One family's fight against CF.
One family's fight against CF.
Hearing "Your child has cystic fibrosis."
Hearing "Your child has cystic fibrosis."
I will never forget hearing “Your child has cystic fibrosis” on that fateful first day. Hearing my child's name in the same sentence as terminal disease felt like a harrowing blow to the gut. A sentence that took Paige's doctor less than 2 seconds to deliver had me instinctively doubling over and whimpering in pain.
In the days and weeks following Paige's diagnosis, the overwhelming emotions faded into the background as I spent most of my time and energy following the intense treatment regimen designed to keep cystic fibrosis (CF) at bay. But without warning, CF would rear its ugly head and pull me right back to the devastation I felt that very first day.
Over the years, I slowly but surely discovered ways to fight this unseen enemy. The following "tactics" helped me replace my feelings of despair with hope:
1. The love and help from those around us. Paul and I grew up learning to deal with things on our own. With Paige, we quickly realized we needed help to keep our family unit healthy and strong. After struggling on our own for countless months, we swallowed our pride and started asking those around us for help. And guess what? It worked marvelously! Whether it was babysitting, meal preparation, yard work, whatever - having the courage to ask for help relieved the burden on the darkest days.
2. Getting involved with CF families. Nothing felt better than talking with other parents and CF adults that completely understood what our family was going through. They gave me the perspective I needed to hear, and reminded me that we must never let CF control our lives. Over the years, I have gotten some of the best and most effective tips and advice from other CF parents and adults with CF.
3. Volunteering to help others. Following Paige’s diagnosis, people came out of the woodwork to help us out. Family, friends, neighbors, complete strangers (!) – their love carried us through the worst of the worst. Their selfless acts changed each member of our family. After experiencing first-hand how love heals and strengthens, we had no choice but to try to give that same gift to others. Helping others reminds our family how blessed we are, and keeps our hearts from getting hard.
4. Finding doctors we could trust. When Paige was first diagnosed, the medical team treating her took a very aggressive and invasive approach to her care. This approach did not sit well with us, so we decided to get a second opinion at another institution. From the very first visit at the new CF Care Center, our concerns and fears diminished as we instinctively knew their advice was right for us. Once we had doctors we could trust, we no longer felt like we had to become medical experts in an effort to make sure Paige got the care she needed. And having less to do...well, what a relief!
5. Learning alternative ways to supplement Paige's care. We are so fortunate to have so many supplemental treatment modalities available to us today. Whenever western medicine doesn't have a way to treat something, I do not hesitate to research what else is out there. Over the years, we have seen benefit from the following alternative treatments: Chinese herbs (under the guidance of a licensed practitioner) to help with appetite; dietary therapy, Tui Na massage, cupping, and moxibustion to help with colds, sinus problems, and stomach pain; yoga and guided imagery to help with insomnia; and play therapy to help cope with CF.
6. Becoming more spiritual. Before Paige's diagnosis with CF I actually thought I was in control of my life. After helplessly watching Paige endure the pain chronic disease inflicts, I quickly realized I was in control of nothing. It only took one particularly horrible night of watching Paige suffer for me to fall to my knees, look upward, and cry out for help. Amazingly, God heard my plea and answered my prayer. Since that day, I read my Bible, try to follow His rules and work to serve Him. In return, He carries me through the bad days and fills me with a peace and joy I never knew before.
It’s a CF sucks day. I just heard updates on two kids Paige’s age battling CF: one is in the hospital for who knows how long, and the other needs a liver transplant but will not be listed because she is too sick to survive the surgery.
Before Paige’s diagnosis, I never thought about dying children. I had lots of compassion if I caught a 2-minute blip about one of them on the nightly news, but I didn’t feel compelled to take action. I focused my time and dollars supporting research endeavors that could one day benefit me; like breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
After Paige’s diagnosis, parents of children with chronic diseases started coming out of the woodwork. They were everywhere! I kept asking myself why I hadn’t noticed them before? Then, I read a quote by Frank DeFord (a father who lost his 8-year old daughter to cystic fibrosis): “I think many of us have convinced ourselves that children don’t die anymore, not in the latter half of the 20th century, not in the United States of America, and certainly not in the suburbs.”
The reason we host our WITH ONE BREATH event each year is because chronic disease hurts. The pain of a failing body callously introduces a child to agony. This war between disease and child catapults the entire family into a state of fear, despair and hopelessness. Our only hope is to get our message out to the masses and pray they will join us in our fight.
I humbly ask you to look around and notice the children that are fighting for tomorrow. Instead of asking what you can do to help their family, take action without permission. Buy gas cards to cover the trips back and forth to the hospital, offer to babysit their children, bring meals over, donate money to research, send a card offering encouragement, visit them in the hospital, help with yard work, pray for their health...whatever! With your help, we can and will make a difference; one disease at a time.
Siblings and CF
Siblings and CF
Chronic disease is high maintenance. The battle to quell progression requires time-intensive treatments, expensive medications, and frequent hospitalizations. This daily fight places stress on the entire family unit; including siblings. While research on siblings of children with chronic disease is often contradictory, it shows that siblings generally tend to internalize stress, depression, guilt and anxiety related to the illness, and often feel overshadowed by the disease.
I’ll never forget the afternoon I heard Brooke’s quiet yet heart-wrenching sobs coming from her bedroom 2 years ago. I peeked around the corner, sat upon the edge of her bed, pulled her into my embrace and asked, “What’s the matter?” Through wet eyes and dark, matted lashes, she painfully whispered, “I don’t like myself. Everyone likes Paige, but nobody likes me.” My broken heart rendered me speechless. I silently held Brooke’s deflated spirit for several minutes before choking out,“Oh Brooke, you are so special. Please don’t say that.” While words of wisdom escaped me, instinct had me carrying her wilted frame to the glider chair tucked away in the corner of her bedroom. As we gently coasted back and forth,I hoped with all my heart that the soothing motion would somehow heal her pain.
Once the sobs ended and the tears dried, I resolved to do everything in my power to make this boo-boo “all better.” As part of my newfound mission, I gathered advice from other parents, talked to a counselor, purchased and read the top recommended books, carved out one on one time for Brooke each week, and avoided a few social settings that seemed to be bruising Brooke’s self-esteem. A couple weeks later, the sparkle was back in her eyes, the spring was back in her step, and I happily laid the whole incident to rest.
Then, a few weeks later, the pharmacist called Paige by name while handing off one of her prescriptions, and I saw the light go out in Brooke’s eyes. I inquired, “What’s the matter?”, and her sad voice replied, “I wish I had cystic fibrosis.” While feelings of failure gnawed at my stomach, I stood there quietly wondering where things had gone wrong. As my desperate thoughts started spiraling through a list of possible interventions, reason and logic screamed loud enough to get my attention:
“Your job isn’t to teach Brooke how to deal with Paige’s disease, your job is to love and comfort her; show her what a gift she is...as she is. If you can do this, she will learn on her own how to handle the hurts life sends her.”
By focusing on Brooke’s needs over the years, I have learned that she must have 10-20 minutes of individual time with me each day to feel special. She also needs dedicated family time each week to remind her how important her role is to our family unit. As Brooke receives what she needs to thrive, I see compassion, empathy, independence and resiliency replacing the shadow of stress, guilt and anxiety CF tries to lay upon her. By recognizing Brooke will always have her own burdens to carry, our family has been able to better support her as she copes with the effects of CF in her own unique way.
Following her diagnosis with cystic fibrosis (CF) at age 2, Paige was immediately hospitalized for 8 days. During our hospital stay, I remember a physician warning me, “If you want your daughter to grow old, keep her away from viruses.” This advice sent me into a tailspin! Was he telling me that the length of Paige’s life was my responsibility? If so, should I let her continue to go to daycare? Should I allow her to touch shopping carts in stores? Should she be allowed to play with friends when they had a cough, sneeze or sniffle?
On the way out of those hospital doors, I safely zipped Paige in an imaginary bubble - determined to do whatever it took to keep her safe. Over time (and with the help of an amazing friend with CF), I realized the more I let CF govern our lives, the less of a life we all had. Thanks to my growing faith in God, and the love and support of our friends and family, I found the courage to let go. Instead of spending my time and energy avoiding Paige’s death, I unzipped the bubble and set her free to live life.
I still recognized that viruses and bacteria posed a serious threat to her health. For Paige, viruses would frequently lead to bacterial infections in her lungs, and some of these bacterial infections had the potential to develop into life-shortening. The cold and flu prevention literature I read told us to avoid sick people, wash our hands frequently and keep our hands away from our eyes, mouth and nose. With Paige, we generally found these tips to be worthless– after all she’s a kid that attends daycare, school and Sunday school...AND constantly bites her fingernails!
We set out on a journey to learn tips that would help us minimize the impact cold and flu season had on our household, yet didn't take much time or effort to implement. The tips we've accumulated over the years have been influenced by the medical journals, coursework in Chinese medicine, and trial and error. Please note that while this information helps our household, we ALWAYS bring Paige in for routine visits at the CF Center and start antibiotics (or other medications) when the doctors advise us to do so.
Tips to Avoid Colds and Flu
· Disinfect hands with an alcohol wipe or hand sanitizer every time we get in the car.
· Change household hand towels every 2-3 days.
· Change bed sheets once per week.
· Have guests use paper towels instead of hand towels in bathrooms.
· Spray the sink and shower drains weekly with a disinfectant.
· Do not sit in whirlpool tubs (or turn the jets on in a “sunken tub”).
· Train family members to cover their cough when sick, and have the sick individual use their own designated bathroom (which everyone else avoids until the cold is no longer contagious).
· At the first sign of a cold symptom, take Echinacea up to 3 times each day. Note: we did not give Paige herbs until she was old enough to communicate how she was feeling (age 8).
· Take a Daily-C chewable tablet each day.
Tips for Fighting Off Infections
· Visit the CF center for a throat culture to determine if antibiotics are needed.
· If possible, lengthen airway clearance treatment times (we use a lower frequency for an extra 5-10 minutes).
· Start Tamiflu within the first 24 hours of possible influenza, or give prophylactically if someone else in the house has been diagnosed with influenza.
· Drink orange tea 3 times each day to loosen phlegm (peel organic orange, place 5 strips of the peel in 1 cup of water, boil for 5 minutes, strain and drink the water).
· Drink warm water with honey to soothe coughing.
· Eat lots of pears, almonds, broth soups and green or yellow beans to strengthen the lungs, and avoid icy cold beverages or foods.
· Pray for healing (John 14:14 is a favorite).
· Spread extra strength Tiger Balm on the chest at bedtime.
· Spread essential oils on the back at bedtime (Eucalyptus Globulus, Frankinsense, Basil or Peppermint are favorites).
· Gently massage the following meridian points: LU7, LU 5, LU 3, CV 17-21 if tender, and UB 13.
· Use a kids’ Breath Right strip at bedtime and sleep with an extra pillow if the nose is congested.
· Breathe in steam from hot shower to loosen phlegm and soothe coughing.
Hope for Newly Diagnosed Families
Hope for Newly Diagnosed Families
You are not alone. There are countless people fighting alongside you, and we will not rest until CF stands for Cure Found.
Only once in life have I felt a pain so intense it brought me to my knees and curled me into a little ball like an inchworm when touched. It was the day I answered our home phone and heard a nameless, faceless doctor tell me our daughter Paige has cystic fibrosis. After picking myself up off of the floor in complete despair, I wrote the following in a pretty little journal I keep for Paige:
“Today I lie here thinking of what to write...what profound statements can I make to my daughter the day I learn she has cystic fibrosis? I can’t say the diagnosis is a surprise; after all, I’m the one that made the doctor run the test. I can say that hearing confirmation of the diagnosis has me doubled over gasping for air. I feel numb inside. I have heard people tell me that I may have to watch my daughter die today.
I am so sorry you have been chosen to bear a weight this great, Paige. My thoughts are everywhere. Part of me wants to hold you and shield you, while another part of me feels a resolve to be firm and cut you no slack—as if it might prepare you for what is to come.
When I read about all of the additional therapies, drugs, and dietary guidelines we will now need to follow each day, I feel tired. I honestly don’t know if I have what it takes. As a working mom I already feel average at best, and now you need me to be better than average.
I hope and pray I don’t let you down, daughter. I am so scared of losing you, Paige. I don’t know if I’d be able to live without you. I will pray every night that God smiles upon you. I love you.”
For days, weeks, and even years following Paige’s diagnosis, I worried about the grave casualties she might face in her battle against CF; pneumonia, diabetes, intestinal blockage, lung transplantation, death. Haunted by the unknown, I started living life in fear of her death.
It wasn’t until I started meeting adults with CF in their 50’s and 60’s that I realized I had a choice to make: I could teach my daughter to live in fear, or show her how to live with hope. Hope is having faith in things unseen. While I do not know what Paige’s future holds, I choose to live life knowing she will defeat CF.
There are many, many examples of people with CF following their dreams, getting married, having children, and growing old...and Paige is going to join them. Paige understands this is a battle that must be fought, but she also knows it is a battle she will win.
The journey with CF feels impossible at times, and definitely has bumps along the way, but knowing I do not walk this path alone gives me strength. Seeing the billions of dollars (yes, billions) being invested in cure-finding research, as well as the many new life-extending medications that have been made available to Paige over the years, gives our family the courage we need to live a hope-filled life!
Big virtual hug!
Soon after Paige's diagnosis, I had the opportunity to meet "CF Great" Dr. Warren Warwick; inventor of the Vest and nationally recognized CF expert. After patiently answering the 100 or so questions I launched his way in rapid succession, Dr. Warwick turned to me and said, "OK, now I have a question for you - what do you like about CF?"
I opened my mouth and waited for something brilliant to come out...but it never did. After spending some time pondering this all-important, life-changing question, I've come up with a list...just in case he cares to ask when we meet in Heaven:
1. I love how CF pulls our family together and reminds us that we are a team instead of "ships passing in the night."
2. I love the fact that CF repeatedly forces us to surrender control to something bigger than ourselves.
3. I love how CF teaches us to live in the moment and appreciate each healthy day we are given.
4. I love the fact that CF shows us time and time again how kind, loving, and compassionate the people in this world can be.
5. I love the families and individuals affected by CF that we have met on this journey.
While I am anxious for a cure to be found, it is clear to me that in some ways, this disease has been "a gift." A gift that challenges each and every member of our family to grow stronger and wiser.
Finding Purpose in Pain
Finding Purpose in Pain
A little over three years ago, I lost one of the greatest gifts God gave me: my Mom. Just months before her sudden and unexpected death, I gave her the perfect card! It said, 'Mom' is such a small word for something that means 'everything in the world.' Her special meals, desserts, listening ear, frequent hugs, unwavering support, giddy excitement to spend time with me, and laughter all made my spirit soar! Thanks to her, I was able to become the best person I could be.
As my light and airy spirit chased her soul to Heaven, I was left with a huge, gaping hole. This painful emptiness still taunts me with memories of my better, happier whole self. There are many-a-time I secretly yearn to find my way back to the old me...the me that had a Mom who made every experience more full and rich.
By words, or through exasperated looks, I can tell those around me think it's time to get over my loss. But like a veteran who loses limbs in battle, my loss cripples me. My life will never be the same. I will never get my missing parts back. Pain and grief will periodically claim me; on even the brightest of days.
Over time, I have become better acquainted with this shadow I carry. While I used to think it was necessary to escape, overcome, or forget about my loss, I now know it has become intricately entwined with my very purpose. To keep my Mom's memory alive, I abide by the many life lessons she took care to impart. To honor her countless acts of love, I make time to serve others and appreciate the little things. To give thanks for having an incredible Mom beside me for 44 years, I say "yes" to the next 'most terrifying thing' God calls me to do.
In fulfilling my purpose, hope slowly but surely shows me the way back to my light and airy spirit. It may take time for me to reach my final destination, but the promise of such a day keeps me moving forward.
To those who have lost a loved one, whether it be to cystic fibrosis or other causes, I pray you find a purpose that keeps you moving forward each day.
Power of Prayer
Power of Prayer
As we begin to prepare for our new outdoor music festival, called HOPEstock, I am overwhelmed with fear. Why would we move to an outdoor venue in Minnesota of all places? How in the world will we find financial supporters to help bring this event to fruition? Did I mentioned we know nothing about music festivals? While I may face the biggest failure of my life in the coming year, I feel compelled to try and share the power of hope with others. As I struggle with my fear of the unknown, a story I shared some time ago came to mind...
We were standing at the top of a waterslide at Paige’s birthday party years ago, and one of the girls in our group was afraid to go down. The girl watched the other kids jump into the tube filled with gushing water for minutes on end. Each time she heard their screams of delight, her eyes filled with a yearning that was quickly clouded by fear.
As I stood by and witnessed her struggle, I would periodically lean over and say, “You can do this, believe in yourself.” After 20 minutes of painful indecision, she said, “I need to have a quick talk with God.” She walked over to an empty corner, squeezed her eyes shut, and started to silently pray.
When she was done, she gave me a curt nod, walked over to the opening of the slide, and hesitantly proceeded down into the dark, watery abyss. Minutes later, she came back with a huge smile splitting her face, and talked a mile a minute about how awesome the slide was. I was so touched by this moment that I had to ask the girl’s mom how she had developed a faith so strong at such a young age. Her mother told me that she kept a prayer journal—each night the girl would write down her prayers, then periodically go through the journal and cross out those that had been answered.
Since I had been teaching Brooke’s Sunday School class about prayer, I thought this would be a perfect thing for Brooke and I to do together each night before bed. Brooke happily complied. She pulled out her favorite journal and several different colored pens to write with. On the first night she wrote, “I want to wish that Pat gets better, Mommy passes her FDA audit perfectly, Paige makes new friends, I pass my test, and Daddy has a great time at work” in her neatest handwriting. Brooke then read her words out loud, said “in Jesus’ name I pray,” and we both closed with an “Amen.” We repeated this format each night, and every Saturday we would go through the list of prayers and cross out those that had been answered.
In amazement, we watched “wish” after “wish” get crossed off the list. From the silly to the serious, we were shocked that an act so simple appeared to be working. As time went on, Brooke’s prayers got bolder. She would pray for others’ healing, blessings to be bestowed upon the people she loved, aid in dealing with the anger she sometimes felt, and God’s help in drawing certain people closer to Him. God responded by answering prayer after prayer. We couldn’t help but marvel at His love and power.
The Bible says that those that respect God enough to fear Him and follow His commandments may ask anything in Jesus’ name and have it fulfilled so the glory of God can be revealed in this world. Given her amazing track record, Brooke apparently does a better job following God’s rules than mine! To my special, loving, smart, beautiful, firecracker named Brooke Marlee Christensen: thank you for teaching me the power of prayer. I will turn to it now and ask that HOPEstock turns out to be a day that changes many, many lives...including ours.
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
At a recent clinic visit, we learned Paige's lung cultures have progressed to chronic infection with the mucoid form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Scientists know this form of the bacteria is associated with a more rapid decline in lung function, resistance to antibiotics, more frequent hospitalizations, and decreased life expectancy. It's times like this when I realize I need to find hope all over again. As I begin my search, the following story comes to mind...
Some years ago, a work client of mine told me his 30-something year old son committed suicide - leaving a wife and 2 young children behind. Months after hearing his story, I checked in on him to see how he was doing. Amidst his grief, he said, “Ever since my son died, I feel like a dark cloud has been following me around. It makes me feel so sad and depressed. But just the other day, a thought came to mind: ‘In my 70-some years of living, I have never had a dark cloud like this over my head before.’ It made me realize how ridiculously blessed I have been. I would never have known this if not for the suffering I am going through now. Somehow knowing how good I’ve had it makes it easier to keep moving forward through this difficult time."
Truth be told, our journey with CF has been blessed, and we've "had it good" for many years. At 15 years of age, Paige's lung function is normal and medications targeting her genetic mutation will become available in the coming year. Furthermore, we have a compassionate community of supporters around us who refuse to let us fight this disease alone.
And just like that, my bridge over troubled waters is restored.