at me, or silently pleading with me to pay attention to it.

Many people may treasure mementos handed down through generations that have sentimental or monetary value. For me, however, I have learned to cherish a steep wooden staircase that helped me realize what I needed to do for my health. Sadly, my neighbors with the staircase have since passed away and I can no longer take a victory climb on those stairs. I can still look back and recognize that despite there being a rocky point with my health, I cherish the memory of realizing what was necessary for me to do. I can treasure that staircase in my mind forever. And to everyone out there going through their own rocky point -- keep climbing.

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Jessica was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 3. She formerly worked in the banking industry and she values Jesus, her family and friends, and hot, sunny weather. Alongside her boyfriend, Jessica enjoys exploring new towns and nature.

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