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.
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