Flowerlungs

It’s one of those heavy days, and I find myself lost in thought as the IV pump alarm fills the stagnant silence in the room. The only other audible sound is coming from within my lungs serving as a constant reminder of the setting of my reality. The air is unmoving and the shadows crawling from the corners are drawing closer to me under the fluorescent light as the evening passes. The shadows are eager to steal my warmth—they try endlessly, using the slow passage of time in the hospital room to their advantage.

I hear a gentle knock reverberating from the far side of the thick door as my mom pops her head in just slightly to say hi. The door glides open and in one hand she brings a lovely bouquet of life-giving flowers; in the other hand, a bag containing food from outside the hospital walls that I desperately desire. She quickly lays down her belongings and walks towards me, still wearing her own set of scrubs invisibly soiled from her own set of patients, to kiss me on the forehead as she asks, “How is my girl?”

As quickly as it appeared, the darkness evaporates into the light and the thick silence is traded for merry chatter. The flowers stand on the counter and gleefully whisper affirmations of joy, support, and splendor into my soul and all feels right again.


Spring is upon us and I am feverishly anticipating the growth of new life and my favorite by product of the elements: flowers.

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Flowers have always meant something deeper to me than just futile flora sprinkled over the landscape of our earth. Whether my connection to flowers is an inherited trait passed down from my mom, the same way cystic fibrosis passed from her genetic makeup to mine, or just a hobby that fulfills my soul’s desire of contentment, I know that they hold significance far beyond aesthetic appeal. They continually remind me of the incandescent beauty gifted from our Lord, the oxygen dancing within the breeze, and the immense control it takes to be present and grounded despite the tireless winds. They call my hand to pick, my nose to smell, and my eyes to savor retelling of the enduring capability of a broken body.

Moreover, I have always been under the assumption that flowers are the most powerful creation in nature. They have the capacity to spark restoration within our darkest moments, while simultaneously signifying every triumph or celebration in our lives. How is it they have the weight of such influence to do both? How do they illustrate both realms of sorrow and happiness? I am unsure. But, their passive strength is something I admire and something I aim to embody within my own existence.

Within my lungs due to cystic fibrosis, thick paths of scar tissue marble through chronic infection and reactive inflammation making it more difficult to breathe as time passes. There is a strong force feeding from the resources within my body, and it takes what it wants and leaves it’s mark in the form of perpetual damage. The reality is that my organs are struggling at the hands of a very powerful disease. I recognize my reality. I know this is what’s occurring within my shell, but it’s not how I choose to see my life.

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What if I chose to believe I am harboring prosperity and beauty by growing flowers within my organs- the very creation I admire so much? As time passes, I cultivate more blooms and they fill the spaces within my lungs and unexpectedly take my breath away- a trade off for their immense beauty. I pluck the thistles and allow further growth, and they fill me with unmatched hopefulness and appreciation. They serve as a mark of both my physical pain and spiritual triumph causing each inhalation paired with exhalation to be a reminder of a blessing. CF is my blessing in many ways and will remain as such.

I’d rather my breath be stolen by prolific blooms, an overgrowth of loveliness and grace, than relish in the reality of my disease. I have learned that true perspective has the power to change the course of your life, the power to smother anxiety and fear, and the power to transform destruction into celebration. I know my fight has really only just begun- I’ll be physically and mentally flooded far beyond what I can imagine in the years to come.

But, I am not afraid because I grow flowers causing my life to be more lovely and fulfilling than ever expected.

In those moments when I fail to produce them myself- when I lack the necessary elements vital to blossom- I know alternatively the people who love me with aid in supplying them. There will be a gentle knock reverberating on the far side of my door and I’ll overhear the words repeatedly said by my mama:

I will always bring you flowers because flowers heal all.

Indeed, they do and all is right again.

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I Am an ENFP

I am an ENFP. According to Myers-Briggs personality tests, I am an extrovert, curious, emotional, a people-person, observant, and a good communicator. I feel others’ experiences and want to know every detail of how they came to be. I am burdened by rigid schedules and lists and tend to live in a state of organized chaos. I am a procrastinator. I am a true free spirit, or at least that is what I am expected to be as an ENFP.

Within the last few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how cystic fibrosis has chipped away at certain aspects of my personality causing me to morph into someone I am innately not. Altering insignificant detail little by little, I have seen the transformation slowly creep upon me. I look in the mirror and think of the person I used to be, and I see undeniable differences between the two and then wonder what trait will be whittled at next.

The most obvious difference is the amount of time I spend alone now- something unnatural for an ENFP. I once was a person surrounded by people, ideas, and constant motion. Engulfed in various projects, clubs, and positions, my days were always spent “doing” and “experiencing”. Now, my days are focused on smaller but more time-consuming endeavors such as surviving the workday, taking care of myself, and prioritizing what needs to get done before the fatigue sets in. Social invitations are often turned down in order to rest, and yet, the world and its people continue to revolve without me. Comparatively, I am kept company by my other friends- IVs, breathing treatments, pills, and fatigue- that have long overstayed their welcome, and it is a continuous disagreement between my mind whining to go out and my body pleading to slow down.

For any ENFP, the fear of missing out and isolation is a difficult pill to swallow (CF puns, anyone?). However, self-awareness has become my redemption. I know I get lonely in the evenings doing my treatments, and so, the cat habitually joins me, Peter will lie in bed next to me and read because talking over the loud machines is difficult, I text or message my close friends, and I watch TV or write. I do things that I enjoy and that connect me in some distant way to my friends and family who are out there, and in my mind, dancing at some glamorous party that is catered by Chick Fil A. When I get the chance to enjoy social time with actual 3D people, I soak up each moment. I am present and engaged, and my heart is full for a significant amount of time after.

Apart from the amount of time I spend alone, the way my time is organized is different. I am tied to a schedule now, and my mind is a chorus of continuous mental alarms. You try taking 20 different medications a day, hours of vest therapy, and managing finicky blood sugar; you would need a strict schedule too. Naturally, I don’t thrive on a rigid schedule and it has been a humbling learning process for me over the last decade. My mom can attest to this and has numerous stories of middle school and high school Janeil not doing what she was told to do and when. My excuse back then: I wanted to be free. Even now, there are days when I walk over to the massive kitchen drawer (you know, the one meant for silverware and kitchen tools) filled with my daily medications, open it up, and just stare at it. I can feel my body wanting to shut the drawer, erase the responsibility from my mind, and walk away to pursue something else spontaneously, instead of doing another round of therapy or choking down another handful of pills. I also know that if I did this and ignored my schedule, I wouldn’t live. Weeks filled with schedules, lists, and mental alarms are a matter of life and death for me. So, I comply, sometimes begrudgingly and with an ungrateful heart.

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This all sounds so discouraging and if I am being 100% honest (which I promised to be), sometimes it is. It isn’t easy to watch yourself morph into an unfamiliar version and accept it without loss. I know that because of these changes, I have been forced to grow as a person and I have been taught flexibility and adaptation. I have been given the opportunity to look inside and become self-aware to the point of knowing my God-given typology and the person I am forced to be in order to survive, while recognizing that those two people often do not match up. It is a continuous learning curve- a process, a failure, and a lesson learned- and I am thankful for grace and tomorrows so that I can get it right some days. Under the layers of CF, tiredness, and overwhelming responsibility, I know who I am: an ENFP who loves people, who enjoys moments, and who has become free in a different sense of the word. My hope is that I will be given the strength to continue to be her in spirit long after CF has taken over my shell.

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If you don’t know your own Myers-Briggs personality, take this test and learn more about why you are the wonderful way you are. Feel free to post your personality type below!

Processing Change

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I unpack my saline, heparin, needle, cap and dressing change kit and place it all on the table. My iPhone alarm tells me it’s port flush day; something that rolls around every four weeks or so. My port (or portacath) is located on my left ribcage and allows access to my bloodstream for blood draws or IV antibiotics whenever I need them. An internal septum was placed surgically and connected to a long tube that’s tunneled under the skin to a larger vessel in my heart. When my arm brushes against the obvious bump or I go to flush it and I see the inch and a half scar, I am reminded how much I love my port and how thankful I am for it. In all honesty though, it took me years to get here and a challenging internal process to be “ready” for it.

Flashback to a few years ago: entering the hospital felt routine at this point, my symptoms would worsen, my body would feel heavy and weak and I knew I needed IV antibiotics to give me a boost. I always felt at peace going into the hospital. Granted, I hate putting my life on hold, I hate relinquishing some of my independence, and I HATE hospital food, but I knew I could smile, negotiate a weekend stay and be shipped back to do home IVs. Subsequently, I would resume my role as nurse and my life would return back to normal to uninformed onlookers. Home IVs meant PICC lines, a semi-permanent IV tunneled through your arm to the same vessel in your heart but removed once treatment was over, and after 15+ PICCs my veins were scarred and occluded. The placements became slightly traumatic (that’s what you get when you refuse sedatives) and I developed some sort of anxiety equal to the amount of scar tissue hiding in my vessels. I will point out, I am generally not an anxious person (praise the Lord) and the only obstacle standing in the way of my happiness and peace during frequent hospital stays were PICC lines.

I knew it was time. It was time to take the next step in my care and that meant a portacath. The idea of having a port always weakened my soul and I was disappointed in myself. A port meant my body would be altered on the outside and I would physically look irregular. It meant I was really sick and my disease was in fact progressing. It meant I lost control and the force I battled to hold off everyday was gaining ground. It meant CF was winning and I was ultimately losing. Ports were for very sick cancer patients, certainly not for me.

Weeks turned into months, my doctors continually brought forth the option of a port and offers turned into dismissals. Slowly, greater clarity erupted and I saw through my vanity, stubbornness and shortsightedness. The Lord reminded me of content and faith and that with every season comes passing, but also new life. I was starting a new life and I owed it to my groom, myself and to the opportunities ahead of us to do everything in my power to best take care of me. I attended my bachelorette party with my last PICC and it was removed seven days before my wedding.

A year later, my husband comes to kiss me on the cheek and tells me I look beautiful as I go to care for the implanted device that has given me peace and a renewed sense of independence. It is a concealed weapon against my greedy disease and I am thankful for the continuous protection. The bump under my skin proves that sometimes the change we desperately try to hold off can alter our lives in the most positive and forward thinking way. I know that I will need a reminder of this lesson time and time again in this life as CF brings forth unwanted changed repeatedly, but I hope I will always look down to my ribcage and be comforted and reassured as I am now.

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Salty Girls Book

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All of last week, I eagerly waited for a very special package to show up on my door step. Each day that passed, I grew more excited and finally, Friday evening the anticipation was over and there it was: my copy of Salty Girls: The Women of Cystic Fibrosis! I spent the majority of Saturday morning, coffee in hand, reading the overwhelmingly honest and brave stories and admiring the beauty of all 77 women. Each woman photographed in this book has CF and has allowed the reader an intimate and vulnerable view of what true beauty and strength looks like. The photographs show smiles, sexiness and scars, while the stories read courage, perseverance and spunk. To my fellow Salty Girls, I am amazed by all of you.

I want to publicly thank Ian Pettigrew, a Canadian photographer. He is the mastermind of this grand movement and campaign for CF awareness. He also has cystic fibrosis himself and I can imagine how tired he is at this moment. Ian has traveled the country to take each photo and he designed, composed and shipped each book all by himself. He is such a hard working man and deserves praise for being a true catalyst for change. He stood up for us when the world told him not to do it and he allowed women with CF to have a voice. He gave us a moment to be strong, beautiful and flawless, all while owning our bodies and experiences. Thank you, Ian! You have forever changed the world of CF.

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Go buy a Salty Girls book and support the immense courage it took to do something never done before and display your body and vulnerability for the world to see.

http://thecfproject.bigcartel.com/product/saltygirls-the-book