Dealing With Judgment

Growing up, I struggled with wanting to feel “normal” because I was bullied and judged by my peers for my cystic fibrosis. But then I found genuine friendship in college and learned what it means to feel truly supported. 

Oct. 26, 2023 | 7 min read
A headshot of Kelcee Braden in her cheerleading uniform
Kelcee Braden
Kelcee posing and smiling in her cheerleading uniform

I was born around 2 a.m. on November 14, 2002. This is when my life changed forever. About seven hours later, one of my family members was holding me and I turned blue. I was rushed to a hospital in Denver, where I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. 

When I was just 8 hours old, I had surgery on my intestines called a meconium ileus, an emergency surgical procedure in infants who have cystic fibrosis. The procedure temporarily brings part of the small intestine out onto the abdominal surface, creating an ileostomy. The bowel can be reconnected as soon as the ileus is gone. A meconium ileus is often one of the first symptoms of cystic fibrosis and happens in about 20% of babies with CF. I was in the hospital for about a month after this procedure and healed very well from it. After this procedure, I started to get care for my CF from Children's Hospital Colorado. 

I was admitted to the hospital with a lung infection at 2 years old, and my body did not take the infection very well. I was put on oxygen and my breathing still wasn’t looking good. My pulse went down so much that a pastor came in to talk to my family about planning a funeral for me because there was no way I was going to make it. Then, a few days later, my breathing increased, and I was discharged from the hospital with oxygen within a few short weeks.

When I was 12 years old, my doctor told me that I needed to get tested for diabetes because a lot of CF patients were diagnosed with diabetes at this age. After the appointment, sure enough I was also diagnosed with CF-related diabetes. Since I was already 12 years old at this point, and knew what sugar was, this was an extremely hard change for me. I was still very confused about why I couldn’t have sugar, etc. and eight-and-a-half years later, I still struggle so much with keeping my blood sugar under control. I think this is so hard for me because I struggle with wishing I was normal.

Fast forward to middle and high school, I was often admitted to the hospital for two weeks at a time, sometimes more, because I caught infections that made it harder to breathe and required more aggressive medication than just oral antibiotics.

I got bullied a lot for having CF and diabetes — and some even thought I was faking it. This disease is not easy to live with and anyone who lives with it, or knows anyone living with it, will know that.

I was a cheerleader growing up, and because of my lungs it was hard at times to keep up with everyone else. I experienced a lot of judgment, with my peers saying, “why is she stopping,” “she's just complaining,” etc. It made me not want to do it anymore, even though I had a huge passion for cheer and could do it in my sleep. I sat and talked to the people who truly cared, and they told me not to listen to those people, they don't know what they're talking about. I continued to cheer because it's what I loved to do, and additionally joined the track team in high school. Track is more of an individual sport, so it was a lot easier for me to take breaks at practice. In 2021, I graduated high school and tried out for the cheer team at the University of Northern Colorado. I made the team and absolutely love it. I have made amazing friends who are here for me no matter what. 

After my first year of college, in the summer of 2022, I got to go on my Make-A-Wish trip with my mom, sister, grandpa, and grandma. We went to Honolulu, Hi for a week and had the best time ever. This was definitely a dream come true for me because, not only was I able to spend it with my family, but I was also able to travel somewhere I may not be able to visit ever again. But during my sophomore year of college, there were people posting anonymously on an app saying, “Kelcee only made the cheer team because she is a Make-A-Wish kid.” “That Make-A-Wish girl only got accepted because people felt bad for her.” Reading all these comments was so hard for me because we are all adults, and yet people still make assumptions about me. 

I finally found friends who didn’t judge me during my sophomore year of college. I met Jaelynn, a freshman on the cheer team, I moved in with Rachel, who was a complete stranger, but ended up becoming my best friend, and I also met Kyndal at a UNC hockey game. The four of us became super close and inseparable. 

In March, I became really sick out of nowhere, I was vomiting and couldn't move. At 3 a.m. I called Rachel and asked her to take me to the ER in Greeley. No questions asked, she took me and checked me in. After some X-rays, we found out it was an intestinal blockage, which is something that is very common for CF patients. After spending hours in the ER, Rachel called Kyndal and Jaelynn telling them I was being transported by ambulance to Children's Hospital in Aurora. Kyndal met Rachel at home, packed me a bag, and met me up there. She waited in the room with me up there ALL day. I was on very strong pain medications that made me sleepy so she did all the talking with my doctors and nurses since my mom couldn't be there. A few days later, they surprised me at the hospital and brought flowers and cards. This made me feel so special. 

I got sick again in April, and this time was even worse. Kyndal and Jaelynn took me back to the ER in Greeley, I got some X-rays and found out I had pneumonia. The pneumonia was so bad that it was pushing on my diaphragm, which made it even harder for me to breathe. Once again, I was transported by ambulance to Children’s in Aurora, only this time Jaelynn rode in the ambulance with me. She stayed with me through my entire stay, and when I was able to come home to do my IV medications, she got trained to do the meds for me. If it wasn't for her, I would not have been able to come home.

These girls have helped me so much and I am so incredibly grateful to have found friends like them.

The message I am trying to get across to parents here is to please educate your children about disabilities, even if you cannot see them on the outside. Teach them that bullying is not okay. You can do anything you put your mind to, no matter what people say about you.

Interested in sharing your story? TheCF Community Blogwants 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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A headshot of Kelcee Braden in her cheerleading uniform

Kelcee Braden is a 20-year-old living with cystic fibrosis and diabetes. She is a cheerleader and student at the University of Northern Colorado. Kelcee graduated high school with a CNA license, and currently studies nursing in hopes of becoming a nurse practitioner after graduating. Kelcee relies on her family for support and says she would not be who she is today without them.

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