Growing up, it was very difficult for me to develop and maintain relationships – both friendships and romantic relationships. High school was where I really began to realize how detrimental cystic fibrosis was and how it affected the perspectives of my peers and potential love interests. The reality of the matter is that CF is a chronic and life-threatening illness that causes frequent hospitalizations and illnesses. High school was already a struggle because of the stress of grades, extracurricular activities, and finding out who I was as a person. I did not have long-term relationships during high school because when I finally opened up about my disease and the reality of the disease process, I would often end up getting dumped.
During college, I limited the amount of information I gave out regarding my illness. Often when going on dates or hanging out with new people, I would not bring it up at all to avoid the need to discuss such topics if possible. During my third year of college, I realized I could not keep hiding my CF -- that it is and will always be a part of me. I began to change my approach when it came to dating and would be very upfront and honest with the interested person. I had several relationships fail due to many things, including their inability to handle the many treatments, medications, and doctor appointments that come with CF.
At the beginning of my final year of my first bachelor’s degree, I met a boy named Samuel -- a mutual friend of my roommate -- who showed interest in me. But I, being so used to disappointment, wasn’t going to give him the time of day. I had grown very independent and did not want a relationship to change that. He invited me to a movie, and I attempted to make it less of a date by inviting our mutual friends along. He later told me that he had told all of them to say no. We went on that first date … and then a couple more. That was when I decided to tell him about my illness and what it meant for me.
I brought up CF on several occasions and gave him the opportunity to ask questions. He asked basic questions -- how it impacted me day to day and how someone gets CF -- which I answered. I told him that I was healthy, but that could change rapidly because my health could fluctuate. We became “Facebook Official” after a few months. But our relationship hadn’t faced a health crisis yet.
During “Dead Week,” I developed a stomach pain and got really sick. Samuel convinced me to go to the ER, and I was admitted with gall stones. The doctors where I live were not super familiar with CF and did not feel comfortable operating on me.
I was in the hospital for three days. After only a few months, Samuel chose to stay with me the whole time. It was then that I knew I had found a good one, and that they weren’t all going to run away.
We have been together for four years, and we will be getting married this year. I have learned a lot about what defines a relationship. For me, a relationship means being present for your significant other through the good and the bad, and not allowing fear or the what-ifs to cloud my ability to have that special someone in my life.
I feel it is so important, especially when dealing with relationships and cystic fibrosis, to be honest about the disease and its many comorbidities. Find someone who will be there for you, who will take the time off to go with you to your appointments, and someone who doesn’t let you feel like you are sick.
I never have to ask Samuel if he wants to come to my appointments. I tell him that I have some coming up and he tries to arrange to come with me. When dealing with CF, it is important to find someone who treats you like an individual and a human being, who looks at you for you -- regardless of the diagnosis.
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