Powerful is an Understatement

Cassandra's empowering story of strength and her passion for fitness make her a valuable role-model to the community.

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"Strength is getting up every day and fighting the same demons that left you so tired the night before."

Strength is something that I had to develop in order to survive.

I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at 5 years old. From birth until the age of 12 I was pretty strong; I did not let the obstacles that I faced every day because of my illness deter my determination and outlook on life. I was happy, studious and full of life. I was always laughing and I was obsessed with school. My aspirations and dreams were endless. Then at the ripe age of 12 everything changed.

I was curious about CF so I decided to Google it. One of the first sentences that my eyes landed on was that a person with CF has a life expectancy of 30 years old. My world shattered. Just writing these words is making me have to hold back tears because I do not want to even think of what I felt during that period in my life. After finding that out, I ditched my positive, happy-go-lucky self and obtained a serious case of depression followed by daily suicidal thoughts. I also ditched my breathing treatments and medications and substituted them for cigarettes, drugs and alcohol in an effort to forgot about and ultimately end my life. I didn’t care about anyone or anything including myself. I dropped out of high school at 16 and worked one minimum wage job after the other. I lived that sad, cold and unhealthy life for about 8 years. I may not have been strong then, but it sure took a lot of strength to emerge from that vicious mentality.

I left that life when I hit rock bottom at 20 years old. I was a high-school dropout, addicted to drugs and alcohol, got fired from 2 jobs within 2 weeks, had no money to my name, my parents couldn’t help me financially and my health was at an all-time low. I decided one day that I could not live like that anymore, so I changed my life. I quit smoking cigarettes, stopped doing drugs excessively, started doing my treatments religiously, applied for disability, signed up to complete my secondary education and signed up for the gym. That last one is what really saved my life.

Fitness has given me a sense of purpose; a sense of discipline, motivation and strength. The strength that I obtained from fitness is both mental and physical. It has given me pride, happiness and a reason to get up in the morning. I would spend my days finding ways to try and forget about my life and now I try to find ways to savor life; to enjoy it and not just pray for it to end. Don’t get me wrong, I have my bad days. A lot of them. But the difference is that all my days used to be bad days. Now I see the good in things without even trying. The sense of joy, pride and satisfaction I get when I work out is hard to explain. It’s like I know that I am actively doing something to save my life. Many people work out to look good; I work out to feel good. Working out makes me feel strong, healthy, powerful and better than I ever have in my life.

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To me, strength is something that one has to develop in order to survive. Strength is getting up every day and fighting the same demons that left you so tired the night before. It’s spending hours every day doing breathing treatments in order to be able to breathe. It’s taking 30 pills every day just to be able to eat. It’s wanting to give up so bad but continuing because strength is all you know. It’s knowing that you are not going to live as long most people but still getting up every day and fight to survive. It’s living every day like it’s your last because you know how few you have. It’s enduring all the criticism, judgment and rudeness from people that don’t understand your illness. It’s being tired all day and night no matter how much you sleep, but still being the hardest worker in the room. It’s suffering the daily embarrassment and discomfort of your symptoms but still keep doing what you have to do. It’s being in constant pain every day but hiding it. It’s crying yourself to sleep every night but waking up every day with a positive outlook on life. It’s being more understanding and compassionate with others because you understand things on a deeper level. It’s being depressed, suicidal, anxious and defeated yet still having a smile on your face. It’s having limitations set on your life that you smash every day. It’s defying the odds when they were not in your favor. It’s having to mature and be wise at a young age because you’ve felt and overcame things that most people will not have to in a lifetime. It’s constantly being in fear of judgment and rejection but still trying to be the best you can be.

Strength is not just something you are born with; one develops it through the trials and tribulations on this journey of life. Every day I try to make the most out of life and not take things for granted because I know that our time is limited. I fight my way through life and work hard every day, especially on the days where I don’t feel like it. Cystic Fibrosis is the worst thing that has ever happened but it’s made me stronger. It’s made me work harder, look at life differently and think differently. It’s made me appreciate every breath I take and every memory I’ve made. Now at 24 years old, I am happier and healthier than ever. I am in college, making healthy choices and living my life to the fullest. I spent about 8 years trying to destroy my body and I will dedicate the rest of my life to taking care of it. To conclude, strength is something you acquire when you feel the weakest of all. It is in our worst moments that we become our strongest, and let me tell you I’ve had many bad moments. I just want to show that no matter how low you think you are or no matter how weak you feel because of your life or the choices you’ve made, there is always a chance to transcend from that situation stronger than ever. I am living proof. 

In Strength There is Purpose

Ly embraces life's hurdles, showing strength and resilience through the darkest of moments.

Lysander Reese Jr.

Is strength is a characteristic we only realize when we go through tough encounters? Perhaps it’s just something we overlook within ourselves. For some of us, we have our daily encounters with trials and tribulations, while others don't experience them so often. When something doesn't happen so frequently it's easy to forget the lessons learned from that particular experience. Sometimes it takes just one event or episode for someone to remember the amount of determination and perseverance it takes to rise above. Others, it can take numerous encounters. As with many things in life, it’s a challenge. A challenge to allow yourself to be open. To receive heartache and criticism, and to face life altering decisions in which are so vital to self evolvement.

At the age of nine months old, I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. A terminal illness that affects the lungs and digestive organs with sticky mucus that leads to life jeopardizing infections. Of course at this age I couldn't even say these words. It was something that my parents were gonna have to introduce me to and do their best to make sure that I didn’t let it hold me back in life. So at the moment of my diagnosis, I became in tune with my own strength without a clue in the world. As you can suspect, this disease is very demanding. It consumes everything you do, it predicts the amount of time you have in the day, determines how productive you are, and there is no manual for when something goes wrong. You truly have to find the appreciation for life in each breath you take.

This is an exact example of how easy it is to overlook your strength. I never knew how strong I had to be, because living with this disease was all I’ve ever known. I am an honest believer that there is nothing that is put upon you that’s not meant for you to overcome. Inside the CF community there is great support amongst each other, and this helps tremendously with coping with such an illness. There are many different mutations that make up individuals with CF. This leads to a broad spectrum of different symptoms and very unique stories. Chances are there is someone going through exactly what you're going through, and knowing that means the world during the tough times.

Lysander Reese Jr._2

The struggle with Cystic Fibrosis, believe it or not, was not the toughest battle I had to face in my life. Growing up with this disease was extremely tough as a teenager. My mother was my caretaker. She made sure to religiously schedule my doctor appointments, made sure I had all my nutrients, and made sure that I never went without my meds. She even made sure that I rode on the bus for special needs in school so that I wouldn’t get trampled on. Of course at the time I didn't understand the reasoning but later in life I saw the beauty in her wanting to protect me.

The year was 1997, I was 13 years old when her cancer came back out of remission. I could no longer protect her as she did me for so many years. The cancer came back aggressively and she was told she would have only months to live. My mother was such a fighter. She would go and get her chemotherapy treatments on her lunch break, put on her little stylish wig, and go right back to work for the remainder of her shift cleaning hospital rooms. All of her co-workers loved “Gabby.” That was short for Gabrielle. I believe that is where I inherited my strength from.

On March 5th, 1998, my mother lost her battle with ovarian cancer. I was 14 years old and my sister was 19 at the time. Our father lived with us but was heavily into drugs before my mother’s death and fell even deeper into them afterwards. I was forced to go and live with my eldest sister. During this point in my life, I had to teach myself a lot of things to fend for myself. Shamingly, I put my disease on the back burner due to depression and denial. I had my fair share of drug abuse and attempted suicides as a result. Losing my mother at that age who did everything for me, was just too much to handle. Amazingly, I didn’t lose too much lung function over those years. Today I'm 33 years old and I still have my own lungs. My lung function baseline is in the mid 50’s. Im currently in college for my bachelors in music production.

I close with this, there is some strength that you don't know lies within you, that you might not think you have because you simply overlook your own capabilities. There is also the strength that  exposes itself under the most difficult of circumstances that makes you aware of your purpose on this earth. We all have the courage to fight and carry on - it's how we evolve. It just depends on whether or not you remember the lessons learned from yesterday’s sorrows, so that today, you have the knowledge of tomorrow’s triumphs. 

Breaking Expectations

With two lung transplants, Samantha refuses to let her Cystic Fibrosis rule her active lifestyle. 

In my opinion being strong is a requirement if you have a chronic illness, it comes with the territory. Strength is being capable of fighting a war; which coincidentally, is what I have been doing for the past 36 years. I have been fighting a war with Cystic Fibrosis, and even though it has tried to knock me down more times than I can count, I’m still standing.

This September I will reach median life expectancy for someone living with CF, 37. I really can’t put into words the feeling I get each year that I grow older. I’ve been told not to bother with going to college because I wouldn't live long enough to finish, or that I’d most likely never live on my own, have a career, or meet anyone that would put up with the suffering that loving someone with CF causes. It makes each day I open my eyes that much sweeter. It takes strength to defy your illness and create a life for yourself – not based on the statistics or what others say. 

As I look back on my journey I am amazed at what the human body and mind can endure and adapt to. I have been blessed with the gift of life three times now, with the first being most obvious, my birth. My mom, RIP, was told like most mothers in the early 80’s not to get used to the idea of me sticking around – my CF meant that I would most likely not live past the age of 10.

I’ve always been an active person, pushing myself even when I felt like I couldn’t go anymore. At times this got me into trouble as I didn’t always listen to my body. I would end up sick and in the hospital for weeks at a time. I didn’t want this disease to hold me back. I didn’t want it to be the reason I failed. If I gave it this “power,” then in my mind I let it beat me. Like it had some say in whether or not I could achieve things in my life. Most of all, I didn’t want people to pity me. No matter how much I fought the inevitable progression of CF, in my mid 20’s I knew I was slowly suffocating, and at the age of 27 my lung function began to decline rapidly to the point where I needed a lung transplant in order to survive. CF was beating me.

On August 13, 2011, I underwent my first life-saving operation and recovered quite well. I was reborn! I could finally breathe and was taking full advantage of it. I was winning climbing competitions, mountain biking, snowboarding, advancing in my career, and actually allowing myself to think about the future. I finally felt free; almost as if the war was over. I was able to be spontaneous and let my guard down. For lack of better words, I was ignorant about my mortality. It wasn’t until about five years later that I began to feel short of breath again. I could feel something was wrong with my donor lungs. I went from 115 to 85 pounds in a matter of two months and was back on supplemental oxygen 24/7. Statistically speaking there is only a 50% chance that lung transplant patients will be alive after five years. Once again, the odds were stacked against me. I was going through chronic rejection and needed another lung transplant. After 31 years, I had gotten a taste of what it felt like to be physically strong, to be a healthy, productive, thriving woman and all of that was suddenly gone. My illness seemed to have found a back-door way into my life. I was literally plucked from my existence one day, and admitted back into the hospital. The universe worked its magic, keeping me alive with the machines I thought were a distant memory. It was a stark reminder of how fragile life really is. During that time, I was also diagnosed with parathyroid cancer which needed to be removed before I could be re-listed for another transplant. As I lay bedridden not able to care for myself, I longed for the life I had just been an active participant in. Maintaining my mental strength and staying optimistic was my only option. I wasn’t going to let CF break me and on October 11, 2016, I was reborn once again!

I am now slowly getting back to the activities I enjoy, taking one day at a time. If it weren’t for the selfless act of strangers signing up to be organ donors I would be but a memory to my friends and family. Each day I am continuing to fight the war with CF, and like you, trying to survive everyday life. I’m happy I can still say that. Strength is the ability to persevere no matter how hopeless the situation may seem – to not take our time for granted, to appreciate one another. I feel grateful to have learned this many times over. All we really have is today. Thank you for letting me share a small part of who I am.

 

Where is Your Strength?

With the gym as his refuge, Jack has taken a huge step in taking control of his health. 

Jack

Strength is a big thing. It comes in many shapes and sizes. Mental, physical – you name it.

With CF, it isn’t always easy to have the strength to keep pushing on, but that's why we are 10x stronger than the next person.

I was diagnosed at 11 days old with the gene mutation Deltaf508. I struggled a lot through my school years. It wasn't easy. Not many people understood what I was going through and some still don't to this day.

I was the kid who would have to duck out of class to go to the toilet all the time. The kid who was coughing and going to hospital. I was bullied, and it was hard.

I struggled in the past with coming to terms with cystic fibrosis and what it could do to me. But then I found my release, and it changed my life – the gym.

As soon as I turned to the gym, I was set free. I had that one place where I could just let it all go – the stress, the anger, etc. On top of that, I began changing my body for the better! 

I've changed so much physically and mentally since I first started. I've been training for 2 years, and have gone from 55kg to 75kg (121lbs to 165lbs). My lung function has gone from 60-70% to 116%. 

So ultimately, strength comes from within (as cliché as that sounds). But it's where you find it that will define you. Whether it be mentally or physically, we all have the strength to go forward. 

Never Give Up

by Brian Simpson

Living with COPD, Brian's 17 full marathons and one 50k ultramarathon are a testament to his commitment to refuse limits.

Brian

        To me, having strength and being strong is about not giving up. It means getting up in the morning. It’s about doing whatever it is I have to do to stay motivated. It’s about fighting when I want to give up. It’s about going to work when I could give in and go on disability. It’s about proving everyone else wrong. Strength really means doing what everyone else takes for granted: breathing and living.

I have suffered extremely severe chronic asthma most of my life, being prednisone dependent since I was a teenager. If I had chosen to, I wouldn’t have had to work because I qualified for complete and unconditional disability in my early 20’s. Throughout my early to late 20’s I spent 1-2 weeks out of every month in the hospital. I continued this pattern until my early 30’s when I required supplemental oxygen 24/7. I was working clinically as a respiratory therapist while wearing oxygen (imagine having someone come draw your ABG while he was wearing oxygen himself).  Shortly after this point though, I conceded to my disease and accepted complete and unconditional disability.

I remained on disability for approximately 2 years until I felt as if I had no purpose whatsoever. It was very difficult to maintain any level of functionality and sense of self. This is when I began to realize what strength and being strong was really all about. I began a transitional period which was the fight of my life. After 9 months of determination, I returned to work. Initially on a part-time basis, then I was fortunate enough to return full-time. I gradually regained some lung function through exercise and playing a musical instrument.

After returning to work I was given an amazing opportunity: to organize and begin an outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program. PR has always been a passion of mine. I had been through it as a patient and at that time, there were very few PR programs. In addition to being a respiratory therapist, I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology and both degrees made it much easier for me to begin this program at the facility where I worked. I was truly doing what I loved to do on a full-time basis. Each day, I found myself getting stronger and more dedicated to helping those with chronic lung disease. I gained strength and inspiration from my patients. I began working myself out harder and focusing on my weight loss journey. Having been on very high doses of prednisone most of my life, obesity had become a major issue for me in addition to the lung disease.

In 9 months I had lost a great deal of weight and decided to run my first half-marathon. To this day I am not sure what made me decide on doing that, especially with the knowledge that my FEV-1 was only 25% at the time. I ran that half marathon in 2 hours and 18 minutes (not too bad for bum lungs). After completing that I had a friend suggest I train for and run a full marathon. It was the hardest thing I had ever done (up until that point anyway), and I realized that If I could do that, nothing would be impossible. Over the next 6 years I finished 17 full marathons and one 50k ultramarathon. Most of them weren’t pretty or fast, but I had done them. I learned more about myself in those 6 years than in any other time of my life. 

Shortly after finishing my final two marathons in October 2016, my lung function quickly deteriorated ending with an FEV-1 of 14%. It was at this point that my pulmonologist talked to me and discussed my only option: a double lung transplant. That is hard for many people to understand. Over the years my asthma has led to irreversible airway obstruction and remodeling, and I have progressed to stage IV COPD with bronchiectasis.  At this time, I have begun exploring lung transplantation but I’ve not fully accepted it. I could return to disability or I could continue to work and fight to maintain what functionality I can.

I certainly do look at these last 6 years as the gift of life. I had worked and fought so hard. I finally began living. I was able to hike, travel, kayak and run. I experienced more in those 6 years than in the rest of my life. I certainly never thought I would have to begin fighting again, but I do. I have people tell me all the time that I am “inspirational.” I don’t see it as that, not at all. I just see myself as someone who wants to live and experience life. I have been fortunate enough to let others know that if some crazy guy with stage IV lung disease can run a 4:51:44 marathon – anyone can! I never take anything for granted. I appreciate and am thankful for every day I get to climb another set of stairs, to go to another doctor’s appointment, to work another scheduled shift, and to take another breath. 

Never Stop Pedaling

by Frank Avila

With a double lung transplant 21 years ago, Frank's grit and faith continue to push him beyond any adversity. 

Frank_Bike

        My name is Frank and I was born with Cystic Fibrosis.  CF has made me the fighter I am today and I strive to succeed with everything I do – never quitting, and putting all my trust in God. I am 43 years old and had a double lung transplant 21 years ago. This September, I will turn another year older, and 10 days later, reach 22 years post-transplant. 

I assume like most people with disabilities, we tend to fight a little harder and not take the simple things for granted. I lived a “normal” life before the transplant, well, it was as normal as it could get. As a kid, I played basketball and soccer and cruised the neighborhood on my Schwinn 10 speed. That bike gave me freedom. It was just me and the road. The harder I pushed, the farther I went. I had amazing friends that helped me with my chest compressions so I wasn’t left behind, and could join them on adventures like weekend camping trips or Cancun for spring break. I knew my limits but they never stopped me. I pushed myself just so I could feel like everyone else. My lungs never quit on me despite knowing that eventually over time, they would take their course.

Eventually I was told that a double lung transplant was needed to continue pursuing my goals and dreams, and just like with everything else, my family and I attacked it with full force. We began investigating hospitals for transplants according to their stats and success rates. I eventually landed at UNC Hospital Chapel Hill. It was a journey that had its share of hardships. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I always kept my faith in God.  My lungs eventually declined to the point where I was using 6 liters of Oxygen 24/7. The simplest task became difficult if I wasn’t attached to that life line of oxygen. The struggle was real, but like before, I just kept fighting. 

Infections and hospital visits came and went. While I was in the hospital fighting another infection on September 18, 1995, I received a most precious gift – a loving and selfless donor offered me another chance at life. I received my life saving double lung transplant at UNC Hospital. It’s a memory full of joy and thankfulness to God, the donor, and the donor’s family. I do not know anything about my donor except that the lungs were a perfect fit for me. 

The road post-transplant has had its trials, but one thing hasn’t changed – the fight for each day. I did my tour of check-ups for three months post-transplant at Chapel Hill. I was able to return home in November to see my first niece born and then finally return home to enjoy life once again, adjusting to all the new opportunities. I went back to school and graduated with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. Life continued and I was slowly accomplishing the dreams I had set out for myself. I later went back for my second B.S. degree in Clinical Lab Sciences as a Medical Technologist, and I love what I do today. I wanted to help others and give back anyway I could because of all the people in my life that helped me get here. The strong bonds and love helped me get through both the good and the bad. 

I recently got back into cycling and it’s been amazing. Just like when I was a kid cruising the neighborhood, I feel free. I started slow with just 5 miles and then 10 and I’ve finally reached 30 miles in one trip. The feeling after the rides are exhausting but rejuvenating. I enjoy every chance I get on my bike, it’s a new adventure whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a ride along the lake. I love it and look forward to reaching 2000 miles this year. 

I’ve realized that it’s okay to be “different.”  Strength for me comes from trusting in God, going through the struggles, and fighting through. Giving up isn’t an option.  There’s still plenty to accomplish, and with God’s love and direction, those dreams will become a reality. Thank you for this opportunity to share a little piece of my life. It’s been an amazing journey and seeing all that is happening in the CF community just continues to encourage me to keep moving – to never stop pedaling. 

 

Quite the Impression

by Andrea Goldman 

Living with Cystic Fibrosis, Andrea knows a bit about resilience. Beating cancer with a new set of lungs, to say she's one tough mama is an understatement.  

Andrea-Strength

        First impressions are important. Let’s not kid ourselves. And what an impression I make! I know this because at some point in my relationships – whether it be a friend, boyfriend, co-worker, doctor, nail technician etc. – people often laugh at who they originally thought I was, versus who I really am. I know that I’m not anymore special than others. Of course, you meet someone new, you do the usual head-to-toe scan, and it’s human nature to create a story of who you think they are. In fact, it’s ingrained in our DNA to make quick judgements in order to survive (research this). What I’m trying to say is that the story people create in their heads is usually drastically different than what the real story is.

I walk into a room and get a few glances, and often times a stare. I look young, attractive, healthy, and perky. People say things to me like…

"How do you always stay in such good shape?"

                                    "How did you loose the baby weight?"

"Why on earth would you cut your beautiful, long hair?"

                                     "Are you sick?"

"You’re contagious, please be careful."

                                      "I wish I could eat whatever I want like you."

"You’re always look so happy. What’s your secret?"

Do you really want to know what’s behind my slender figure, trendy hairdo, productive cough, cheeseburger and chocolate cake eating habits?

I am a 31-year-old (not 21-year-old) cystic fibrosis having, diabetic, lymphoma survivor with a double lung transplant. And those are just the highlights. If you look at my medical history, it’s actually a much lengthier list. I’ve had more surgeries and procedures than I can remember. I’ve spent more days in the hospital than most of my Facebook friends combined. I’ve got a 50/50 shot at making it to my 37th birthday.

So…. how would you like me to answer those seemingly innocuous questions? Would you like the polite, fluffy answer, or the real one? I’m not actually in good shape. Without getting into medical details, I have a pancreas that doesn’t do its job very well. I don’t absorb food (especially fats) well, if at all. I give myself shots of insulin since my pancreas doesn’t do that whole thing well either – hence the diabetes. My cheeseburger and chocolate cake dinner requires 8 pills, 3 units of insulin, and a multivitamin for any nutrients that don’t get absorbed despite all that medicine. When it’s all said and done, my dinner won’t even help me gain any weight. It’s part of following my nutritionist’s plan of eating a high fat, high protein 4,000 calorie diet.

But I don’t get to eat whatever I want. This might come as a shock to most but I’m not always in the mood to eat all the time. I don’t necessarily want the fattening item on the menu every day. Not to mention, post-transplant, I’m no longer allowed to have sushi, runny eggs, unpasteurized cheeses, or raw vegetables served at restaurants – just to name a few.

Onto the baby thing…

I didn’t loose the “baby weight” because I didn’t gain the baby weight. I didn’t carry Bryce. My surrogate Kim did. I went through IVF so that my egg and husband’s sperm could dance in a petri dish, preparing an embryo to get cooked in someone else’s oven. After three tries, two surrogates, and 19 months later, out came Bryce. Oh, and I didn’t actually get to be there for Bryce’s birth in Orlando, FL. I was in North Carolina waiting for a lung transplant. I did however get to watch on FaceTime. Thank goodness for modern medicine and modern technology.

I didn’t cut my long beautiful hair. Depending on when we met, my hair looks shorter because I was wearing a wig. It was shaved off and the rest of it fell out 12 days after my first round of chemotherapy. I know it’s hard to understand why six months after my transplant I needed chemo. Trust me, nobody had a harder time understanding this more than me. Apparently, after solid organ transplants, people have a roughly 5% chance of getting Post Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disorder – aka cancer. The medicine I take to suppress my immune system so that my body doesn’t fight off the new lungs left my body susceptible to PTLD. But I made it through.

So yes, I am sick and thanks for checking in with me. But no, I am not contagious. You can’t catch what I have because baby I was born this way. And thanks to this chronic cough, I am able to maintain very strong abdominal muscles. There are some perks to having CF.

Andrea-Son

I think I look happy because I am happy.  Maybe not all day long, but every day, I feel happiness. I am content with myself because there’s no reason not to be. I am alive and I am surviving. Every day I wake up breathing, walking, loving, and being loved. That’s all I need and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I seriously love and appreciate myself because of all my challenges, not in spite of them. My experiences and struggles have shaped me. I take time to reflect on the amazing things my body has done for me, and try not to focus on its short comings. A day out of the hospital without fever, pain, or the sensation of breathing with a corset on is a beautiful day. I went years without relief. Even during chemo, I was bald and exhausted, but I could breathe so it all felt feasible.

After the transplant, I went a week without water, food, and IV fluids. You better believe I enjoy every sip of water now! I’ve faced death twice. I’ve endured lung failure and living in a body that was slowly shutting down. Making my bed, holding my baby, caring for my husband, taking a shower, even laughing have been battles at times.

My truth is this:

My transplanted lungs don’t last forever (5 years on average) and the lymphoma may very well come back. All I have is the gift of today. This is what makes today and every day special for me. It’s an honor and privilege to be alive. I have the awesome responsibility to myself, my family, and my donor to live as well as I can for as long as I can. I’m not super woman. I have no magic powers. I work really really hard at this happiness thing. I am on anti-depressants and I see a therapist on a regular basis to work on improving myself and managing the stresses of my illnesses. I exercise to the point that I can’t bare one more second of it. I try to focus on things that I have control over and to let go of the stuff that I can’t control.

Most importantly, I lean on my support system a ton! I ask for help all the time. I have a team of people that support me through and through. Although I will never be able to return all of the favors, I will never stop trying. I believe that they need me just as much as I need them. Independence is overrated. Life is meant to be enjoyed in the company of others. As a 30-year-old, it’s been incredible to have been given two second chances at life. I am young enough to enjoy this and smart enough to take advantage of my opportunities. For that I am lucky!