Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes a build-up of mucus in the lungs and can lead to severe respiratory problems. It is estimated that 30,000 Americans suffer from the disease, and Brianna Settlemyer is one such citizen kind of enough to grant me an interview about living with CF.
1. What is something you wish people understood about your disease?
I wish people understood that just because you can’t see my disease doesn’t make it any less real for me. There are lots of days, my best days, where I'm just tired all the time. Breathing is something no one thinks about doing and so it’s hard on your body when there’s something going on that makes it harder for you.
2. How can those around you best support you?
I think the best way my friends and family can support me is to just listen when I want to be negative or I’m feeling down. I wish that they could understand that this is hard for me, not only because I’m going through this, but because I know that everyone else in my life is going through this with me.
3. What's the hardest thing about living with CF?
When I was a teenager and healthy and really learning about my disease, I knew there was a good chance I was going to become sicker and my body would get weaker and that life was going to get harder for me. I always knew it was just a matter of time. Now that I’m here I feel like there was more I could’ve done to stay healthier longer. But honestly, the hardest thing about having any kind of chronic illness or lifelong disease is maintaining that balance of normalcy you want so badly.
4. When did you first realize your life would be different than those without CF?
The first time I realized my life was going to be different was in middle school.
When you really start going through puberty and making new friends and everyone’s getting into sports and clubs. I realized many things that were hard for me to accept: 1) Because I had such a hard time gaining weight and growing in all the right places keeping up with all the other girls around me I knew I was going to be hard on myself about the way I looked for a long time. 2) I knew I would never do any kind of sports because I just wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone and I didn’t want any coaches giving my special treatment. 3) I'd have to get used to having sleepovers and hanging out with friends and having to bring along my breathing treatment machines, my medications, and all my pills with me. I’d have to start telling my friends what was wrong with me, too.
5. Have you lived a different life than you would have without CF? How have you lived differently, if yes?
Although I’ve had a good life so far and there are not too many things I regret doing. I still think I’ve lived too carefully and let my insecurities about my disease hold me back too many times. I think if I didn’t have CF I’d have done high school differently for sure, but I think we all would have knowing what we know now in the real world.
6. How do you maintain a positive attitude about your diagnosis?
I am positive about my disease because I have to be, being sad and angry all the time isn’t going to make me better. In fact, that’s just going to make it harder for me to see that on the other side of this..after the oxygen tanks, and the leave of absence from work, and being trapped at home for several weeks...after the hospital visits that felt incredibly lonely and all the pains and aches and pills and the weekly doctor appointments.
I may actually get a new pair of lungs and I will get to live freely once again and do all the things I’ve been waiting to be healthy for. My lungs won’t have the disease anymore and even though I never wanted to be in this place, I’m here and now I have an opportunity to live a better life. I stay positive because no one ever gets anything truly amazing done by being negative.
7. What is your main goal in life?
My main goal in life is to just be happy and know while I’m living this life that I am happy. I want to enjoy the simple things and the incredible ones. I want to live long enough to help people, however I can. I want to give back to my family. I want to expand my thinking and observe other cultures. I just don’t want to look back at the end of it and wonder if I could have fought harder to be happier.
*Cystic Fibrosis has very serious consequences and Bri is currently facing the possibility of a lung transplant. For more on Bri's story and to help, you can find her gofundme here.