How Chronic Illness Brought Us Together

My friendship with Judy, who had cystic fibrosis, helped me see how I could accomplish my career goals despite my own chronic illness. Unfortunately, she died six years ago, but her inspiration lives on, and I know she would be proud of me.

Aug. 26, 2022 | 5 min read
Lacey Stevenson
Lacey Stevenson
Judy in a hospital bed smiling with Lacey eating popsicles.

I didn’t meet Judy until well into her cystic fibrosis journey. She was 16 or 17 and grew up near Kansas City, Mo. She and her mom, Mary, temporarily moved to St. Louis when her doctors determined it was time for a double-lung transplant – her lung function was at a mere 17% and she needed oxygen by nasal cannula most of the time. Mary knew my aunt — they were roommates in college — who introduced our families. After that the pieces just fell into place. My parents had recently become empty nesters. When they learned that Judy and Mary would need a home in St. Louis for an unpredictable amount of time, it was an easy decision — of course, they would stay with my parents.

I was about 10 years older than Judy, but we quickly formed a relationship that we referred to as “SL-isters” (St. Louis sisters), and my parents’ house was their “SL-ome” (St. Louis home). Judy and I found it easy to relate to one another, because she had CF-related diabetes (CFRD) and I have been a type 1 diabetic since the age of 2. We bonded over “alarm fatigue” from our insulin pumps/continuous glucose monitors and the frustrations of the (literal) highs and lows. Both of us had mothers who lovingly struggled to allow us to manage our own chronic illnesses. One of my favorite memories is from a hot, humid Midwest summer evening when we all went to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (a St. Louis staple) for a treat. Judy and I couldn’t help but roll our eyes and laugh when her mom said to her, “Don’t forget to bolus [administer] enough insulin for this,” around the same time my mom said to me, “How much insulin did you do for that?” Side note – it was a lot.

Of course, cystic fibrosis is a lot more than just CFRD, and Judy was a warrior. She inspired countless people in many different ways just by being herself.

Judy’s junior year of high school was mostly spent in St. Louis. She got her lungs in November of that year, and she was so excited and determined that she was discharged from the hospital a record-breaking 10 days post-op. After that, she went back to school for her senior year and graduated with her friends and classmates. She was crowned prom queen and even ran a 5K. She started college at the University of Kansas (rock chalk, Jayhawks!). Her lung function at one point was more than 100%. 

Judy’s new lungs started to fail about halfway through her first year of college. With the steadfast support of her mom, family, and best friends, she fought as hard as she possibly could for eight months. She ultimately found peace in August 2016. 

As she was going through her transplant journey, I was working as a pediatric nurse and going to school for my master’s degree in nursing with the goal of becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner. I don’t know that I would have been successful if it weren’t for Judy. She encouraged me, and she was excited for me and what she knew I could accomplish despite having diabetes and the toll it takes mentally and physically. She knew I could do it before I did — because she had already done it. She had already accomplished great things because she knew that she was so much more than her cystic fibrosis.

I am a pediatric nurse practitioner now, and I think Judy would be proud of me. Although I considered it, I decided not to work in endocrinology. Judy would understand why. Diabetes already takes up so much of my time and energy, and I don’t want to give it any more of myself than I already do.

I’ve been diabetic for most of my life, but it took meeting Judy for me to truly see that there is no reason for it to stop me from doing anything.

I will always be thankful to her for that. 

Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.

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.

Share this article
Social Life and Relationships
Lacey Stevenson

Lacey has been a type 1 diabetic since the age of 2. She graduated with her master’s degree in nursing in 2017 and is now a pediatric nurse practitioner working in emergency medicine in the same hospital where she was diagnosed. It also happens to be the hospital where her friend Judy, who has CF, underwent her lung transplant surgery. Lacey has been inspired by Judy’s friendship, as well as her journey to pursue her career path despite the challenges that come with having a chronic incurable illness. Lacey lives in St. Louis with her two children, two dogs, and two cats. You can connect with her on Facebook or Instagram

Recent Community Posts
My Long Journey to a CF Diagnosis
Blog | 10 min read
Finding Stability in the Unknown
Blog | 6 min read
Advocating for Health Equity in Cystic Fibrosis
Blog | 6 min read