Person with a backpack reaches for clock with spinning minutes hand as books and an inhaler fly around her.

Tips To My College Self

Looking back at my college years, there are a few tips that I would give to myself to make it an easier transition. Preparing for college is an exciting time, touring campuses, shopping for dorm rooms, and looking forward to the new independence it will bring. Having cystic fibrosis can definitely make the transition to college more complicated for many reasons. Here are a few things I wish I knew then that I do now:

Location, location, location

Where you go to college--choose it for the right reasons! I went off to a four-year right away, even though I was leaning towards a local community college at first. Most of my friends were going to 4-year universities, so I did, too. It was 3 hours away and I didn’t know anybody on campus. Day four on campus I had excruciating pain in my stomach and I couldn’t even sit up. I was rushed by ambulance to the local hospital and then transported to my CF care center two hours away. As soon as I arrived, I was rushed into emergency surgery. My intestines were twisted up and damaged, something that had happened before, resulting in surgeries. I’m now missing 25% of my intestines due to these complications.

I don’t say this to scare or discourage anyone, but I really rushed my decision. After recovering, I decided to go to the local college that spring semester. I rented an apartment in my hometown, giving me a support system nearby. It also gave me two years to prepare for moving away and how to handle emergencies. This is exactly what I needed. Going to a community college might not be the right choice for everyone with cystic fibrosis, but I hope people really weigh the decision of where to go.

Also, once I did transfer to a large 4-year university, I wish I had thought about the location of the campus. I could have chosen apartments closer to my classes, making my commutes less difficult. Many days I had to ride my bike or catch multiple buses in a short time period. This resulted in me being winded, having coughing attacks, and burning extra calories.

Time is of the essence

My bachelor’s degree took 6.5 years due to medical emergencies, long hospitalizations, and some major surgeries. And that is okay, it’s what had to happen. Don’t try to live to society’s expectations to finish fast; go at what pace you need.

Scheduling time helped me, but I wish I had stuck to my schedule more. Classes, travel to classes, medications, therapies, homework, food, and socialization. Fitting it all in can be hard, so I wish I had multi-tasked more often. For example: Studied during meals and had friends over more during treatment times. Mealtime was a huge obstacle. I wish I had packed more snacks and food to take to classes. All the biking and walking around campus dropped calories way faster than I could eat. So, my weight was dangerously low in college (as low as 80 lbs at one point).

When to socialize

College kids hang out a lot at night and my cystic fibrosis made that difficult for me. I had 1.5-hour nightly therapy meds I did before bed and needed to be hooked up by 10 pm to my stomach feeding. I decided that nightlife wasn’t going to work for me if I was going to stay healthy (no judging those who love and can handle the nightlife).

I got my socialization through two organizations: theatre and youth group. I loved both and they brought me some of my best friends, even roommates. Looking back, I would remind myself that I didn’t need 100 friends--just the handful of best friends I made.

What’s next: Thinking career

I ended up changing my major after year four. I loved geology and wanted to be a geologist. Three years into the program, I started realizing I couldn’t do some of the coursework, like staying at a camp halfway across the country for three weeks in the summer. I started thinking about what kind of geology career I wanted and if it would work considering all the variables like schedule, travel, outdoor work, chemicals, etc.

I decided it was time to rethink what I wanted to do and what my body would be capable of… real estate was my next love. However, that doesn’t offer health benefits. So, I decided to graduate with a degree in psychology. I could do a Masters in counseling, social work, or work in HR departments. I started my Masters but didn’t finish. I kept getting being hospitalized. After a couple of attempts, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I was about to get married and could pursue real estate since I had my husband’s insurance.

Real estate worked well for me due to its flexibility, working how/when I wanted. I just had to be ready for periods with no pay when I was ill. However, I loved the career and continued in the field until we became special needs foster parents. I plan to return to it, once my kid(s) are grown and we stop fostering. I know it’s not unheard of to get jobs that don’t relate to degrees, but sometimes I wish I had figured out my career path sooner and kept in mind what my body could handle. I don’t regret my journey (I have many passions thanks to it), and I’m thankful for where I am now in life.

Overall, I loved college and don’t regret any of it. I think it was a time for lots of personal growth and learning about my medical needs. It helped shape me into the adult I am today, with the support of my family. However, I wish I had been a little more prepared for college, especially with how it would affect my cystic fibrosis and how my CF would affect it.

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