How CF Influenced My Career

I had a number of professional aspirations while growing up, but cystic fibrosis caused me to play it safe. Looking back, I wonder how my life would have been different if I didn’t let CF limit me. 

| 6 min read
Frederick Merz taking a selfie in front of the Okayama Castle
Frederick Merz
A selfie of Frederick sitting in his car

With the sophistication of medicines and treatment, more and more people with cystic fibrosis are seeing adulthood. Along with that, they must face the challenge of introducing themselves into the workforce.

Upon beginning my career, one concern I had was whether I could enjoy what I do. But, the other concern was whether I could make enough money to stay healthy and afford hospital costs on my own. I see myself now as something of a pioneer for the CF community, delving into the career system to contribute to society and find my “calling.”

But, as I look back now, I really think I could have done more in my career or even done something else entirely. Because at that time in my life, CF deterred me from a lot of opportunities.

In my sophomore year of high school, my parents asked me what I really wanted to do, since there was no career building 1/24 scale model cars back then. During this time, I was able to get into a special class which delved into a variety of careers and allowed the class to tour different job locations and get some feedback from the employees. A classmate of mine and I had talked about becoming F-1 drivers, but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to drive or become an auto mechanic to work on an F-1 team — I love cars!

Although the idea of becoming an F-1 driver was a bit far-fetched, becoming a truck driver was a potential reality. After riding with my neighbor, who was a truck driver, and seeing many truck driving school commercials on my UHF channels, I was convinced that I could do that.

Well, I never actually got into the aforementioned careers. I ended up in the field my dad first suggested — electronics. He told me that I should think about the future, where automobiles and electronics are merging, and that it would be beneficial to have electronics skills. My dad also felt like that working environment would be better than if I were to become an auto mechanic, work in a factory, or even be on the road a lot. 

I did get a taste of the automotive field later in my career when I worked in the research and development department at one of the big three auto manufacturers. I really liked this job. It was a good working environment — and it did fit my dad’s suggestion — but, I had to make a life-changing decision that took me out of that environment. More on that later.

In my junior year of high school, I signed up for a vocational electronics class, which started to shape my future and give me a look into the field I was going into. My high school counselor helped me look for grants and loans that I would be eligible for. In the search for grants and loans, I was given three choices — an offer from a university halfway across the state where the state would pay a large portion of the tuition; an offer from a nearby community college where the state would pay part of the tuition if I went full-time; and an offer from the university of my choice where I would have no state support.

I chose the community college because I wasn’t comfortable with living so far from home, and — being an introvert — I wasn’t prepared for the necessary socialization and wasn’t comfortable in an unknown area. I also considered what it would mean to leave my comfort zone of having family and familiar doctors nearby.

Although I chose a community college to pursue my electronics career, I now wonder what would’ve happened if I made that decision to go to the university instead. Thinking back to what was restricting my career decisions, I might have instead pursued the psychology or psychiatry field if I wasn’t under the impression that CF was deadly and something that would prevent me from planning big for the future. 

I had a few loan payments kick in while still attending college, which required me to find part-time work. Some jobs paid well, but none of them were steady enough to be considered a career. Unfortunately, this work delayed my plans to further my education to a bachelor’s degree, but eventually I was able to transfer colleges. I only managed to do two semesters there before having to leave it for another major life change.

While working in the automotive field, I had this crazy idea to take on a foreign language. With the background in electronics, I thought I could learn Japanese to work as either a translator or as a liaison between American and Japanese companies. From that idea, I ended up getting married and moving to Japan. 

That was 30 years ago, and although I’m no longer married to that person, I am still doing very well for a 58-year-old person with CF, and I am still in the Japanese workforce. Because I’ve been working for Japanese companies, I also am in Japan’s social health insurance system and am finding out it is actually better than any insurance I had in the United States.

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend such a crazy idea as leaving the country to start a career unless you end up somewhere you can get adequate health insurance coverage and easily communicate with doctors about your CF.

Depending on your health situation, I believe that you should pursue what you feel you can achieve. When a person finds a job they enjoy so much that they would “get money for nothing, and work for free” — that is the ultimate job!

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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Frederick Merz taking a selfie in front of the Okayama Castle

Fred has been living and working in Japan for the last 30 years. He is a graduate of Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan, and worked in a variety of roles in the United States before moving to Japan to work in the electronics industry. His many hobbies include computers, photography, radio-controlled cars, and guitar. He currently resides in the Kansai area with his partner, Kumiko.

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