How I Fulfilled My Dream of Graduating

I was determined to finish school and set a good example for my children. Along the way, I learned how important it is to have a strong support system to help manage the challenges that can come with cystic fibrosis while I pursue my dreams.

Sept. 5, 2023 | 5 min read
A selfie of Shandra Arceneaux
Shandra Arceneaux
Shandra and her daughter holding hands and wearing black gowns outside

Going back to school in your late 30s or early 40s can be a daunting undertaking, but doing so with children provides its own unique set of challenges. In addition, cystic fibrosis can add to the complexity of balancing school, parenting, health, and other responsibilities. Managing time and schedules are especially difficult when you have CF because you may need to take time off from school to attend medical appointments or take medication. You may also need to manage a more complex care regimen that could require more time and energy, which can leave you with less time to devote to your studies and family. 

When I was 16 years old, I dropped out of high school and enrolled in a homeschool program. However, I later learned that the program did not hold accreditation from the Texas Board of Education. I was devastated, but I moved forward with my life. 

Years later, I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. I found it to be a challenging time, especially because I lacked support from the people around me at that time. I had to deal with family members and doctors who didn’t support my decision. However, I remained determined to follow my heart despite their opinions. My first pregnancy then evolved into one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences of my life. 

My daughter initially was not aware of my health issues with cystic fibrosis, but she became increasingly aware as she grew older. Every time I had to stay in the hospital, she cried out of fear that I wouldn’t come home. But there were times when she could stay with me at the hospital overnight, and I was committed to showing her that anything is possible with determination and hard work. I refused to let my illness define me and wanted to be an example for my daughter. I wanted her to see that we can all overcome obstacles and reach our dreams. Despite the difficulties, I felt grateful for the experience and for not allowing negative opinions to influence my choices.

Well into my thirties and 11 years after having my daughter, I learned that I was pregnant with my son. It was my intention to make my second pregnancy as low-key as possible. Due to the dynamic between my family members, there was a lack of communication that made me feel no obligation to inform them about my life and pregnancy. I didn't want to be judged again like I was during my first pregnancy, so I kept my pregnancy to myself and the few people I trusted. I knew that once I told my family, there would be too many opinions. I was also concerned about the potential for gossip and how that could affect my pregnancy. I wanted to protect myself and my unborn child from any potential judgment or criticism that could result from the news spreading outside of my inner circle.

Before this, I had a strong plan in place to return to school, but hit a roadblock with my second pregnancy. I thought it was impossible, and for years I thought I wouldn't be able to obtain a diploma. Then I learned about an online high school program that offered me the chance to complete my education and earn my diploma. It was a go-at-your-own-pace type of program at Penn Foster. For example, I was able to take as long as I needed to complete my classes and assignments without worrying about the deadlines.

I was determined not to let this story end the same way. I wanted my children to see that I would not give up when there were obstacles.

It is important to have a supportive network of family, friends, and health care professionals to help you manage your condition. Scheduling regular check-ins with your healthcare team can help you stay on top of your health and make sure your care plan is working for you. Additionally, having a flexible school schedule can help manage the extra demands of CF.

I graduated and set an example for my children to follow in my footsteps. With perseverance, work, determination, and a positive mindset, anything is possible. I’m now going back to school in this new setting — it is something very different to say the least. It’s exciting, and I’m just truly blessed that I get this opportunity to fulfill a dream that I wasn't able to take advantage of when I was growing up.

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.

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Family Planning & Parenting | School
A selfie of Shandra Arceneaux

Shandra Arceneaux (Mini) is an adult living with cystic fibrosis. She has two amazing children, a 12-year-old daughter, Natalie, and a 2-year-old son named Liam. Shandra has her Texas Board certification in cosmetology and just started baking as a new hobby. She has participated in a few Great Strides walks over the years. Unfortunately, Shandra’s brother with CF was taken from their mom at a young age. Because CF is uncommon in the African American community, it was assumed that their mom was neglecting him. You can reach Shandra on TikTok and Instagram

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