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.