My oldest brother, Alex, and I were both diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at an early age and have been treating the symptoms ever since. Growing up, I felt a little unable to relate to other kids quite as well because I had something no one else did. My brother was the only other person I knew that had CF. Funny thing is, I have to stay at least 15 feet away from other CFers to avoid spreading infection to one another, so I have never met anyone face-to-face with it, besides Alex. When I was younger, I felt like an outsider. As I got older, I stopped letting my disease define me. Yes, it is important to me, but I don’t let it limit me. It is possible to successfully manage your disease without letting it limit your life. Going off to college was like a whole new world to me, so here are 5 tips on how to survive college with a chronic illness.
1.) Organization is key.
Between classes, my job at Starbucks, attempting to have a social life, and trying to get my treatments in, life gets crazy. Keeping an up-to-date calendar on my phone helps with doctor’s appointments and school schedules, and my reminders are set to go off to remind me to take my medicines. Also, I keep a daily planner on hand and write everything I have to do down in it. It helps me keep track of everything so that I (hopefully) don’t forget anything. It’s hard to find that balance between it all, but once you find it, you’ll know!
2.) Make time to do what you love.
Having a hobby helps keep me sane. I, like most people, have several things I consider to be a hobby, whether it’s hiking or watching Netflix or playing my guitar, just to name a few. Taking time out of your day to do something that makes you happy is essential to surviving adult life without hating it. Stress is very common in a college student’s life, but it doesn’t have to be! Just 30 minutes a day, take a break. Do something that makes you happy, and your whole day will improve.
3.) Disability services are your friends.
Everyone’s disease affects them differently. For me, I occasionally have doctor’s appointments in the middle of the week back home in Nashville, an hour and a half from my college town. Or I might have an occasional day where I have such a horrible cough that I feel awful and cannot make it to class. Attendance can make or break your grade in a college class: So, I registered with Disability Services. They make it a million times easier to get those absences due to medical reason taken care of. No matter what it is you need, they will work to help make your college experience as easy and stress free as possible. They are there to help you, so let them!
4.) When it comes to relationships, be upfront with them about your condition. Don’t be afraid of it!
In high school, whenever I told someone I had CF, it tended to scare them off. Most people didn’t know what it was, so they just shied away from me. Something I quickly found out is that most college students are just a little bit more grown up than high schoolers, so I’ve found that the majority of people not only accept me and my CF, but they want to know more about it!
My freshman year of college, I met my boyfriend, Zach. He ended up finding about my CF from the day we met. He didn’t quite understand what it was at first, but since then, there have been countless ER trips and doctor’s visits, and he has been there for it all. He is so supportive of me and my condition; he is understanding, yet knows to give me a little tough love when I’m not exactly wanting to do my breathing treatments. It’s so important to date someone who understands your condition and who cares about it as much as you do. Living with a chronic disease is never easy, but having a significant other who loves you just the way you are makes it so much easier.
5.) Don’t forget about Mom and Dad!
Last, but definitely not least, don’t forget your parents! It’s easy to forget to call mom during your first few weeks of college. When life gets busy, I tend to forget things, like keeping in touch with some people, my parents included. But as lame as some people make it sound, calling your parents is important. Your parents love to hear how your classes and friends are, and they always ask how you’re feeling and if you’ve been keeping up with your medications. Not to mention, everyone gets a little homesick; I was really homesick for the first few months of college, and I quickly figured out calling home helps. We all have to spread our wings sometime!
Navigating college life isn’t easy for anyone, and it’s even harder for people like me who have an unusual number of things to juggle. But it is possible. Hard work and dedication to your treatments and your school work will pay off in the end!
Interested in reading about another CFer? Read about how Brandon earned the admiration of a Navy SEAL team by training with them for a day.